Have you ever met anyone who was absolutely satisfied with the way he or she was managing time? Probably not.
That’s why time management is such big business. Run a “time management” search on Amazon and you’ll turn up more than 147,000 results. Type “time management training” or “time management seminar” and add the city of your choice and chances are there’s someone coming to town soon that is more than willing to help you. Well, if you could just find the time.
Time management is important for your productivity, of course, but it’s also a key to a more balanced and more sane approach to living. You may not ever completely master the art of time management, but even small improvements can significantly improve the way you work and live. Here are six effective time management tips that might help.
Running a business is probably the hardest thing most of us will ever do. The demands on your time and calls for your attention never stop. But have you ever actually examined where and how you actually spend most of your working hours?
You can’t improve something until you figure out what’s wrong. Ideally, keeping an hour by hour log for two or three weeks would help you analyze your time expenditures, but let’s be realistic…it might be more feasible to write down, at the end of each day, where you spent most of your time. Is it on the phone with customers? In meetings? the shop floor? On service calls?
If something seems out of balance, or if you’re not devoting enough attention to the areas that will help your business the most, some changes are in order.Which leads to tip #2, which is…
You need to prioritize for two reasons. First, there are tasks that simply must get finished today. A customer delivery, a report, a tax planning session with your financial people, or a meeting with your investors merit first-priority status. Schedule these early in the day if possible, and also devote enough time to properly prepare.
Second, emergencies and other unexpected interruptions are part of every business. When those happen, it’s comforting to know that the day’s most important tasks have already been completed, or at least have time allocated for attention. Second and third-tier priorities can be postponed if an emergency arises.
And speaking of priorities, never pass up the opportunity to delegate tasks that don’t require your personal attention to competent staff. For you, this will free up hundreds of hours over the course of the year. As a bonus, you’ll be improving the skill set and adding to the value of an employee.
3. Schedule Time for Calls and Email
The downside of today’s constant contact work environment is that it can be difficult to find uninterrupted time for tasks that require your complete attention. Responding to emails and accepting unexpected phone calls can be a huge time drain.
Obviously, there are exceptions – your investors, important customers, very high-level co-workers, and your spouse might warrant immediate attention, but most do not. One way to deal with the issue is to devote two periods each day, 10 am to 10:30 am, and 3 pm to 3:30 pm, for example, to respond to phone messages and email.
This is harder than it sounds. It takes some discipline, because it’s normal to be curious about why someone’s contacting you. But try it for a week and see how much more productive time you find in your work day.
4. Schedule Everything
In addition to email and phone call response periods, schedule everything else you can in your day, but do it strategically.
Example: Scheduling meetings back to back can be highly effective, because it can prevent the earlier meetings from running longer than needed. Telling your employees that you have a “hard stop”after one hour because you have a second meeting ensures that the meeting will run efficiently and that all the important agenda items will be covered.
Another example of strategic scheduling: Try to have less formal discussions with employees over lunch or, even better, during a noon hour workout or walk outside. That way, you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
5. Give Yourself a Break (Literally)
Yes. You must. Somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes on a particular task, you lose focus and become less productive, more prone to errors, and are probably guilty of wasting time.
Change to a different task for a few minutes, or stop working completely. You’ll come back re-charged and will make better use of your time the rest of the day.
6. Give Yourself a Break (Figuratively)
You’re only human, and you only have a certain number of hours in the work day. Be sure to cut yourself some slack occasionally. You do that by setting realistic expectations for what you can accomplish, sometimes having to say “no” to new requests for some of your time, and delegating when possible.
If All Else Fails
If after making some adjustments to your work habits you still believe you’re not managing your time effectively, it might be time for more serious actions.
Maybe your job is too big for one person? Or maybe it’s time to hire a time management or organizational expert to put together a more serious approach to the problem.
Whatever you decide, make sure you understand that making these types of changes are not indications of weakness or incompetence, but actually signs that you’re willing to take actions that will improve your performance – and your company – in the long run.
Image courtesy Adrian Pingstone
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