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How to Handle Unexpected Events

How to Handle Unexpected Events

How to Handle Unexpected Events

When presenting our 2-day leadership and management training, we start the course by asking delegates, "What are the most pressing leadership and management problems?"

Every time, without exception, someone asks, "How can I manage time when my plans are wrecked by unexpected events?"

Adaptation to Change

Recognise that plans will always have to be modified due to changing circumstances. But irrespective of changing circumstances, we must always be good time managers, and the single most important concept in time management is prioritisation.

Focus on One Task

Prioritisation is the single most important skill for time management. One thing at a time. The human mind can only hold one thought at a time, and therefore can only work most efficiently by doing one task at a time. The moment we try to open "multitask," we inevitably have to split our mental energies between two tasks, each task getting 50% or less of the total mental energy available. Whenever you split your attention, you multiply your chances of making mistakes, which will cost you dearly in both money and time.

So, never multitask. Instead, prioritise your tasks and do them in order, focusing on one task at a time.

Methods of Prioritisation

Prioritisation is not a single concept. There are three ways to prioritise tasks:

  1. Prioritisation by value,
  2. Prioritisation by deadline pressure, and
  3. Prioritisation by logical sequence.

Let's look at each one.

1. Prioritisation by Value

The purpose of our organisation is to add value to its customers. Therefore, we must do those things that add the most value first, and the things that add the least value last. Not all jobs are of equal value; they vary. Your task as a time manager is to identify the most valuable task and do it first.

2. Prioritisation by Deadline Pressure

The second quality by which tasks should be judged is deadline pressure. Sometimes tasks must be done immediately; for example, if there is a fire in the office, then the fire must be put out immediately. It is important and urgent to do so. So, tasks with a short deadline should rise up your hierarchy, and tasks with longer deadlines may be temporarily delayed.

3. Prioritisation by Logical Sequence

Sometimes tasks must logically be done before others. We put the washer on before the bolt; we put our socks on before our shoes. We put our pants on before our trousers (usually). So, logical necessity demands that certain tasks have to be done before others, and therefore logic is the third way we can think about prioritisation.

Maintaining a Written Plan

Whenever your plans are being upset by changing circumstances, take 5 to 10 minutes to figure out the next four hours. Always work to a written plan based upon your priorities as judged by their value, deadline pressure, and logical necessity.

Always operate according to a written prioritised list. Every 4 to 6 hours, rewrite the list, and if something unexpected happens, you may have to rewrite it again.

You have a limited time to do an unlimited number of things; so you need to prioritise your day.

We have designed a free Prioritisation App to help you prioritise tasks.

What to Avoid

Avoid doing tasks according to their likeability. Do not do tasks because you like them, and do not avoid tasks because you do not like them. The likeability of a task is not the way to judge whether or not you should prioritise it.

Do not try to multitask. We have already discussed the painful consequences of multitasking. Multitasking is not a true time management concept. It is counterproductive; causes errors, waste, and loss of time.

Do not avoid difficult tasks. It is tempting to avoid difficult tasks because they're difficult. The difficulty of the task is not the way you judge whether or not you should prioritise the task. If it is difficult but it is a priority, then do it anyway.

The Importance of Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to do what you don't want to do. All time managers need self-discipline. If you want to be a good time manager, then get yourself to do what you don't want to do!

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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