Best Time Management Practice -
Exclusive Interview with Robyn Pearce

If you're looking for best time management practices, you'll enjoy this in-depth interview with Australasia's 'Time Queen'.

Having helped thousands of people improve their time management, New Zealander Robyn Pearce has proved herself as one of the world’s leading experts - what this lady doesn’t know about best time management practice isn’t worth knowing!

What's so impressive is that Robyn has done it the hard way. Her life experience has given her a first hand insight into what makes for best time management practice...

Robyn, thanks for taking these questions. Would you share a bit of background information about yourself? How did you move into the field of Personal Organization and Time Management?

To put it simply, it’s because I used to be bad at it!

First I was a librarian, then a farmer's wife and mother of six (including an intellectually handicapped foster son until he was 16). Following this I ended up a solo mother on government benefit.

After a few long years I decided to fight my way out of the poverty trap (dabbling in tourism along the way) and became a very successful real estate agent.

Real estate taught me I had to learn better time management skills -- or sink! The money was a lot better than being on government aid -- but I learnt the hard way that there’s no point in great income if you don’t have the health! I burnt out numerous times from overwork and poor time habits.

Frustrated with complaints about my lack of time management skills, a wise friend pointed me in the direction of a decent diary and a few best time management principles. Since then, through much study, trial and error, my once great weakness has transmuted into a major strength and an international business...

I reckon I’ve had the best possible background for running a time management business -- I really do understand how it feels to be out of control!

It's a huge buzz these days helping others make the same changes to their life as they learn and practice the many simple and practical productivity habits that changed my life so dramatically.

And these days I need all the great time skills I’ve learnt over the years! The family has now expanded to include 15 grandchildren, and then there’s all the fun things and people I enjoy hanging out with -- sailing, kayaking, dancing, music, learning guitar, reading, films, travel and heaps of wonderful friends and extended family. (Oh, and business of course!)

Many people feel that even their best time management and organizational skills are poor. From your experience, what seem to be the reasons for this?

Two major reasons I see:-

  1. Good time skills don’t come naturally for everyone. Some people are born with the ability to manage themselves efficiently. Others constantly struggle. By nature the strugglers don’t ‘do’ time easily; they’re far more likely to go with the flow and then get criticised for being poor time managers. (That’s my natural style, which I believe is why I’m able to help so many people achieve best time management practices -- I truly understand what it feels like to always be late for things -- and I’ve learnt how to change the behaviour.)  It can be modified (as I’ve learnt to do), but it requires a much more conscious decision and different strategies than if you’re naturally good at ‘doing time’.
  2. Many people go into the workforce without good role models.You might not have learnt it at home or at school or college. (It’s seldom taught in schools).  If you’re like me you may have even had incorrect role models -- as a younger woman my Mum was a shocker.  So my memories and inherited patterns are of constantly slinking into church late, rushing for the school bus; always a sense of being out of time.

Is time management at home even more challenging that it is at work or vice versa, and for what reasons?

There’s no one answer to this, Tim. Sorry to do this to you, but -- ‘It depends’!

One of the factors is whom you live with or work with.

Take my childhood for example. My farming Dad was very punctual. His cows could rely on him (work). He was always ready to go to town, to church or community events in a timely way. But Mum (home) was always fitting in that ‘one last thing’.

For your readers wanting to improve, my advice is to come back to your Big Picture. What are your goals, your life purpose?

If you’re clear about how you want your life to be, if you’re focused on an important goal, you’re more empowered to push back on potential time stealers, both at home and at work. You’re better able to use what I believe is our best time management tool -- the ability to say ‘No’.

From your experience working with businesses, what tangible traits or habits do the most successful companies seem to have developed when it comes to employing the best time management skills?

There are several that jump to mind:

They don’t expect their highly-paid senior people to do low-level admin tasks. In today’s economic climate a lot of the admin support staff have been cut out. Silly mistake.

For example, to expect a top salesperson to do his own routine data entry and document preparation, or a senior manager to book her own extensive hotel and travel bookings -- none of this makes economic sense when you look at:  

  • The missed opportunity cost
  • The cost to the organisation of that high-performer’s salary versus a clerical worker’s wage
  • The stress and personal cost to the senior person in trying to keep on top of too much.I’ve heard of too many highly skilled people giving up in despair and leaving due to unrealistic expectations. A smart company knows the cost of replacing that person, including the loss of income while the replacement is trained up.

They encourage flexi-time and flexi-work spaces. In today’s wired world, knowledge workers can operate from anywhere for most of our activities.

