Improving Results Through Better Time Management
Your success as an effective business owner or executive, or a team leader and coach requires a wide range of skills, but one of the most important is how you manage your time. The effectiveness of the activities in each hour of the day – not the number of hours you work – determines the results you and your work group accomplish.
Maximizing Time Use
Becoming more aware of the need for more effective time management is the first step toward maximizing time use. Develop creative ideas that fit your own situation.
These basic strategies can benefit everyone:
• Control accessibility to you. When you have high priority projects to work on, close your office door to discourage interruptions. The “open door” concept means only that people should be able to get your help – to “open your door” – when necessary. But an office door standing open invites people to stop and chat for a moment. If it is closed, they assume you are busy and think no more about it. If you work in an open area environment, a closed door is not possible. Find a system that works in your situation to set boundaries yet provide reasonable accessibility. An additional technique is to simply tell people the times you prefer to be available to them and the times you would like to work uninterrupted.
• Make “appointments” with yourself to work on projects. Block off appropriate time periods on your calendar and consider them “appointments” to work on high priority tasks and projects. Protect this time just as you would an appointment with an important client. Callers may be told that you are not available but will return their calls after a certain time.
• Control interruptions caused by telephone, e-mail, and fax. If you have a receptionist or assistant who answers your telephone, ask this person to hold your calls and give your messages to you all at one time. Reserve a particular time during the morning and again during the afternoon to return all telephone calls. If you have a person to answer your telephone, teach this individual how to recognize important calls that should be put through immediately and how to handle other callers politely and still protect your time. If you answer your own line, do not let it control you. Allow your voice mail or answering machine to pick up if you are in the middle of focused work. You can return the calls when you come to a more convenient stopping point. Using e-mail or faxes may also minimize time spent on the telephone. Avoid the temptation to respond to e-mail, faxes, or voice mail as soon as you know about them. Your telephone, faxes, and e-mail are tools to help you reach your business goals; use them to your advantage.
• Keep the time required for meetings to a minimum. Consider using a meeting planner for the best use of time spent in meetings. For each meeting, send out information on the agenda ahead of time so people will come prepared. Invite only those who actually need to be present to achieve the purpose of the meeting. Send others a copy of the minutes or a memo and do not waste their time by asking them to attend. Start meetings on time, and stop them on time. If more time is needed on important issues, set a date for another meeting. Ignore late arrivals as much as possible, and keep the meeting progressing. When attending meetings run by others, be sure to know the agenda in advance so you are prepared to contribute appropriately.
• Focus conversations on actions and results. While friendliness is important, there is wisdom in keeping conversations short. Focus on actions, not on philosophizing and socializing for long periods of time. Self-control in conversations prevents counterproductive excuse making, self-pity, gossip, “paralysis of analysis,” or criticism. There is power in being brief.
• Cut out unnecessary paperwork and e-mail. Make memos, letters, and e-mail concise, to the point, and clear. Use written methods of communication only when a written record is needed or whenever you consider them the most effective method to communicate in a particular situation. Handle paper flow efficiently. Set a goal to handle each piece of paper only once. If you have an assistant, dictate or write an answer, attach a note on how to handle it, send it to the file, or read and discard it. Place items that relate to specific projects, meetings, or later events in an appropriate follow-up file so they will be at hand when needed.
• Learn and use the principles of behavior modification:
o Identify a behavior you want to adopt.
o Make a personal commitment to develop it.
o Plan small actions to practice using the new behavior.
o Choose ways to reward your success.
o Check progress regularly and make any necessary adjustments.
Improved time management offers one of the quickest, easiest, and most effective strategies for improving productivity and increasing results.
© 2007 Leadership Management, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from LMI Journal 5/07