Wondering where the day has gone? Still not finished with work even though it's nine at night and you were supposed to go home at six? Here are some tips to help you manage your time better.
Take brief walks - I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the big secrets to effective time management is simply talking walks. You see, little emergencies and crisis's can suck up your attention, focusing you on unimportant (yet seemingly real and significant) details. By talking a brief, five to ten minute, walk now and then, you can give yourself time to clear your thinking, drive out the cobwebs, and refocus your attention on what is important.
I always make sure to schedule meetings for one hour, then finish ten minutes early. I use those ten minutes to walk outside, stroll around the parking lot, just breathing deep and looking at the clouds and nearby mountains. Believe it or not, this adds hours to my productivity every day, because it clears my thinking.
Delegate - If you are a manager or supervisor, you must, must, must delegate. This cannot be stressed enough. As you move up the management ladder your job becomes more and more getting others to do, and less and less to doing it yourself. Managers who do things are NOT managing their time effectively.
Delegate authority - Allow people to make decisions. This is a great way to get more done with less effort. For example, is it really necessary for you to have to personally approve every single purchase? Perhaps you can just set guidelines (like the office manager can spend a certain amount per month on supplies) and not worry about the details of what's ordered, who it's ordered from and so on.
Do NOT bypass people and do not allow yourself to be bypassed - You've got a job and you've got some authority. Do not ever allow someone to go around you to get something done, and don't, unless you have no choice, go around another. Why not? Let's say you are a supervisor, and your boss has the habit of giving orders to your people. Guess what? You are not doing your job, and your boss is not allowing you to do your job. Insist (gently) that your boss allow you to do what you are being paid to do - supervise. If you allow the office manager to decide what to purchase, then don't tell her what to purchase.
For example, If you have vendors selling to you (and you have authority to purchase), do not ever allow them to go to your boss to override your decision. If they do make the attempt, warn them ONCE. On the second time, fire them and find either a new salesperson or new vendor. IF YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN, THE SALESPERSON WILL KNOW YOU HAVE, IN REALITY, NO AUTHORITY.
Prioritize - Sometimes it's too easy to get fixated on small, unimportant details and projects which don't matter to anyone. Other times someone will claim something is critical, yet in truth it is not. For example, in my business we get told some computer problems are critical and must be fixed immediately. After all, a program is broken and causing problems, so it must be fixed now. On examination, I'll often find that the bug has been in the system for years, and my attitude is if something exists for years, it's not a crisis to change it.
Prevent frequent interruptions - Probably the biggest time waster of all are the people who insist on approaching you and starting a discussion. Here's what happens. You are working on a project, brilliantly putting the finishing touches on that proposal. Someone walks over to your desk, interrupting you, and asks for your advice. Before long, you've been distracted from your proposal for over thirty minutes. Your "friend" leaves, satisfied and happy, and you forget all about your proposal. The next day, you get chewed out by your boss because it's not done. Sigh.
The solution? Keep interruptions short and to-the-point. You cannot always just tell them to go away (that's considered rude) but you can direct them elsewhere. You can also tell them to send you an email with their comments or questions so you can get to it later, or you can ask them to schedule a meeting. Nine times out of ten, they will just go away and not do either - and if they do, perhaps it was important after all.
Meetings - Sigh. Perhaps the biggest threat to sanity is meetings, especially endless meetings with no agenda, no real purpose and too many people. The key to surviving meetings are simple:
• Understand what meetings are for: spreading knowledge and information to others (these are usually longer), gaining consensus and announcing decisions. There are few other valid reasons for meetings.
• Schedule them just before lunch or just before people want to go home. People go to lunch at noon? Schedule the meeting for 11:30 or 11:00. I guarantee that everyone will want to leave around noon.
• Control your meetings ruthlessly. I am personally the master of ten minute meetings. Simply keep it under control.
• Set an agenda, stick to it and don't let people wander off subject.
• Schedule informational meetings separate from decision-making meetings. These have different purposes and usually different audiences. Keep them separate.
• Only invite those that are needed. If people don't have a good reason for being there, don't invite them.
• Don't grandstand or play games. The objective of meetings is to share knowledge, gain consensus or announce decisions.
Email - This is one of the best tools invented by mankind to date, if used properly. If abused, it's a wonderful way to waste hours and hours of time every single day. How to keep it down to a manageable level? Avoid sending carbon copies to unnecessary people (you rarely, if ever, really need to send an email to more than a half dozen people). If someone includes you on a carbon copy and it's not necessary, then ask them why they did so and if there is not a good reason, then ask them to knock it off.
Read emails only once, then act on it, then delete it or file it. Don't endlessly go through your inbox. Finally, insist (at least from your own employees) on short emails and to-the-point subjects (to allow you to quickly filter out the junk).
Don't do other people's jobs - Want to really destroy your schedule? Start doing other peoples jobs. Insist that people do their own jobs, and if you find yourself having to do theirs (say if they cannot) then get them corrected and/or trained fast. Don't do theirs because "you can do it better", "they are overworked" or any other excuse. Remember, success at their job DOES NOT SHOW UP ON YOUR REVIEW. No one will thank you, and you will eventually burn yourself out fast.
Maintain your daily schedule - Arrive at work at a set time, go to lunch at a similar time every day and leave work when it's time to leave work. If you starting working through lunch or staying, then it's a good indication that you are NOT managing your time well.
Don't being your work home - Again, except in dire emergency, it's wise to leave work at work. Why? Because you should be filling your work days with enough tasks to keep you busy and productive, but not so much that you cannot get it done. if you find you have to start bringing work home, then prioritize better, delegate more often, and hire when necessary. Or just throw way what's not important.
Keep your life - Don't ever let work (except in dire emergency and very infrequently) impinge upon your personal life. Do you really want to make yourself and your family unhappy? Just let work constantly intrude. You will find your life ripped from you at some point, because your family will not put up with it forever.
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at [internet-tips.net parked domain].