Almost every time I do a consulting job or facilitate a workshop, the subject of time management comes up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the boss or an employee: Having enough time to “get the job done” in a timely and efficient manner seems to be a problem that many of you experience on a daily basis.
The sequence in which you perform tasks on an everyday basis has a profound effect on how much you get out of life. Most people have the capacity to manage their time better and, in doing so, become more productive and make their leisure time more fulfilling.
Would you agree that time is our most valuable resource? Start by trying to analyze your current time usage. If you truly want to use your time efficiently to accomplish all that you need to do at work and at home, you need to be aware of the current habits and attitudes that shape your use of time.
Few of us will readily admit that large parts of our working day are wasted. The only way for you to make better use of your time is to analyze how you use it now – and then consider ways in which you can reallocate it more effectively.
One good way of doing this is to keep a time log. Set up a time log in 15-minute segments starting with your arrival at work and going to the time when you usually leave work. Example:
Do this for two straight weeks. Put everything in the log…including personal calls, time spent with reps, conversations with co-workers, coffee breaks, etc.
To analyze your time log, allocate all of the 15-minute chunks into categories according to the nature of each task – meetings, reading and answering e-mail, working with clients, idle chatter, etc. Next, calculate the percentage of time you spent on each task. This will give you a better picture of your working day and should enable you to assess how you can allocate your time more effectively.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
Am I doing work that could/should be done by someone else?
Does my time log show that I waste too much time on personal calls and non-business conversations?
Do my projects frequently take longer that I expect them to?
Do I spend too much time in meetings that aren’t productive?
Do I take the easy tasks first and procrastinate on the tougher ones?
If you don’t like your answers, take corrective action and improve in these areas.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
You cannot decide what to deal with today unless you know where you want to be tomorrow. Any plan to improve your use of time depends on being clear about your goals.
Write down all of your goals and then divide them into short and long term, personal and professional. Make sure your goals are realistic. Once you’ve identified your goals, put together a plan that will help you achieve them.
PRIORITIZING & DELEGATING
Many supervisors or owners are very poor delegators. You believe that you can do every task faster and better than anyone else. This may be true, but if you try to be involved in every task, you won’t have enough hours or energy to accomplish everything that needs to get done.
To become a better delegator, read Ken Blanchard’s book, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how well your employees will do – and you’ll have a much more excited and happy team.
When I started in my career, I quickly learned that if I was going to succeed, I needed to become a much better time manager. One of the keys I found was to prioritize the next day’s work. I started by listing every task that I knew had to be addressed the next day. Once all of the tasks were listed, I prioritized them by A-B-C. As had to be done, Bs should be done and Cs would get done if there was time. As the next day progressed, I crossed off tasks I’d completed and added new ones that came up. I’ve followed this routine for many years – and it works!
But be realistic. Be sure not to pack in more “As” than you’ll be able to accomplish in your normal work day. This A-B-C list works well at home, too.
Following are a few points to remember:
Time spent drawing up a plan is never wasted – it will save you time in the long run.
Avoiding burnout is achieved by pacing yourself for a working life – not just a working day!
Time management is doing things more effectively – not just more quickly.
Food is vital for concentration levels and health – regular breaks are important.
Quiet time in the office is good! Learn how to build some of this into your work day.
Everybody has a natural daily rhythm to their energy patterns – rising to peaks of mental and physical performance – then experiencing some troughs of low energy. Become familiar with your personal rhythm so you can work with it rather than against it.
Learn what your peaks and valleys are to maximize efficiency.
USE TIME PLANNERS
Keeping a reliable record of upcoming events, appointments and obligations is crucial for efficient time management. Find a planner that works for you.
For longer-term activities, I still create an Excel spreadsheet “Action List.” This is a January-December spreadsheet where I list all of the more important activities that I know will happen during the year. When I owned my own business, I would include: what the activity was, who was responsible for it, when it would start and end – and any budgetary needs associated with it.
Here are a few ideas that might help you become better time managers:
Clean up your desk every evening before leaving work.
Clean out your desk drawers and files. Purge your e-mail regularly…keeping only current items.
Keep the tools of the trade in a single drawer for easy access (pens, tape, rulers, etc).
When not in use, place your computer keyboard out of the way to create more working space.
Position a clock in your office so it is visible to you and your clients.
Discard documents no longer needed.
To the best of your ability, avoid interruptions.
Keep meetings short and to the point.
In my last column, I wrote about motivation, and offered to e-mail interested readers a “Self Appraisal” Test. Over 100 people responded!
This month I would like to offer a similar self-assessment test that focuses on “Time Management Skills.” If you would like it, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, the good habits you form now will continue to help you for the rest of your lifetime!