Clean that desk and manage your time

All of us suffer from the time virus. It comes and goes like a cold. Sometimes we seem to have it under control. Sometimes it stubbornly controls us.
This month let’s talk about the benefits of being an organized executive. My thanks to The Executive Committee (TEC) speaker Bruce Breier for his thoughts on solving time management problems, an age-old – strictly human – virus.
Let’s think of four “C’s”:
* Confidence – Having your time under control gives you a feeling of satisfaction about the day.
* Clarity – Taking the time to plan your day or week gives you sense of clarity and personal purpose.
* Comfort – Nobody wants to wake up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh shucks, I forgot about…”
* Cohesion – When the team is humming, time is an ally, not an enemy. Bottom line? Fewer interruptions.
So what’s the magic behind the four C’s? I heard it 30 years ago from a time magician who talked profusely about getting the “monkeys off your back.” He said it’s like getting dressed. You’ve got to do it at least once daily. It entails five basic steps:
1. Set aside 30 to 45 minutes at the end of each day for a personal one-on-one conversation with yourself. Make it inviolate. Make it the same time each day so that it becomes pure routine.
2. Make it genuine, quality time. Door closed, no phone and absolutely no interruptions. Ready for this? Before you start, sit upright in your chair, close your eyes, and think about nothing for at least 10 minutes, except your body. How does it feel from your ankles to your forehead? And relax. Droop. Let the day’s tension slip away.
3. Now, open your eyes and recap the day. What happened that you wanted to happen? What didn’t happen that you wanted to happen? What can you make happen tomorrow that you have the personal power or influence to make happen? Write these down or type them in on your Palm Pilot or computer. If they exceed seven, that’s too many.
4. Get rid of any existing email or paper clutter that you know doesn’t really make a real deal by using the old delete button or the proverbial “file 13” basket. If you spend more than about a minute trying to figure out what to do with something, stuff it in a drawer that you seldom open. You won’t feel guilty the next day, I promise.
5. Now recap “the tomorrow.” They always fall in some age-old time management categories and should mirror the items you highlighted in point #3 above: things to do, people to see, places to go, people to call, and who can I delegate to do these things for me? For the delegatees, send them an e-mail so that they will know what they should do when they turn on their computers the next morning.
6. Go home with a smile on your face.
It doesn’t quite end here. Your workplace, your desk and how you leave it, says a lot about your personal executive management skills. Is it helter-skelter, piles here, piles there, or is it pristine and clean and free of stuff and clutter? Here are some ideas:
* The only thing on your desk should be what you are working on-as in now.
* Your computer screen should highlight in a folder only those emails that must be responded to-as in now.
* Using your file drawer, your Palm Pilot or PC, have a “43 file system.” Label 12 for the months of the year and 31 for the days of the month. When you need to act on something, but not today, put it in its appropriate folder. You will be amazed at what mysteriously-as in magic-disappears.
* If it takes you or your assistant more than a half a minute to retrieve filed information (via the old filing method or email storage), change the filing method to a category-based system. Law enforcement agencies did this during the Hoover Administration.
* In-baskets and out-baskets take up desk space and are wonderful receptacles for storing dust. You don’t need them in today’s electronic communication age.
Years ago, when I was a C-130E pilot flying combat in Southeast Asia, I had the opportunity to transport the Air Force’s commanding general. He was visiting outlying command posts. We had a comfort pallet installed on the aircraft for him.
I never saw more than a single file on his small 1-by-2-foot portable desk at any given moment, but he dealt with a flood of diverse communications from his subordinate commanders and Washington.
Years later, I visited President Harry Truman’s “Little White House” in Key West, Fla. He supposedly made the momentous decision to launch the big bomb at this desk. There was no clutter on it. It was too small to accommodate much more than a phone and a file folder.
Until next month, let’s work to turn our act of self-organization into a result that is profitable and productive for our respective companies.
P.S. Come and visit my office. I promise to set an example.
Harry S. Dennis III is the president of TEC (The Executive Committee) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 821-3340.

August 6, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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