Time Management Strategies

Overview

Are you one of the 78 percent of adults who wish they had more time to stop and smell the roses? If so, this article is for you. In today's fast-paced business environment, managing time is critical. The average American works 46 hours a week on the job and takes six hours of work home with them. Therefore, managing and making the most efficient use of your time really matters!

This article includes:

Outline:

  1. An Interactive Efficiency Quiz
  2. A review of basic time management strategies
  3. An introduction of strategies for today's technology
  4. A comparison of planners and computers for getting and staying organized
  5. Summary
  6. Resources

Through this article, we hope that you will realize you are not alone with too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. Keep in mind, this time period in history, unlike preceding years is "information rich." More information has been produced in the prior 30 years than since 1497! The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, contains more information than a person in the 17th century would come across in a lifetime. The amount of information that is available to us through computers and telecommunications doubles every year. Unlike ever before, we must be able to rapidly keep in touch with our field and be able to hone in on key information.

Before jumping into the ideas in this article, assess your efficiency by completing the Efficiency Quiz.

I. Interactive Efficiency Quiz

Directions: Answer Yes or No for each question by clicking on the correct response with your mouse. The article will count your responses for you.

1. Do you lose time to telephone interruptions? YES NO
2. Would you attain a better final product in less time if you planned more effectively? YES NO
3. Do visitors drop in unexpectedly? YES NO
4. Are you frustrated with your lack of self-discipline? YES NO
5. Is paperwork eating away at your time? YES NO
6. Are meetings that you attend effective and efficiently run? YES NO
7. Do you procrastinate? YES NO
8. Are you prone to socializing when you should be working? YES NO
9. Does poor communication hinder your effectiveness with superiors or subordinates? YES NO
10. Are you spending more time traveling than working on projects? YES NO
11. Are you scrambling for more information to complete projects? YES NO
12. Are you disorganized personally? YES NO
13. Are you attempting to do too much in the available time? YES NO
14. Are you continually putting out fires? Managing by crisis? YES NO
15. When you delegate, do you need to re-explain or take over the project? YES NO
16. Do you have difficulty saying, "no?" YES NO
17. Are you confused by ill-defined limits of your responsibility or authority? YES NO
18. Is your staff inadequate in number or skill level? YES NO
19. Are you leaving tasks unfinished? YES NO
20. Are you affected by inadequate controls and progress reports? YES NO

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II. Basic Strategies

Numerous articles have been written on time management. These articles present various strategies for increasing your effectiveness and ultimately your time. They all agree, however, on having a clear mental picture of your lifetime goals and immediate goals (one year or less) and work each day toward reaching those long- and short-term goals. This idea is evident in various planners. Without knowing what your goals are you may be working without a sense of direction and merely putting out fires or handling crises. Remember, you won't know if you get there, if you don't know where you are going or where you want to be.

Note: The following strategies and tips come from personal experience and the various resources found at the end of this article.

