Guidelines For Effective Time Management

Guidelines For Effective Time Management

Every schedule reflects its maker's unique set of priorities and responsibilities. No two people have precisely the same idea of what constitutes perfect time management. The final determinant is simply whether your relationship with time is a happy one that enables you to meet your professional obligations, enjoy the company of those you love, and take good care of your most important asset -- your health.

But while there is no one-size-fits-all plan for managing time, there are basic principles that apply to a wide variety of circumstances:

  • Planning is the fundamental building block of time management; it's worth all the time you can put into it. But it isn't enough simply to create a great plan or schedule. You must be able to implement it. This means being accurate about the day-to-day realities of your work and other responsibilities; allowing for the usual interruptions, crises, and delays. Like a new item of clothing, it should fit comfortably, with a little room to spare in case of shrinkage.

  • The best time management plans are holistic; they encompass the whole of your life, rather than just your working hours. Try actually scheduling in blocks of time for family, friends, exercise, special interests, or special projects instead of just assigning them "whatever time is left" after the usual daily grind. Doing so will give you a chance to look closely at your present ratio of work to home and leisure time and help you restore the balance if it has been lost.

  • One of the smartest scheduling rules you can apply is to set due dates that are not just meetable but bearable. In other words, it's a good idea to somewhat overestimate the time you think a job will take in order to (1) ensure on-time delivery even in the face of unforeseen delays and (2) surprise and delight your boss, clients, fellow committee members, and family by delivering sooner than anticipated. By breaking a big task into manageable steps, setting a timetable for doing each step, and chipping away at the project, you can accomplish almost anything-and with a lot less stress than by trying to do it all at once.

  • Every major project requires its own schedule, timeline, or timetable identifying major steps or milestones on the way to completion. If you've set realistic target dates (and allowed for possible "slippage" time); your progress should match your plan. If unforeseen developments place you behind your projected dates, you can either alert your boss or client and set a revised completion date or take steps to hasten your progress and make up the lost time. Note: If you can, leave room on your schedule for work-in-progress notes.

  • When it comes to delegation, it seems there are two kinds of people: those who can and those who can't. If you are one of the latter and you have all kinds of reasons for doing things yourself ("It takes too long to explain it to someone else," or "I end up having to do it all over again anyway"), you may be so firmly wedded to the idea of not delegating that it's useless to try.

  • However, if it sometimes crosses your mind that you're not quite as indispensable as you think, it's time to start delegating. Start with the routine, time-consuming jobs you know someone else can do. Recognize that teaching someone else the ropes will take a bit of time, and allow for a reasonable learning curve. The benefits to you, in terms of increased time and decreased stress, will more than repay your efforts.

  • You don't have to be a master list-maker to profit from using priority lists. Some people maintain several lists at once: a high-priority one of urgent or very important tasks; a medium-priority one of less urgent or moderately important tasks; and a low-priority one of tasks it would be nice to do if and when there's time. Other people simplify the process by making just one list at the end of each day of things to do tomorrow.

  • One chief executive we know says he has a promise to himself to attend to the top three items on his list every day, come what may. "It's better to get just those three most important things done each day," he says, "than to carry around a long list and only do a few of the less important things."

  • To get the most out of your time, try to do your hardest jobs-those requiring maximum concentration and peak efficiency-at those times of the day when your attention and energy levels are highest. If you can co-ordinate those times with periods in which you have fewer interruptions than usual, so much the better. Likewise, try to schedule your routine, low-level tasks for times of the day when you find it hard to concentrate. The trick is to pinpoint your hours of peak performance and schedule your work accordingly.

  • We all know people who make their time limits very clear: "Not my job," they say. "It's five o'clock and I'm out of here." And some of us have reason to envy them. Almost everyone ends up working late or bringing work home once in a while, but if you find yourself doing it more and more often, it may be time to start saying no-and not only to others but also to yourself. Working longer and longer hours (whether for extra pay or not) upsets the balance between work and leisure that is essential to your health and well-being. Just as serious is the negative effect it can have on your reputation.

We're never too old to learn and incorporate new and better ways of doing things. In fact, the longer you've been doing a job, the more it is to your credit to devise and explore improved techniques and streamlined procedures. It's always tempting to go on doing things the old way, just because it's the way you're familiar with. Finding, adapting, and applying efficient new techniques to the responsibilities you carry not only saves you time but cuts down on your overall workload-and makes you look good in the process.