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Time; The Great Equalizer

November 24, 2009

The world is full of inequities. In one important area however, we all start out even. Time, if used wisely, can be the great equalizer.

Everyone gets the same twenty-four hours each day. Over the long run, it’s how we utilize our time that determines our fate. Regardless of where they began the race, those that utilize their time wisely are eventual winners. A mere ten minutes a day totals more than a week in a single year.

Time is the manager’s most important resource. If you don’t plan and organize your time, you become the victim of circumstances and things control you, instead of you controlling things.

We’re all busy. The important question is, “what are we busy doing?”

If you manage others, your time has added importance. How you spend your time communicates your priorities to those that work for you. If you read your salesman’s expense reports before you read his field reports, you have sent a message.

Effective time management is dependent upon the use of good management techniques including planning, organizing, and delegating. If you utilize the people who report to you in the best way possible, then your job is easier. If you don’t, you’ll never reach your potential.

Time management is not so much concerned with working for longer periods of time as it is learning how to use your time more effectively. One of the first things you want to do is to identify “time wasters,” the things you do that use up time, but don’t help you do a better job.

We all fall into the “activity trap” from time to time. “Activity traps” are those things that we like to do but don’t need to do. They are usually tasks that we had earlier in our careers, but that are now assigned to someone else. While we do them well and enjoy the activity, the momentary satisfactions come at some expense.

If you are serious about taking maximum advantage of your time, you should impose the self discipline to conduct a one or two week activity analysis. The results will be surprising.

The analysis should document your time in 15-minute segments. It should show which communications were initiated from outside (phone calls received, unexpected visitors) and which were self initiated. The record must be kept current; otherwise the idealized image of what we think we did will distort the facts.

Completed, the analysis becomes the basis for some tough questions: Must I do all the things I do? What would happen if somebody else did them — or if nobody did? Can I bunch similar tasks? How much time was spent with subordinates because they didn’t know what they were supposed to do?

If the results of the activity analysis have motivated you to action, there several basic principles that you can use to quickly improve your time utilization.

List your goals and priorities. This involves frequently putting down on paper what you want to achieve, then identifying your priorities, and ordering the activities.

Use a daily “to do” list. Every day starts off with a list of things you are to do that day. Work through the list, one at a time crossing the items off as you do them. Try hard to work on the list continuously. Be realistic and leave time for the unexpected.

Categorize the things that need doing. List items as “A’s”, “B’s”, and “C’s” — “A’s” being the most important, the “C’s” the least important. Keep working on the “A’s” even though they may be harder to do … let the “C’s” go if something has to be missed.

Keep asking, “What’s the best use of my time right now?” All throughout the day, keep asking that question. It will help you get back on track if you start wasting time.

Handle papers just once. In other words, when you get a memo, a report, or some other piece of paper, deal with it just once. Don’t read it and then decide to act on it later.

Do it now. Develop a habit of dealing with things right away. The worst habit a manager can get into is constantly postponing things, planning to do them later. The single, most important step toward learning to manage your time is this one technique – do it now!

C. Northcote Parkinson is credited with having enunciated a cynical but regrettably true principle of human activity. “Parkinson’s Law” states, “work expands to fill up the time available for its completion.”

We all have the same time available, over the long run it’s how we choose to fill that time each day that will determine our fate.

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