I always have prided myself on being a pretty good time manager.
I set goals and timelines for myself. I still do a daily “to do” list and prioritize all the items on that list.
So here I am semiretired and more time-constrained than ever before. Between still doing some consulting work, doing some talks and workshops, meeting a monthly deadline writing this article, keeping up with the grandkids, keeping caught up on my “honey-do” list, doing some volunteer work and trying to work out four to five times a week, I’m finding time management just as important today as it was when I owned and operated a three-store showroom business.
And way back then I only had to be prompt in returning phone calls. Now it’s a multitude of texts, emails and phone calls that I have to be responsive to. I’m betting you may be experiencing the same thing.
The good news is you can become a better, in a lot of cases a whole lot better, at your personal time management. With that in mind, I reflected on what has worked well for me over the years and also did some online homework to see what the “pros” have to say about this subject. I wasn’t surprised to learn a lot of people are suffering from serious “time starvation.” In other words too much to do and not enough hours in a day to get it all done.
Where technology once freed people and gave them more leisure time, today’s technological advances are eating into that precious time.
Take a look back at history. The Industrial Revolution gave workers shorter work days, vacations and even regular days off. Likewise, advances in farming meant farmers could send their kids to school instead of using them in the fields.
But now we live in a time when we’re expected to be plugged in and online 24/7. The results appear to be less, not more productivity. It once was considered a professional courtesy to return phone calls within 24 hours. If you returned them the same day you were really on top of it. Now, the rules seem to be email must be checked hourly and a text demands an immediate response. And I’ll bet a large majority of those texts and emails are coming from family and friends and not clients and prospects.
Good time management always has been one of the most important business skills you can cultivate. Good time management enables you to work smarter — not harder — so you get more done in less time even when time is tight and pressures are high. Failing to manage time decreases effectiveness and causes stress.
The neat thing about learning to be a better time manager is you can apply it at work, at home, at play and everything in your daily living. A friend of mine had a poster on the wall by his desk that read “Beat work overload. Be more effective. Achieve more.”
It may seem like a waste of time to dedicate precious time to learning about time management instead of using it to get on with that pile of work in front of you, but the benefits can be enormous:
- Greater productivity and efficiency;
- A better professional reputation;
- Less stress;
- Increased opportunities for advancement; and
- Greater opportunities to achieve both personal and career goals.
Likewise, failing to manage time effectively can have some undesirable consequences:
- Missed deadlines (upset clients and bosses);
- Inefficient workflow (upset clients and bosses);
- Poor quality of work (upset clients and bosses);
- A poor professional reputation and stalled career; and
- High stress levels.
Back to basics
Here are a few basics I incorporated into my personal time management. I encourage you to make a note of them and then put them to work for you.
Kick the habit: Like many poor habits, poor time management is a behavior developed over time. The first step in kicking the habit is to recognize you have a problem and then make a firm commitment to do something about it. Why not do it right now?
Effective planning: Similar to other disciplines, effective time management is something that can be learned and mastered if you will make the effort. The key principle to effective time management is planning. Some surveys show that for every minute you spend planning, 10 minutes are saved in execution.
Plan each day in advance: Whether you use a day planner, PDA device or electronic calendar, find a tool that works best for you. Before you leave work in the evening or the first thing each morning, plan your day. Always ask yourself “What is the most important use of my time?” and “What can I do that will bring the greatest value to my company?”
Develop a daily plan and prioritize each task: Start by answering the two questions listed in above and then use the ABC method. “A” is highest priority and must be done today; “B” is important and should be done today; and “C” is less important – get to it if there’s time. Leave time for those emergencies that always come up.
Determine what time of day you will set aside for each task. The morning usually is the best time to tackle your most difficult and highest-priority tasks. Block out a period of time each day to make callbacks and send texts and emails. Keep these to “business only” activities.
Focus on each task: When you begin a task, try to finish it before moving on to the next one. One of the biggest enemies of time management is the practice of starting several tasks but never finishing any. As you’re working on a task or about to move on to the next one, ask yourself “Is this the most important thing I should be doing right now?”
The benefits of time management can be enormous.
Minimize distractions: I know it’s easier said than done! Distractions from coworkers, reps, the phone, texts, emails and even daydreaming will interfere with your plan. Do everything possible to keep these distractions to a minimum. How well I remember employees interrupting me saying “I have a quick question.” Yes, it was a quick question, but it required a long answer.
Schedule breaks during the day: Take five-minute vacations where you can walk outside or walk around the showroom and clear your mind to recharge your mental batteries and allow yourself to get refocused on your work.
I know I’ve made this sound easier than it is, especially if you are a showroom sales consultant. You may be working your plan and involved with an important project when a client calls or comes in and you have to drop everything and take care of them. Some days you get more quiet time to attack your “to-do” list than you do other days. That’s the nature of the job.
My best “get things done” time was first thing in the morning and the last thing before leaving in the evening. And then I always did my next day’s “to-do” list. It doesn’t matter how you maintain your list, keep things itemized and prioritized and as the day progresses, cross off the accomplished tasks and add new ones because there always are new ones cropping up.
If you will make a serious effort to improve your personal time management I can almost guarantee your stress level will go down, you’ll start enjoying your job more and your productivity will go up. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Congratulations! If you have read this you just invested about seven minutes toward being a better time manager.
This article was originally titled “Is time on your side?” in the June 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.