In this series of Time Management Masterminds, I interview professional leaders to understand their techniques to overcome the challenges they face in their daily life and how they manage their time.
You will understand today how Bunsary Lay developed powerful techniques which finally helped him get rid of his to do list.
Contact me If like Bun you are a Time Management Master and you want to share your approach with the world or if you want to receive the next interviews
We were with friends at a coffee shop when Bun told me that he read my article on the Pomodoro time management technique and he added that he had been using it for several years. I was immediately interested to know more and we agreed to meet a couple of days later to talk about the Pomodoro technique.
The Routinologist: Bun, you told me that you have been using the Pomodoro technique for some time. Can you tell me more about it?
Bun: Actually, the Pomodoro is just a part of what I have implemented and, in order to understand how and why I used it, I need to tell you the nitty gritty behind it.
The Routinologist: Sure. Can you give us more details?
Bun: A few years ago, on top of a regional mandate that I had in Hong Kong, I took new responsibilities as a manager for IT production support in Japan. This additional role quickly overwhelmed me, the main reason being the additional load of emails I was receiving (more than a thousand daily). I was trying to do my job but at the end of the day, I had the feeling that I was not doing much and my inbox was always full. As soon as I was processing one email, at least two new ones were replacing it. I discussed with my manager who was trying to experiment new ways to improve efficiency at work.
“A deep change in the way we do something is usually the result of a challenging situation where we have no choice: fight or fly”
The Routinologist: So, what did you do with all these emails?
Bun: The first thing we did was to analyze the situation. My manager was experimenting a software called ManicTime, so I tried it myself. The result was difficult to swallow. We were both spending 75% of our time on managing emails. We brainstormed for some time and I decided to take a drastic approach. I asked my teams to remove me from all emails and distribution lists.
The Routinologist: How were you aware of what was going on if you were no longer in the emails?
Bun: I have to admit that we were not very comfortable about it. However, after a couple of weeks, it was clear that it was working.
My emails have dropped from more than a thousand to less than one hundred per day.
The Routinologist: You say that you were not comfortable about it; can you tell us what you did about that?
Bun: Letting go some information is not easy. You always wonder if you did not miss anything important. Coincidence or synchronicity, our company organized a lunch and learn training on mindfulness at that time. The trainer taught us a 10 min mindfulness exercise that I found quite interesting. He used the argument that people might not want to spend 1 hour per day to meditate, but they can always find 10 min. He explained also that people usually feel overwhelmed but they do not find the “time” to do anything about it.
“We are slave of our thoughts. Practicing mindfulness would make us become an observer of our thoughts, not a slave anymore”.
He recommended us to practice daily mindfulness exercises to learn to be present and to control the wandering of our mind. I was curious and interested to learn more on the topic and I started by reading a book the trainer recommended: One Second Ahead from Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Gillian Coutts. At the end of the training, I discussed about “letting go” problem with the trainer. He asked me a very inspirational question. “What will happen if people need you and you are not in an email or in a meeting?” “They will look for me and find me” I said”. He asked me to think about it. Since people will find you if you are needed, do you need to have all this information? I agreed that it was not the case.
“As a manager, when something important happens and when your team needs to find you, they do find you”
The Routinologist: Did it work?
Bun: It did. I started my daily mindfulness exercises. First, it was hard. After a couple of breaths, my mind was wandering and I had to restart the exercise from scratch. After a couple of weeks of practice, I became better at it and I started to be present and concentrated. I was no longer thinking about the negative feedback I received 2 days before or the shopping list for the evening diner. I already had a successful journey toward efficiency and along my new quest, a new finding was obvious: I had too many meetings.
“You do not need to process your to-do list again and again and as a result, it decreases your stress”
The Routinologist: How did you manage this?
Bun: We looked at the meetings one by one using the same approach than for emails. Were we essential to these meetings? For most of them, our attendance was nice to have. The purpose of the meeting organizer was to keep us informed of progress on a specific topic. We declined all these meetings. Again, the result was immediate. Many free time slots appeared in my calendar.
The Routinologist: And what did you do with all this free time?
Bun: The action on our emails drastically reduced their number but there were still a lot, with some of them requiring more than a yes or no answer. I realized that in many cases when I was procrastinating with an email, when I was not processing it when I was first reading it, I kept coming back to it (scrolling down quickly to check the content). This was costing me some time. I read somewhere that we should only read or process an email one time. In order to change this, I started to move these emails (those I could not answer or delegate directly) in my calendar by order of priority. They were disappearing from my inbox and I was allocating them a specific time to manage them properly.
“We should only read or process an email one time”.
The Routinologist: Is it at that stage that you were using the Pomodoro technique?
Bun: Yes exactly. I was concentrating on these tasks requiring more focus for 30 minutes and then I was moving to the next topic. This was working very well and I started to also allocate some time slot in my calendar to work on my other tasks, those which were not directly the result of emails. One very positive outcome is that progressively, I get rid of my To Do list. Since everything was logged in my calendar, I did not longer need a To Do list.
“We should only read or process an email one time”
The Routinologist: But what were you doing when someone was interrupting you?
Bun: I was asking them if it was a top priority and I was telling them that I would come back to them later. Of course, this approach was flexible and if something urgent pop up, I was stopping my Pomodoro to work on it immediately.
The Routinologist: Thanks Bun, this is very inspirational. Do you still use this technique today?
Bun: I have now developed new habits in term of time management and I no longer need to apply this technique strictly but yes, I still use it. I want to finish by mentioning that the main benefit of this approach has been the change of my mindset towards priority. When I was previously swamped under emails, distractions (including many thoughts), I am now able to allocate my time to real priorities which really make a difference.
Hong Kong June 4th, 2019
Bunsary Lay is a Business Manager in charge of Transversal Projects and Regulatory Affairs within a Fortune 500 investment bank
Tips: Count to 10-meditation technique:
Inhale, pause, and exhale. At the end of your out-breath mentally count, "One".
Keep counting like this at the end of every exhalation until you reach "Ten".
Then, start counting backward - nine, eight, seven, six, etc. until you reach "one" again.
Like a game, however, there is a rule here that you have to follow: If, you start to wander and you forget which number you are on, you must start over again at "one."