  1. Identify activities that are robbing you of valuable time. If you're unsure, keep a log of your time culprits (Parks). Once you determine your time culprits, focus your energies on reducing their impact.
  2. Work from a to-do list.
    1. Keep track of projects that must be done, check them off when completed. By checking them off you will be more motivated to proceed to your next activity or project.
    2. Set deadlines for yourself, i.e., catch up on memos by 10:00 a.m.
  3. Manage by goals and objectives and not crisis management. If you feel that every day all you are doing is putting out fires, it's time to reevaluate why these fires are occurring and focus on eliminating the causes.
  4. Manage your time by handling interruptions.
    1. If you have an open-door policy, your staff and colleagues know you're available. Discuss your limited availability or establish times you are available, subsequently, your productivity will increase.
    2. Limit phone calls by having your secretary screen and trouble shoot.
    3. Designate a specific time of the day in which you return calls.
    4. Designate a time of the day in which you are available for consultations.
    5. Respond to emails at pre-determined times, once or twice a day, instead of every time you receive a message.
    6. Be alert to visitors who just drop in. Unexpected visitors can rob you of valuable minutes. Let your visitors know that you are quite busy at present but your secretary would be glad to meet with them and if appropriate, schedule an appointment.
    7. Remove extra chairs from your office.
    8. Meet uninvited visitors outside your office and if they come in, remain standing so your visitor will be less inclined to sit and talk.
    9. Learn to say, "Can we schedule some time to discuss this later?"
    10. To eliminate "phone tag," make phone calls just before lunch or near the end of the day when the other party is most likely to be there.
    11. Reposition your desk so that you don't look directly outside your office door as it may encourage conversations with passersby.
  5. Don't procrastinate.
    1. Pretend the deadline is tomorrow.
    2. Outline the whole concept or project in writing.
    3. Delegate parts of the project to staff.
  6. When faced with monumental tasks or projects, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. Break down that major task into small, doable components.
    1. Develop a timetable to complete the project.
    2. Work as a committee, delegate parts of the project.
    3. Focus on completing one step at a time.
    4. Don't Procrastinate, refer to Strategy 4
  7. Every piece of paper that crosses your desk should be taken care of by tossing it, referring it, acting on it, or filing it.
    1. Never let paper work accumulate on your desk
  8. Eliminate anything that is not essential.
    1. Do NOT open junk mail
    2. Empower your secretary or staff to perform some of these activities.
  9. Stop being a designated expert.
    1. Empower your staff to handle questions and complaints.
    2. Identify key individuals who can manage specific areas of the business.
  10. Delegate everything you can.
    1. Refer to the business tool When to Delegate.
  11. Just say "no." Although this may be a good strategy for some members of the team, be cautious of telling your boss you can't do something. When faced with things you can't say no to, focus on what you can do to make it a win-win situation.
    1. Put together a team that you will supervise to complete this new project.
    2. Change the time frames for project completion for this new project or prior ones.
    3. Be realistic about what you can and can't do.
  12. Make every moment count!
    1. Campbell stresses the need to take advantage of time spent on the road by using downtime to return voice mail and email.
    2. Balancing a growing business and a growing family requires squeezing maximum productivity out of the available time. Some tricks include traveling at night, sleeping less, and deploying labor-saving devices.
  13. Clear your desk so you can focus on your task at hand.
  14. Concentration is a key to each component; it is critical to stay focused on the task at hand. That alone can increase your available time by making you more efficient.
    1. Focus on critical information when looking through publications..
    2. Close your door.
    3. Take notes on tasks at hand.
  15. Use technology to enhance your skills.
  16. Be flexible.
    1. Anticipate interruptions such as phone calls, visitors or a problem arising.
  17. Meetings can also be major time-zappers; including the time to get to the meeting, waiting for late arrivals, inefficiently run meetings that take on personal agendas.
    1. Use meeting announcements with agendas to remind individuals and keep focused.
    2. Designate specific time frames for discussion.
    3. When meetings stray from the topic, bring people back on target by asking specific questions related to the agenda item.
    4. Consider the alternatives to meetings that are discussed below.
  18. Ensure that all new employees are properly oriented and hold them accountable for their jobs. You do not have the time or energy to continually explain things or assist them on their jobs when you need to focus on doing your own.
    1. Develop, or better yet, delegate to a staff member the responsibility of developing an orientation Program.
    2. Designate key individuals to orient new employees.
    3. Make sure all job descriptions and performance standards are up to date and reflective of the job.
    4. Use a probationary period to make sure you have the right person for the position. If they continue to have difficulty performing tasks assigned, consider dismissing them.
  19. Follow your internal clock to enhance your effectiveness. Are you doing your most important tasks during your most productive hours or are you scheduling your most important tasks when your brain is shutting down?
    1. Rearrange your schedule. If you work best in the early morning, do your most important tasks then.
  20. Don't be afraid to hire someone to help with chores and tasks at home so you can enjoy your friends, family and self. Getting help does not mean you can't do the work; it means you are smart enough to realize that your time is valued and should be spent with those people you value and doing things you value.
  21. Focus on your wellness!
    1. Eat right.
    2. Exercise.
    3. Get an appropriate amount of rest.
    4. Take time to relax.
    5. Stop bad habits, like smoking, and decrease your caffeine intake.
    6. Keep in touch with your spiritual side.
    7. Never forget to do the things that bring you enjoyment; if you are frustrated, exhausted or sick your efficiency will decrease, and you will have even less time.
    8. Spend time with family and friends.
    9. Value yourself.

