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The Fundamentals of Time Management

The Fundamentals of Time Management

Time Management and Energy Flow


Just as electrical equipment functions best when receiving a solid surge of electricity, so do you.  In your case, the power you need is energy, which gives you stamina for the day and the ability to kick into high gear when necessary to deal with a problem. 


It's not that you have to be perky all day or load up on four shot espresso coffees on the way to work. But you do need to know your own energy flow. When you understand how your personal energy patterns ebb and flow, you can use that knowledge to support your time management strategy.


Are you a night person, who works late but starts slow in the mornings? Are you an early bird who can get up before dawn, exercise, arrive early at work and have your in-box cleared before your boss arrives?  Or are you a mid-day person who starts slow, picks up speed then tapers off in the late afternoon? 


These patterns relate to your natural energy flow also called biorhythms.  Some people chart these monthly and literally use them to make their schedule, work or travel commitments. You don't have to get that involved in the process.


You can observe yourself and note which hours are your prime working hours, the times when you can be highly productive with the least effort or tiredness. Just make a simple chart of the day either on graph paper or on a spreadsheet-based graph. List your waking hours on the bottom and a high, medium, low rating along the side.


Then Make an "X" for your energy level at each hour of the day. As you connect the dots, you'll notice a pattern of energy highs and lows. Do this for several days and see how consistent the pattern is.


Knowing your prime working hours (early bird, midday, evening) is extremely helpful in how you schedule the complicated tasks in your workday.  If you have a choice in scheduling the time to make a presentation at a conference and you are a midday person, ask for a time between 11am to 3pm.


Don't say yes to the 8am presentation time. You will wake up sluggish and not be sharp even though you know the material. The same is true for dividing tasks. With a large project, divide the elements so that you plan to work on the creative writing or material calculations during the prime energy time of your workday.


Your mind will be more alert and you will have the energy to focus on complicated work. During your off-peak energy times, gather related materials or do some aspect of the project that is less detailed and does not require a high level of creative energy or decision-making.


After using this approach for a few weeks, you'll see what happened on those days when your time management plan seemed to derail even though you were motivated to do the work.


You simply scheduled the wrong task for your lower energy times and so your output was less than anticipated. As with electrical power, peak periods are more expensive. Peak periods in your workday are more valuable, so allocate them wisely and use that high-energy surge to get the work done faster and better.



Three Ds for Time Management


When the day seems to get out of your control early and steam roll over you for hours until you leave exhausted, you are probably missing the three "D's". These can be difficult to begin yet liberating once you make this part of your regular daily routine.


The three "D's" are Do, Delegate and Defer. Do you look at a request for information or new project and think, "When do I have time to do this?"  A better question is; "Do I have to be the one to do this or do I simply need to arrange to have it done?" 


The next question is; "What would happen if this were moved to a later time or scheduled farther in advance?“ Note that these are the essential Do, Delegate and Defer questions.


DO: Which tasks are your job and which are not? Just because something is dropped on your desk or passed along to you does not mean that you have to do it. Even if your boss sends something for your to do which will totally throw off the time planned for a client project, don't sign and cram more into the day.


Show your boss the time management plan you have for the client project and the new item and ask which is more important to be done first. Make the boss prioritize your time use.


Chances are this "do" project was something that the boss didn't want to do and just passed it off as part of the job. That's not actual delegating, that's avoidance. Stay focused on what you are hired to do because that's what you will be evaluated on at each review.


DELEGATE: Delegating is not passing off unwanted projects or less important projects. That's what has given delegating a bad name. Proper use of delegating is to transfer responsibility or a part of a project to another worker to give that worker more experience, challenge or acceptance within the team.


It's not a "here, you do this" type of task. When you delegate a task, explain what it is and why you have chosen this person to receive this project. If you are a supervisor, this is a golden opportunity to build up your employee by treating delegating as a show of support not a dumping option.


DEFER:  Not everything on the desk, in the email or on the phone is urgent. Be clear about what must be done today and what is not necessary. Where you get stuck is with tasks that are nice to do or useful to do but are really not necessary to do. Or they are not necessary to do at this time.


For example, notice how easy it is to be looking up something business related online then get distracted by an intriguing news story or a banner ad for a product that interests you. In moments your focus is lost and you are off doing something that's useful but not necessary at this time on this day.


Keep an index card with three D's in bold print as your reminder to put tasks and requests thru the test. Ask those critical questions then decide whether you need to DO, DELEGATE or DEFER.  This simple approach will compliment any time management system.



The 80/20 Factor


Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80% of Italy's wealth was in the hands of 20% of the population. This may not have been a revelation to the poorer class of Italians in the late 1800's, but it did become a concept that has been widely applied in all types of business.


The Pareto Principle basically says that 80% of the outcome is from 20% of the input. In a time management context, you can say that 80% of your time is used by 20% of your clients.


Chances are you could easily name (and recall the phone numbers) for the 10 -20 most demanding clients that you serve. Those might be your 20%. The other 80% of clients are far less demanding and create little time demands.


Of course, if 80% of your income is derived from the sales or service fees of that 20%, then you are less concerned about spending the extra time. Unfortunately, you may be overwhelmed by the demands of the 20% which do not generate the majority of your income.


Using your client contact time well is extremely important to increase your business. While you might think that continuing to provide a high level of service to existing clients is the way to go, you'll quickly run out of time and fail to generate any new clients.


That's there Pareto's Principle works against you. As you bring in new clients to your business, you want to transition them to the 80% that require less service demands as soon as reasonable so that you have time to add new clients.


