More Tips for Becoming a Better Time Manager

My March 2010 column was an introduction to the subject of time management. In that article, I offered to send readers a copy of a self appraisal test on time management skills. I had such a huge response, I decided to do a follow-up column.

When I started my own business, I quickly learned that working 80 hours a week and trying to do everything by myself wasn’t going to work. I had to become a good time manager.

Then, as I became fairly good at it, I recognized I needed to help our employees become better time managers, too. I observed a number of folks being really “busy” all day, but at the end of the day, not a whole lot had been accomplished. Real productivity was lacking.

I tried to show people how to analyze their use of time by keeping a time log, analyzing short- and long-term goals, making a daily “to do” list and prioritizing each task.

One thing that helped me was using a “time planner.” This can be a fairly basic, standard daily diary where you write in your “to do” action items. If you want to step up, use a personal organizer such as a Day Timer.

You should do a master list, broken out by year, month and day. Every item on the list should be prioritized (A, B, C, etc.) Having a master list at home and at work will make your life easier and more enjoyable.

Organized Work Spaces

Part of good time management is having a well organized work area. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Keep your desk clear of everything but the current work.
  • Beware of those “sticky notes.” They are easily lost.
  • Clean up daily! Never leave a mess to walk into the next day.
  • Maintain neat, organized desk drawers.
  • When not in use, place the computer keyboard out of the way to create more working space.
  • Position a clock in your office or on your desk so that it’s visible to you and your visitors.
  • Organize your filing system – and purge it every few months.
  • File only essential documents that will be referred to in the future.

Remember, your work space reflects on you if you meet with clients or reps there. A potential client might well assume that a messy or disorganized office means you will produce messy drawings or be unorganized when ordering.

Unexpected Time Drains

When I owned my business, I was amazed how much time was lost to the “unexpected” things that occur: reps popping in unannounced, new or old clients coming in without an appointment, constant phone calls and e-mails, employees popping their heads in with “just a quick question.” Here are a few things I learned to do to save time:

  • Keep all chance meetings short by standing. It will be easier to get away.
  • If the phone rings, answer it to indicate the end of the meeting.
  • Encourage employees to search out answers to their “quick” question.
  • Encourage (maybe even require) reps to always make an appointment – and stick to business.
  • Minimize personal calls and e-mails.
  • Stop subscriptions to magazines that you no longer read.
  • If you are a boss or supervisor, delegate as much of your work as possible. If you do a good job at communicating what you want done, you’ll be amazed at how well the job will be done.

Working with Others

The best laid plans for managing time are many times in the hands of others. Nobody works entirely alone. An unexpected phone call can throw a day’s plans into chaos. Learn to reconcile other people’s time management with your own.

If you are the boss, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Do I consider other people’s plans when making my own?
  • Do I write too many unnecessary memos?
  • Do I run too many unorganized meetings?
  • Do I always arrive on time for appointments?
  • Do I frequently interrupt other people? (Be honest!)

When planning meetings with employees, clients, reps, etc., make sure they are both truly necessary and well organized. Here are a few things to consider when having meetings:

  • Who really needs to be there?
  • Should everyone be there all the time?
  • What subjects are appropriate to cover?
  • Have an agenda. Stick with it!
  • Set a start and end time. Stick to it!
  • Be a good facilitator.

A lot of your time can be eaten up by phone calls and e-mails. Learning how to manage each of these well can and will save you time. Consider the following:

  • Set aside specific times to make callbacks and answer e-mails...perhaps the beginning or end of each day.
  • Stick to business!
  • Keep it short and to the point.
  • Learn how to deal quickly and politely with cold callers.
  • Use a recorded voice mail message to screen calls.
  • Reroute calls or e-mails to someone else if appropriate.

Reading and writing efficiently will also help save you valuable time. Here are some hints for maximizing efficiency:

  • Never delay dealing with any written material – it will just pile up.
  • Underline or highlight key phrases.
  • Learn to skim from paragraph to paragraph. Don’t read every word of every sentence. This requires practice, but saves a lot of time.
  • Start with an outline of what you want to write.

Technology Saves Time

Few people today make effective use of their time if they don’t understand the basics of information technology (IT), which is the convergence of telecommunications and computers. IT puts libraries in our offices and a postal service at our fingertips. Use your computer and this technology to make you smarter, more efficient and to save time!

Finally, don’t forget to schedule some time off. You have to maintain a good balance in your life or your work productivity and efficiency will suffer. Learn to take daily breaks, a lunch alone, a walk around the block. Fifteen minutes of “quiet time” in the middle of the day should not make you feel guilty. It will help you recharge your batteries and make you more efficient in your work.

Learn to organize your time off just like you do your work days. I learned that two or three short vacations helped me shed the stress more than if I took one long one.

Finally, I’m a big believer in self help – so read books, watch videos, attend seminars and research the Internet for ways to become a better time manager. You’ll experience positive effects in both your work life and your personal life.