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III. New Strategies for Today's Technology

Imagine a day without pagers, cell phones, email, facsimiles and other technologies. Using these items may help us to get things done more efficiently, but they may also enable us to take on even more work. Using new technologies increases our ability to multi-task, or accomplish many activities at one time.

Multi-tasking is not just a term used to describe a computer's capability to do multiple functions simultaneously. It can be used to describe today's worker. While driving to a meeting, it's not uncommon for a busy executive or business owner to make some phone calls, listen to voice mail, and open up some mail. Although this may be an efficient use of time, it can be dangerous when done behind the wheel of a car! Multi-tasking can overwhelm you by creating problems with focusing on the task at hand yet provide you with those precious extra minutes in the day. When doing multi-tasking, remember if the task requires you to focus on it, do not attempt to do another task simultaneously.

Here are some strategies for multi-tasking:

  1. The Internet is a valuable resource that can do more than deliver email messages.
    1. By using the attachment function on your email program. You can move information over the data network in a more expedient and less costly format than regular fax or voice mail. In fact, the number of fax pages rerouted from the voice network is growing from 44 million in 1997 to an expected 5.6 billion in 2000.
  2. Consider the alternative to a direct face-to-face meeting with staff, especially when the meeting entails travel.
    1. Electronic mail -- Using a listserv can allow you to attain feedback and comments on key information.
    2. Voice mail
    3. "Just the fax ..." For companies that don't have computers linked to the Internet or a network, a fax can be used similarly. You or an appropriate individual outlines key issues and faxes it to first person on a routing list, who adds comments and suggestions then faxes the original and their comments to the next person in a round-robin fashion.
    4. Online meetings can be done with software packages such as First Class TM. These programs are especially conducive to brainstorming.
    5. Teleconferencing
    6. Videoconferencing
  3. When using online services, filter through the information and focus on key information (Beck).
  4. Whenever possible use email.
    1. Correspond to colleagues at your convenience; don't be interrupted by making phone calls or answering phone calls.
    2. A word of caution: Although email fits almost everyone's schedule, messages may be misconstrued and not interpreted as intended.
  5. If you receive numerous pages each day and can only return calls at key times, notify your family and immediate staff to put a tail on their return number, such as 911, for especially important messages.
  6. If you have limited keyboarding skills, consider using a voice-activated word processing software package.

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IV. Getting Organized -- Pen and Paper vs. Computers and Keystrokes

Fifty-two percent of all working people in this country use a calendar or planner. Planners have become an industry in United States. The three most popular planners are Franklin Quest, Day Runner and Day-Timer. Numerous types of calendars can be found in stationery stores; other common planners include Rolodex organizer and Time Resource planner. As responsibilities grow, the type of planner you need may change. Organizers and planners save individuals an average of 51 minutes a day.

The primary secret to successful time management with a datebook or planner is to use it. It should be carried around with you daily to schedule important meetings, keep track of projects, plan and prepare.

Wheeler suggests the following tips for using organizers:

Most individuals could do without desktop organizers. But others feel that the flexibility of actual calendar type organizer is always available, doesn't require access to the same computer, and are adaptable to many settings and situations. Computer programs are flexible in allowing the scheduling of multiple appointments, some up to 75 per day. Although not pragmatic for an individual, they would work well for scheduling medical appointments in a clinic.

Personal information managers can maintain a daily schedule and keep track of conversations and meetings. People may use these software programs to better manage time and resources but may resort to their Franklin and Day Timers.

