Things you know you should do, but probably never get around to actually doing:
- Regular exercise
- Volunteer work
- Getting a flu shot
- Watching less TV
- Starting Christmas shopping early
- Giving blood
- Visiting a museum
- Managing time better
These are all noble pursuits but, in the interest of simplicity (not to mention context), let’s consider just time management.
You don’t need a formal course in time management, or to read a stack of books on the subject to improve in this area (although we wouldn’t discourage either), but you do need to change the way you normally attack the work day. Here are some ideas to consider.
#1 of your time management strategies: prioritize
Well, sure. You must, and here’s why: Unless you’re very, very unusual, you just won’t get everything done. At least not every day.
That’s because you will be unexpectedly interrupted. Or you’ll have professional and personal emergencies. Or some items on your “to do” list will be changed or re-prioritized by your co-workers or customers.
But, how to prioritize? Start with the “80/20 Rule.” It’s likely that about 20 percent of your activities, efforts, conversations, etc., produce 80 percent of your results. Look at your list and determine what activities are bound to add most to your productivity. Depending on your situation, that could mean a visit to a client’s office, a list of phone calls to return, or putting the finishing touch on a quote or proposal.
Tasks that normally don’t contribute much to your bottom line can be put off until you’re less busy, or can be delegated to other staff.
Tip: Always return phone calls (even if they don’t appear to fit the 80/20 Rule) within 24 hours, if possible.
#2 of your time management strategies: plan
Einstein said that if he were given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes (that’s 91% of the hour) analyzing and determining exactly what the problem is, and the last five minutes actually tackling the problem.
While we definitely aren’t advocating spending more than 90% of your work day “planning,” there still is some wisdom in taking time at the very beginning of the day (or the end of the previous day) to schedule and map out how you will spend your time.
Whatever time you need to devote to it – 10, 20, or 30 minutes – don’t start your day until you’ve nailed down your plan.
In addition to ensuring that your highest priorities (see above) are covered, deliberately planning how your office hours are allocated brings a sense of certainty and calm that allows you to perform tasks at a high level.
#3 of your time management strategies: use routines
Routines tend to get a bad rap. It sounds robotic, but you are probably already scheduling certain meetings and appointments at the same time of the day, week, or month, so why not do the same for other tasks that don’t necessarily involve help, participation or input from others?
For example, consider checking your email at 9 am, 1 pm and 4 pm each day. Or review expense reports every Thursday at 3 pm.
Establishing priorities and planning your day will actually get easier when certain blocks of time for routine tasks are noted on your calendar.
#4 of your time management strategies: organize (part one)
Are you old school (Day-Timer) or new school (Smart Phone apps)? Whatever your preference, you should implement some sort of system where you can visually track what needs to be done.
If you’re not used to using something this regimented, make sure you give it a fair shot. Five or six weeks will make it second nature to you.
#5 of your time management strategies: organize (part two)
Many of us learned the hard way. You may not realize how much time you’re wasting looking for files on your computer. Work on a file management system – both PCs and MACs make it incredibly easy – that will let you find the files you need with a couple key strokes.
#6 of your time management strategies: set limits
When starting a particular short-term task or project, give yourself a specific time limit for completion, and do your best to adhere to it.
It should go without saying that the quality of your work should not be compromised, but if you tell yourself, “I will respond to all this email in an hour,” or, “I can have the inspection finished by 2 pm,” the little adrenalin boost can make you all that much more focused, attentive and productive.
The Bottom Line on Time Management
You have only 24 hours in the day, and much less than that in a normal work day. If you’re consistently feeling like you’re falling behind, take a look at how your time is allocated.
Prioritize, plan, use routines, organize, and set limits. Enlist the help and feedback of co-workers where appropriate, and find a time management plan that meets your needs.
Discover more creative methods of business growth at MP Star Financial:
- Creative Ways to Grow Your Business: Make Yourself an Expert
- Creative Ways to Grow Your Business: Tapping Your Company’s Idle Assets
- Creative Ways to Grow Your Business: Online Advertising
- Creative Ways to Grow Your Business: Job Sharing
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Dave – add links to the other blog posts in the series, using the keyphrase “Creative ways to grow your business” in each one.