We all know those enviable people who seem to be so organised and productive every day. They seem to get so much out of life and achieve so much in life while others struggle to cope with the most basic demands of life and work. However, the term ‘Time Management’ is something of a myth as we cannot actually manage time, we all have 24 hours in a day and about 1,700 hours of work time each year but, while we cannot change that very much we can certainly do a lot about how we spend it.
All the experts will tell you that it is about prioritising, using our time on High value activities and not wasting time on the low or no value stuff which soaks our personal resources like some enormous sponge.
One of our favourite authors when it comes to personal and management effectiveness is Dr Stephen Covey, whose book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, became a blueprint for personal development when it was published.
Like most things in life the concepts are not difficult to understand but not just always so easy to implement. We strongly recommend that you read and study the book (or Audiobook CDs) but our very briefly, Coverys’ Seven interconnected Habits are:
Be Proactive: Nothing happens unless you Take Action. Take responsibility and don’t blame others or circumstances, it is up to you!!! Any successful athlete or sports person will tell you that ‘you need to get your head right’, develop the right positive attitude towards success and then get out there and make it happen!!
Begin with the End in Mind: Have a clear Vision and know where you are going. Have a real live working Plan (Personal & Business) which not only defines the end goal but the steps which need to be achieved on the way.
Put First Things First: Differentiate between what is Important and Urgent. Closely linked to Habit 2, you need to plan and prioritise, and execute your week’s tasks based on the value of the activity rather than how urgency you or others may deem it to be. Note that ‘doing nothing’ and having time to think can be in the high value quadrant 2 and not in the forth 4.
The next three have to do with how we work and engage with others.
Think Win-Win: Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Typically a business will thrive if it adapts the attitude of striving to have its customers benefit more from doing business together than the Company.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: If business is about ‘satisfying customer’s needs profitably’, then it is logical that you must understand them before you strive to have them understand the virtues of what you are selling. While we use them all the time, stop and study the meaning of the words & terms empathy, caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
Synergise: Combine the strengths of people and ideas through positive and dynamic teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Think how you can combine your contacts, utilise facilities and clusters of knowledge & skills to add value. This habit is about making 2 + 2 = 5 or 7 or more!
The Last habit relates to self-rejuvenation and personal development.
Sharpen the Saw: With this lovely word picture we can visualise the person sawing and sawing, the saw blade getting duller and duller and if they were to stop and sharpen the saw, it would work a lot more efficiently and effectively. Look at technology and take time out to think about new and better ways of doing things, make time for rest & leisure and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.
Looking at some other concepts of optimising our use of time
Find out where you’re wasting time. Many of us are prey to time-wasters that steal time we could be using much more productively. What are your time-bandits? Do you spend too much time ‘Net surfing, reading and answering low value or irrelevant emails, or making personal calls? Keep a record for a few weeks as to how you are using time and track your activities so you can form an accurate picture of what you actually do. Knowing what you do now is the first step to effective ‘time management’.
Create time management goals. Remember, the focus of time management is actually changing your behaviours, not changing time. A good place to start is by eliminating your personal time-wasters. For one week, for example, set a goal that you’re not going to take personal phone calls while you’re working.
Implement a time management plan. Be conscious of and reflect on what you are doing with every hour. The objective is to change your behaviours over time to achieve whatever general goal you’ve set for yourself, such as increasing your productivity or decreasing your stress. So you need to not only set your specific goals, but track them over time to see whether or not you’re accomplishing them.
Use time management tools. Whether it’s paper based ‘diary or filofax’ type system or a software program, the first step to physically managing your time is to know where it’s going now and planning how you’re going to spend your time in the future. A software program such as Outlook, for instance, lets you schedule events easily and can be set to remind you of events in advance, making your time management easier.
Prioritise ruthlessly. As covered above in Covey’s Habit No 3, you should start each day with a time management session prioritising the tasks for that day and setting your performance benchmark. If you have 20 tasks for a given day, how many of them do you truly need to accomplish, which are in quadrants 1 and 2 ?
Learn to delegate and/or outsource. No matter how small your business is, there’s no need for you to be a one-person show. We know that you can very probably ‘know more and do it better’ but if you keep doing it and not training others you will never make progress. Time spent developing the knowledge, skills and attitude & behaviour of others is a wise investment. For effective time management, you need to let other people carry some of the load.
Establish routines and stick to them as much as possible. While crises will arise, you’ll be much more productive if you can follow routines most of the time. Develop systems & procedures which people understand and adhere to.
Get in the habit of setting time limits for tasks. Work expands to fill the time available. For instance, reading and answering email can consume your whole day if you let it. Instead, set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it or perhaps have a colleague take messages from callers and return phone calls only between 3 & 4 pm.
Be sure your systems are organised. Are you wasting a lot of time looking for files on your computer? Take the time to organise a file management system. Is your filing system slowing you down? Redo it, so it’s organised to the point that you can quickly lay your hands on what you need.
Don’t waste time waiting. From client meetings to dentist appointments, it’s impossible to avoid waiting for someone or something. But you don’t need to just sit there and twiddle your thumbs. Always take something to do with you, such as a report you need to read, a check book that needs to be balanced, or just a blank pad of paper that you can use to plan your next marketing campaign. Technology makes it easy to work wherever you are; your PDA and/or cell phone will help you stay connected.
Regard travelling as your mobile University. For those who spend time travelling invest in Audio Books, there are thousands and you can build extraordinary levels of new skills and knowledge while travelling.
Think & Associate Positively: associate and spend time with successful and positive people, stay away from and out of negative conversations and ‘blame sessions’, this stuff is more contagious than the plague!!! .
Imaging what you could do if you could extend the working day by 25 or 30% or more? Well you can quite easily achieve this level of result by simply ‘working smarter and not harder or longer’, just get to grips with the time management myth, and be disciplined and taken control of your time.