As someone who manages volunteers, you know only too well how valuable your volunteers’ time is to the work of your organisation. But what about your time? Do you have trouble getting done the things you need to? Do you sometimes find there are jobs left over at the end of the day? Do you not feel satisfied with what you have achieved?

We have never yet met a volunteer manager with too much time on their hands, and this month’s article by Stepping Up associate and author of Brilliant Time Management, Mike Clayton, offers a framework for getting thing done, using the OATS method

How to get your OATS

The OATS principle is a fundamental approach to time management that is both simple and elegant. It doesn’t require you to complete huge forms, it just needs ten minutes of thinking time, a pencil and some paper.

The OATS method works on a daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. In this article, we’ll look at daily OATS planning.

When to do your OATS Planning?

Do you sometimes have trouble getting to sleep at night because all of the things you need to do tomorrow are buzzing around your head? If that sounds familiar; you need to get your OATS at night, before you go to bed. If not, you can get them in the morning, before you start your day’s activities.

O for Outcomes

OATS planning starts with deciding on the outcomes for the next day. If it’s 5pm and you are planning tomorrow, ask yourself: “What do I want to be different at this time tomorrow?” These are your outcomes and you would be wise to limit yourself to three or four big outcomes. Outcomes thinking gets you to start with what really matters.

A for Activities

Now, for each outcome, list all of the things you need to do, to make that outcome happen. Since they are linked to outcomes and your outcomes matter, these activities should all be fairly motivating on their own, getting you over one of the biggest time management hurdles: being stuck.

And because each activity links to an outcome, there will be a fixed list of them, making completion of tomorrow’s tasks possible

This differs from a ‘To Do list’ in that we tend to keep adding to our ‘To Do lists’. This means we rarely finish them and never feel satisfied. ‘To Do lists’ lead to stress, while fixed “To Day” lists can be mastered and completed.

T for Time

This is perhaps the hardest of the four steps: estimating how long each of your activities will take. Most of us are pretty poor at estimating and are most likely to under-estimate how long things will take.

Two techniques will help you. First, think back to how long a similar task took you in the past – this tends to give more realistic answers than a fresh estimate. If you need to make a fresh estimate, break the task into chunks and estimate each chunk separately then add the answers.

S for Schedule

How we allocate time to tasks – or fail to allocate time – is often the reason why things don’t get finished. Parkinson’s Law states that work tends to expand to fill the available time, so little tasks, like checking email, tend to take far longer than they need to.

Schedule the biggest, most complex tasks into your diary as if they were fixed commitments. Plan to do the smaller tasks around them and you will be amazed what you can fit in. Where you have flexibility, choose the times of day when you are at you best, for these big tasks.

OATS in Summary

No one system can solve all of your time management challenges, because you cannot manage time, you can only manage yourself. However, with the OATS principle to hand, and a desire to get more done, you will be amazed what you can achieve.

Mike Clayton is a project and time management expert, and author of 11 books including Brilliant Time Management and The Yes No Book.

Photo credit: John Tann

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