The first step is to analyze your client contact time for several days, preferably for one week. Just keep a notepad by your desk or an open file on your computer. Log your time with each client and a brief note about the conversation.


This will cause you to be more aware of time wasted in conversations with clients. Sure, you want to be friendly and ask about their family, business, etc, but keep it short. As you get to know your clients better, it's easier to spend too much time chatting about non-business matters.


You need to find a balance between being too curt and distant v. too much talk about trivial things.  If you reduced each of these conversations by 10 minutes, you could reclaim another hour easily, maybe more.


The second step is to structure your day for client contact. Even if your job is to be on the phone all day, make the effort to group your calls. Plan to make new client calls in the morning when you are fresh and enthusiastic. Set aside the afternoon for current client follow-up calls.


If you have any problem client calls to make, group those in a one-hour block and get it over with at one time period. Decide in advance how much time you want to spend on each type of call, and then time yourself. As you get accustom to the flow of each type of call, you will begin to stay within the scheduled time naturally.


Finally, if 80% of your revenue or income consistently comes from 20% of your clients, consider hiring an assistant to work on some of the less important details in serving the other 80% of your clients.


That frees your time to spend with the 20% of clients who are supporting most of your lifestyle.  If you can make more money by working with fewer, qualified clients, then your time spent with them, no matter what you chat about, is time well spent.



The High Cost of Doing It All


The idea that you can "do it all" is a myth. Trying to "do it all" usually ends in doing many things poorly or few things with loss of interest. Time management was never designed as a method to get you to work beyond your endurance to exhaustion.


Many people do and call it success. Others end their work years early with heart attacks, strokes, frustration and burnout. They got more than they bargained for but they didn't get it all.


Before any time management system can be helpful in your work, you have to admit that you can't do it all. This system won't expand time, it merely helps you to track, plan and evaluate time use. Get out of your mind the notion that you even need to "do it all".  You'll live longer if you do.


Set reasonable goals that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. You may want to earn a master's in business administration in two years but you can only attend night classes and you have young children at home.


Even if the grandparents are willing to baby-sit while you are in class, how many hours a day can you go full speed? You have work hours, transportation times, class hours, homework and spending some time with your children. Before long, you are barely surviving on coffee, energy drinks and four hours sleep. That's abusing time, not managing time.


Granted in some early career paths and with some companies, you are expected to be a slave to their every whim. If you are willing to sacrifice years of your life, miss your children's growing up years and risk your health for a promotion that may or may not happen, then go ahead. Just remember the old saying, "time waits for no one." You don't get a second chance to use that time so think long about how you want to invest your time; in jobs or in people.


Yes, when you are new in a career or get a promotion, you can expect to give additional effort. You are trading irreplaceable time of your life for a job that could vanish tomorrow when the company goes bankrupt, outsources your task to less expensive labor or moves across the country with little warning.


When you develop time management strategies that help you be a dedicated, not obsessive worker then you are building skills that will be valuable to another employer too. 


You can find another workplace that gives opportunities for advancement yet recognizes that you have a right to your personal time and family time. In fact, smart companies want the well-rounded person who has a life outside the cubicle.


Don't sell out early and use time management to chain yourself to a company that wants to use your time. Find a company that values your time and encourages you to "do enough, then do for yourself too."



Time Management Keeps You Sane


So often you hear people say, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." You won't find that definition in the diagnostic manual for psychologists, but there's still a lot of truth to it.


When you do the same thing over and over hoping that something better will happen, then you are fooling yourself.  For example, if you tend to oversleep in the mornings, rush out of the house, arrive at the office and spend an hour digging out the most important to-do tasks from a high paper pile, then you are doing the same ineffective things over and over. If you think that you will magically have a better start to your day without changing any time-wasting behaviors, then you are definitely living in a fantasy.


Too often people balk at applying time management systems to their schedules claiming it would "be too much like a strait jacket" or "take too much time to learn to use a schedule."


The opposite is true. Time management is the way to free yourself by knowing what you have to do and what time is open for personal or social choices. You also can tell at a glance of your calendar whether you can accept an invitation or plan to be part of a group activity.


As for taking too much time to learn, you don't have to have a complex system. Start with a basic day planner and follow the suggestions for organization. As you use it for a while, you can refine that system. Just make certain that you are consistent in applying your system.


If you have children then you absolutely must have a time management system to keep up with your activities and theirs. You need to know when to bring four dozen cupcakes for the class party, when it's your turn to drive the car pool and what the dates are for the school play practices. The older children get, the more that you need to manage the time for the family so that there is time spent together as well as time attending school and after-school activities.


When you know how much time you have available, you can choose how to fill that time. If you want to go shopping, you can decide which day to go based on the amount of time available.


To find a day when you have enough time to cook a big dinner and invite friends over, look at your day planner and you'll know in a glance. Before long, you will say, "let me check my day planner" instead of saying "yes" to an invitation only to realize later than you don't really have time for it. That technique alone will save you from over-commitment and the frustration that goes with it.


A key reason that some people rebel against using a time management system is that it wipes out excuses. You can no longer claim that you ran out of time to complete the research for that report or help out with the children's holiday project. After all, if you don't have a time management system, then you can continue to use the "no time" excuse.  The problem is that you also don't know how to plan time to do the things that you actually want to do.


So, if you keep running through your day without a time management plan, you can expect to be frustrated, late, confused and get far less accomplished. Starting the next day the same way will get the same result.


If you are tired of missing appointments, never having time to do the things you want to do or feeling overwhelmed, then you need to set up a time management system. By the end of the month, you'll have established a new habit of time management and discover the freedom of knowing how you spend the time of your life.

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