How to make the most of your day

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

For SBT

Question: One of the things I really struggle with is trying to meet all of the commitments I have every day of the week. Meetings, employee concerns, production issues, customers, voice mail, e-mail, interruptions, etc. It seems like I just begin to get on top of things when the next surprise hits me. As a manager of six employees directly and 23 indirectly, I feel like all I do all day is answer questions and run from one problem to the next. What I need is a list of simple suggestions to get a handle on this before it really goes too far. I sometimes feel like saying, "Who’s in charge here, anyway?"

Answer: I’m sure there isn’t anyone looking at this article who can’t identify with the situation you outline. Who among us has more time than what he/she knows how to occupy? My own sense of things is that most of us feel like we have less time than we ever did. Yet, weren’t all of these technological advances (e.g., cellular telephones, voice mail, e-mail, laptop computers, etc.) supposed to make us more efficient, freeing us up to focus on the really important things?
The simple answer to your question is that you need to learn to better manage your time and priorities. After all, each of us has the same amount of time each week to meet our obligations. It all comes down to the choices we make.
Having said that, I know that managing your time and priorities more efficiently does not "just happen." The question of time management is an age-old concern. For centuries, people have tried to answer it. For example, you might take some solace in these time management landmarks:
3761 B. C. – The Hebrew calendar dates from this year.
1500 B.C. – The oldest sundials come from this time (water clocks were first on the scene).
776 B.C. – The Olympic Games begin.
900 A.D.- Sand begins to replace water in time-keeping.
1641 A.D. – Galileo adapts the pendulum to clock mechanisms.
1833 A.D. – The United States establishes time zones.
1908 A.D.- J.E. McTaggart defines two time concepts: earlier and later.
1967 A.D. – The definition of "one second" is officially defined by international agreement.
2002 A.D. – If you fax Taiwan today, you are faxing into the future.

Ever wonder what your life would be like if it were slower and simpler? Maybe some of those dates and events helped you consider the possibilities.
Now, let’s address your time-management problem. First, let me say that I applaud you for stepping forward and recognizing that you have to address this problem before it is your undoing. Basically, there are three reasons to manage time:
· Wasting time causes stress – Doing too much at once leads to a host of negative consequences including negative thought patterns ("No one else but me can do it the right way"), pressure that builds and builds, a work week comprised of too many hours, and the tendency to blur the separation between work and home.
· Managing time improves productivity – Beyond a certain point, working harder and/or longer is not going to make you more productive. Over the long term, only by prioritizing what you do and involving others will you be truly productive.
· Managing time improves the quality of your life – What would you do if you didn’t have that stack of paperwork to slog through? Maybe, just maybe, you will begin to explore those aspects of your life that have gone unattended for too long (i.e., the things you would do if you had more time to do them … ).
In order to better manage your time, the first thing you need to do is to keep an activity log to get a baseline on what you are presently doing with your time. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Simply keep track of what you do over the course of a given week. Then, after you’ve logged your activities, study them. What patterns emerge? What common themes can be identified? If you’re like most people, some (or all) of the following time wasters may show up on your list:
· Lack of planning
· Attempting too much
· Disorganization
· Lack of self-discipline
· Interruptions
· "Firefighting"
· Meetings
· Incomplete information
· "Red tape"
· Role ambiguity
Ultimately, you have to take action to better manage your time. Rule No. 1 for time management is "Establish priorities." As you confront each day and as new issues are thrown your way, you must constantly ask yourself, "What is the best use of my time right now?" By keeping a list of your priorities, you can ensure yourself and others that you working both hard and smart.

The criteria for setting priorities include:
· Judgment – You are the best judge of what you have to do.
· Relativity – You know what is important and what isn’t.
· Timing – You know what the deadlines are.
You should see a common thread in these three factors (i.e., "You"). At the risk of stating the obvious, you have it within yourself to take hold of your schedule and manage it more efficiently.
A priority matrix is one easy tool that is very powerful in helping you take control over your day. It involves identifying the tasks you must complete and then assigning them a score from 1 (high) to 3 (low) for both their long-range importance and short-term urgency. Multiplying these two scores for each job task will allow you to rank order your list of priorities.
Starting each day with this list of priorities will help you to aim at what’s important. And once you get comfortable with the approach, you must be sure to help your direct reports to do the same thing (with themselves and with their direct reports).
Using this approach, over time, I’m confident that you’ll come to feel that you’ve gotten the upper hand on "time."

Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D., of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC), in Brookfield provides HR Connection. Readers who would like to see an issue addressed in a future column may reach him at 262-827-1901, via fax at 262-827-8383, via e-mail at schroeder@odcons.com or via the internet at www.odcons.com

March 1, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukeex

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