Buy More Time in the New Year
Yesterday is a cancelled check -- we can never get that time back. And tomorrow? A promissory note -- it may never come. Today, yes today, is cash -- and we have to spend it by the end of the day, or it will be gone forever. Time is one thing we all seem to spend a lot of time talking about -- mostly how we have "too little of it." Since we have a limited supply of time, the obvious is to continue to re-engineer and consistently "make more" of it.
The most important foundation for effective time management is a Reminder System. With dozens of things to remember each week, we quickly become overwhelmed with an entire year of events. Check out some of the new organization systems available. Is it time for you to invest in a hand-held computer? Is it a hassle to have a separate calendar for work and for personal activities? Are you still doing just fine with 3 x 5 cards in your pocket? When you become more organized, your track record of getting things done on time will soar ... and you will be creating more time overall.
Write out your plan each day. List the top ten tasks you commit to accomplish. The more flexible you make your schedule, the more time you will waste. Schedule in time for unexpected events, your personal exercise time, and even time to communicate with friends and family. Our personal time is what we usually lose when we run short, so don't forget to include it on every day's schedule. The balance will give you extra stamina and, bottom line, make you a more pleasant person to be around.
Everyone needs an hour early in the day without interruptions. This is when you will review recent activity, develop long-term goals and list the steps you need to take to reach them. If you do your thinking when you are at your best, you can jot short notes to yourself during the rest of the day and refer back to them later. The strategy that works best for me is to get up an hour earlier than I need to accomplish my regular morning tasks. It gives me the opportunity to ease into the day, journal, answer correspondence and start the day fresh.
Multi-task! When you are doing routine things, add in an extra step. For example, read the newspaper or business periodicals when you are on the treadmill, return phone calls on your "hands-free" phone while driving, or listen to motivational tapes while you cook dinner. We are wired to handle many tasks simultaneously -- so keep developing this skill. Draw the line when "with" others and give them your full attention. For example, don't work on the computer while you are talking to someone on the phone. Time gained doesn't make up for rudeness!
When faced with a group of tasks, do the most dreaded first. Your enthusiasm level will be higher, and it will all be downhill from there. Nothing is worse than having to muster up the gusto to do the thing you dread most at the end of a long day.
You have probably heard this one before -- "Handle each piece of paper only once." This is a simple, but difficult thing to do. I suggest this method combined with a few, thick files -- one for bills to be paid at a later time, one for letters to be written, and so on. There are certainly a lot of things that you can take care of in "real time," such as scanning newsletters and either filing or tossing, responding to e-mails, etc.
When expecting visitors, set a definite time -- both at work and at home. At work, beware of drop-ins. Watch out for the lack of planning on someone else's part creating a time crisis for you! Communicate, and gently let others who are running behind schedule know if this impacts your schedule, too. If you are in the middle of an important project, let the phone ring and check voice mail at your earliest convenience. How many times were those voice mails actually emergencies, anyway? This will not only help you focus, but you'll also make fewer errors.
A meeting can be a terrific tool for communication and training. The trick is to have it organized in advance. Create an agenda and distribute it to all attendees before the meeting time, when possible. Build in some discretionary time for green-light thinking and some structured time. Start at the designated time. Try recruiting a volunteer at each meeting to take brief notes and distribute to attendees within 24 hours with follow-up items. The note-taking role at my meetings is delegated to the last person who enters the room, so it is sometimes passed to several people, but does encourage getting there on time! For successful time management, the little things are what you need to manage most closely. By keeping a close daily check on your schedule, you will find that it is a breeze to get things done. I do wish I knew the formula Mick Jagger was referring to when he sang, "Time is on my side" ... it could be bottled for a cool million! I'll work on that one -- in the meantime, take control of your time ... before it controls you!