Common software time management programs vary greatly in price and what they include. There is an arsenal of new technology to enhance your time management techniques for scheduling, planning and tracking projects. Three of the more common ones include:

For many, the difference between a computerized system and a pad and pencil is merely a matter of comfort, what you get used to, what is available, and prior successes. It is recommended to go to a large office store and try some of these various software and technologies to see what best fits your needs.

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V. Summary

So, where do you go from here? It's easy to read this, answer the questions and think you'll start following the suggestions tomorrow. Instead, consider your goals and objectives; you wouldn't have read this if you didn't think you needed to improve.

Challenge yourself by downloading, printing out and completing the following Reflections on My Time Worksheet. Seal it in an envelope and address it to yourself. Give it to your secretary or someone else reliable and ask them to mail it or give it back to you in three months. In three months, reexamine how you are doing in managing your time and meeting your goals.

Reflections on My Time Worksheet

Complete, seal in a self-addressed envelope, and give it to someone who will mail it to you or give it to you in three months. When you get it back, reflect on where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to be in managing your time.

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VI. Resources

So, where do you go from here? It's easy to read this, answer the questions and think you'll start following the suggestions tomorrow. Instead, consider your goals and objectives; you wouldn't have read this if you didn't think you needed to improve.

Challenge yourself by downloading, printing out and completing the following Reflections on My Time Worksheet. Seal it in an envelope and address it to yourself. Give it to your secretary or someone else reliable and ask them to mail it or give it back to you in three months. In three months, reexamine how you are doing in managing your time and meeting your goals.

Periodicals

Beck, S.A. (1998). "The time of your life." Broker World 18(2):80-86.

Begole, C. (1990). "Five successful alternative to in-person meetings." Working Woman, 15(10):70.

Bradfield, L.M. (1997). "Paperless notes." Association Management, November, p. 85.

Campbell, T. (1998). "Whittling away the time." Sales & Marketing Management 150(3):18.

Carbonara, P. (1998). "Sleep is for wusses." INC. 20(4): 29-31

Curtis, J. (1997). "Out of time, out of money." Marketing Focus, October 16, pp. 22-23.

Davis, S.H. (1998). "New matters of fax." Telephony, March 16, pp. 26-28.

Dolliver, M. (1998). "Life in the slow lane looks better each day." Adweek, Eastern Ed. 39(7):20.

Figel, M. (1997). "Get the most out of your time." The American Salesman. September, 3-

Haddock, P. (199?). "Secrets for getting things done." Winning Strategies, pp. 120-121

Jelcich, S. (1986). "Desktop organizers have loyal fans despite charges they are unnecessary." PC Week. 3:141-142.

MacKenzie, A. (1997). "The Time Trap: The Classic Book on Time Management," 3rd ed.

McKee, B. (1992) "A team is as strong as its weakest link." Nation's Business, 80(5):12.

Parks, B. (1998). "7 time-management sanity savers." Instructor. 107(5):46.

Pepper, J. (1987). "Time-management tool helps users ACT! more efficiently." PC Week. 4:69.

Pollock, T. (1998). "Mind your own business." Supervision. February, pp. 24-26.

Reed, M. (1998). "Overtime no more." Black Enterprise 28(8):45

Reets, K. (1998). "Manage your time by handling interruptions." Boating Industry. 61(2):ER1.

Snedden, D. (1998) "Cure-alls for procrastination." Association Management 50(3):81.

Soeder, J. (1997). "Beat the clock! How to get more out of every minute." 81(7):61.

"Stretch your time." LAN, October, 1997, pp. 46-49.

Wheeler, C. (1994): "Confessions of a time-management freak." Executive Female 17(6): 48-53

Winston, S. (1998) "Organizing those relentless paper piles." Association Management 50(2):179.

Wojahn, E. (1995). "Got the time?" Oregon Business, 18(7):72.

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Copyright , 2002, Virtual Advisor Inc.