Do you feel like your workday is out of control before it even begins? If you spend your days keeping up instead of getting ahead, bad time management could be the culprit. Too often our consultants find business owners overwhelmed by excessive detail work. Adhering to a few time management principles helps to avoid these situations.
Consider a time management “overhaul” if you can identify with one or more of the following statements:
- I spend much of my time responding to crises or “putting out fires.”
- I don’t have time to plan ahead and set priorities.
- When I leave work on time, I feel anxious about what has been left undone.
- I find myself thinking about work even when I’m off the clock.
- I frequently get caught up in busy work.
- I don’t have time to participate in professional growth activities outside of work.
- I don’t have enough time for family and friends.
- I devote most of my time to the same few problems or people.
- I feel like I’m just keeping my head above water.
While there are no specific time management techniques that work for everyone all the time, there are a few simple practices that can help put a light at the end of the tunnel.
Stay organized. Take time at the end of each day to organize yourself for the next day or week. Whether you use a high-tech computerized PDA (Personal Data Assistant) or a low-tech to do list on a pad of paper, organize your tasks in a fashion that works best for you.
Get full information. Find out what is needed and when it is expected.
Prioritize. Organize your workload into critical deadlines and routine maintenance tasks. Consider the 80-20 Rule, coined by the late 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. According to Pareto, 80% of the reward comes from 20% of the effort. The key is to identify the valuable 20%.
Delegate. Learn to let go. Distribute to others those tasks that don’t require your specific expertise or input.
Don’t procrastinate. If the task needs to be done, then it is best to start accomplishing it quickly for several reasons. One, it won’t go away. Two, you never know what else you may need to do tomorrow. Three, if you wait until the deadline is near you could find that accomplishing the task may require more time than you have left!
Divide and conquer. If you are overwhelmed by the size or complexity of a project, divide it into several more manageable tasks and tackle them one by one.
Don’t expect perfection. It may be noble to strive for perfection in all that we do, but sometimes paying too much attention to detail is just another form of procrastination. Know when “good enough” really is good enough.
Eliminate time wasters. Set aside specific times each day to check e-mail and voicemail. Respond to each according to its level of urgency.
Plan for your peak. Consider whether you are a morning person or a night owl, then plan the most difficult tasks for the time of day when you are at your best.