Two examples:

  • My oldest son, a Lieutenant Colonel in the NZ Army, found that when he wants to work on high-level strategy he needs big space for big ideas, not a cubby-hole in an open plan office.
  • Why sit in heavy rush-hour traffic when you could start your work from home and travel into the office in much less time an hour or so later? (Of course, if it’s a commercial business some front-line people need to be in the office during business hours. But does everyone need to be there? Who can easily do glide-time?)

They discourage clutter. No-one can think straight in a messy environment.

They encourage people to keep meetings to a minimum. The danger is that the more senior a person is, the less work they do – because everyone wants a piece of them.

To what extent do you rely on systems, habits and routine to manage yourself? Does it mean you have to rely less on motivation to kick start yourself into action?

  1. I’ve learnt to be an early starter. But early for me doesn’t mean that’s the right answer for everyone. Best time management is really a misnomer -- it’s our energy we need to manage. Questions to consider: ‘When in the day do I do my best work? When are my high energy times? When can I focus with least distractions?’
  2. I guard my work space jealously.Ask yourself: ‘What do I need to do to block out distractions?’  If you have to work in an open plan office, try using a headset (with or without music) to block out background distractions. It’s also a signal to your colleagues that you’re busy.   Ideally, get out of that space.  My research shows that less than 15% of people are happy to work in an open plan space, and only half of them can really concentrate on high-level work with lots going on around them.
  3. I’ve developed the ability to focus strongly. This really is best time management practice.
  4. I rarely do email first thing in the day. Instead I chunk it to mid-morning at the earliest and then a few sessions later through the day. I have no alerts blipping at me -- they’re a distraction.
  5. You ask if my systems and routines help kick-start me. I guess they do. But the biggest kick-start is a sense that the work I do is really important, that it changes people’s lives. I love what I do so much that it doesn’t seem like work.  For me, being a self-starter is no more difficult than waking up in the morning and thinking: ‘what is the highest value activity I need to focus on today?’

Best time management is often about best choice management. What strategies do you personally use to decide what’s worth doing?

Apart from answers in the questions above, I also have a few other key filters:

  1. Am I the best person to do this work or should I delegate or outsource?
  2. Is this activity going to assist in bringing in cash flow or growing the business, either now or in the long-term?
  3. Is this activity going to add value to my ‘family’ of members, students and ‘followers’?
  4. When I have to choose between small tasks or a bigger one that, once completed will have long-term results &/or could be utilised in multiple ways, wherever possible I’ll start with the bigger task.Here’s a Robyn-ism:

‘In order to go faster, first we must go slower’.

The best time management materials are often like church - preaching to the converted!

What, if any, are the most effective methods for encouraging people to appreciate their time and improve their personal time management?

The ongoing drip-feed of support is what keeps people on track. A seminar or speech gives a shot in the arm; it’s the coaching afterwards (which these days can so easily be done via various digital methods) that brings the real habit changes. My whole business is constructed around delivering that support to people all round the world.

A few specifics are the blog, all my books, cds, digital downloads and the huge range of free articles also at our website.

The other encouragement is internal. Once you start to feel the benefits of your own behaviour change you want to keep looking for enhancements. I often tell my audiences:

‘Become a walking question mark, looking for small improvements on your day-to-day activities.’

Success becomes its own reward (and encouragement).

Does multi-tasking ever work?

Only on low-level activities that don’t require high concentration.

There’s huge evidence to show that the people who take a task as far as they can to completion before they start on the next item will achieve far more than the people with multiple tasks open all over their desks or computers.

Most of us have multiple projects on the go at the same time. That won’t change. But aim to do a solid chunk of work on one and then put it away before you go to the next task. It’s not always possible but even if you did ‘one thing at a time’ 50% more than you are at present it will make a HUGE difference.

How do you know when something you’ve produced that has no defined end point is good enough to call ‘finished’?

For most things, once something’s about 70 – 80% ‘good enough’, let it go. You can always polish it up later but if you invest too much time in perfection your business progress is drastically slowed down.

An exception for me personally is my writing. Once that’s gone out into the ether it can’t be brought back. I confess to a degree of perfectionism in that area -- it’s a significant part of who I am and how I’m perceived in the marketplace.

What’s your best time management tool -- the one you rely on most -- and why?

My small pocket diary! Even though I’m quite techie I prefer a paper diary. I can see things in a flash, make appointments while my digital friends are still finding the right spot in their smart phones -- and the battery never runs down!

There are two other vital items -- a notebook to record conversations and notes, plus my smartphone. I love the ability to check emails on the run and flip off quick texts -- saves enormous amounts of time. One caution -- don’t let it rule your life. It has an Off button!

Robyn, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights on best time management practices.

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