Paths to Good Time Management

June 12, 2000
If you are like most people, balancing a busy personal and professional life is quite a challenge. Trying to keep current, whether that is with technology, your industry, changing expectations at work, or simply meeting your personal obligations, is becoming harder and harder. More than ever, managing time well is a key skill.

Time is probably the most precious and limited resource we have. In spite of our best efforts, time is unyielding -- no one can stop it, slow it down, or truly save it. It is the rare person who has enough time to do all the things that he or she wants to do. For some reason, we keep adding "just one more thing," and forget to eliminate others. The result is an ever-increasing time crunch. Do you take on too much, have difficulty saying "no" to extra demands, and fail to set priorities?

Paths to success

Considering how important goals are, it is amazing that goal-setting is not taught in schools. The biggest dreamers and most successful people -- whether in sports, the arts, business or science -- started with a dream, a driving purpose or inspiring vision.

Big-picture dreams are wonderful things. They inspire and excite, but left alone, they rarely create. Turn your dreams, intentions, and desires into firm, achievable goals. Specific, measurable, realistic plans are the building blocks to living your dreams. Not set in stone or intended to be inflexible weights around your neck, goals do make it easier to stay on track and resist temptations that may sidetrack you in directions you do not wish to go.

Plan yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. The secret to successful planning is to allow extra time for unexpected situations, and not over-commit or over-book yourself. Establish priorities on your activities so that at the end of each day, you have done the most important things. Planning long projects by breaking them down into bite-sized pieces will help you dedicate a few minutes each day to important high-value activities that carry future due dates. By getting ahead on projects, you are less likely to have last-minute crises and time crunches.

Focus on yourself

Beware of creeping bad habits that can sabotage your best efforts. Recognize subconscious patterns that can make you your own worst enemy. Whether it is trying to keep everything in your head, versus making a list, being constantly late because you wanted to do just one more thing before leaving for the meeting or being easily distracted, you can change your habits.

Keep one job in front of you at a time. There is a fantasy that people multi-task. Actually, what people do is one task interrupted by another. It is nearly impossible to do two things equally well, simultaneously.

The best way to save time is not to speed up and attempt to jam more and more into a crowded schedule. The best way to do more is to do less. Saying "no" and delegating more are two important strategies. Saying "no" more often, will allow you to say "yes" to your priorities and to participate fully when you volunteer. Eliminate unnecessary and inappropriate activities. Those can creep in if you do not pay attention.

Identify those areas of greatest stress, and begin to make changes. A continual high-stress high-rush style can cause health problems, not to mention sleep and interpersonal difficulties. For example, make decisions quickly. Rarely does delay improve the quality of the choice. Over-analysis can be seductive and also stress-producing. Keep in mind that nearly all decisions must be made with imperfect information.

Focus on others

Control interruptions, time wasters and distractions. Whether at work, at home, or in a home-based business, these are insidious. Look for patterns in interruptions. Often, they are caused by a breakdown in a system, process or function. Low-priority items often masquerade as important things that require your immediate attention; however, they will often take care of themselves without your intervention. As a test of this, consider all the things that do not wait for your return from vacation. Somehow they get handled.

Manage your staff effectively. Delegate regularly. It serves as a training tool, and helps make others' jobs more interesting. Actively look for things that your staff does well, and let them do more of it. Employees are more often limited by our ability than by their own.