Time management is one of the most difficult challenges we face. There never seems to be enough time to complete all that we need to do. Some of our time management difficulties are due to things that are outside of our control. Other time management difficulties are because of things that we do – things that are destined for failure before the day even begins.
Let’s start with our “To Do” list. Many people have their list of things that they want to accomplish for the day. The unfortunate thing about the “To Do” list is that it is unrealistic. We put twenty items on the list knowing that we will never be able to accomplish all twenty things. So what happens? We accomplish maybe ten if we’re lucky and the other ten go on the list for tomorrow. This would not be bad if the ten were all we had to accomplish, but that’s never the case. The ten get added to the twenty for the new day, so now we have thirty things that will never be accomplished!
Secondly, we schedule our days too tightly. We’re like doctors. First appointment is at 9:00. Second appointment is at 9:15. The first appointment goes to 9:20 so by the time he sees the next patient it’s 9:25. The doctor is already 10 minutes behind and the day has just begun. We do the same thing. We schedule back-to-back meetings, which would be fine if all meetings started and ended on time. We leave no room in the schedule for interruptions or work emergencies, thus we are never able to stick to our unrealistic schedule.
Those are only two examples. Here’s the thing. You can’t find more time in the day. It doesn’t exist. You can start earlier and leave later, but that’s not really solving the problem, it’s just making your day longer and adding to your stress level. So if we can’t find more time in the day, we need to find things to help better utilize the time we do have.
Here are five practical ways to help you manage the time you do have:
Identify good enough – Have you ever drawn a circle on a piece of paper free hand? The chances are it looks pretty good, but it is not a perfect circle. However, if you asked someone what you just drew, they would say it was a circle. How good does the hand drawing have to be in order for someone to determine it was a circle? Yet some would not settle for the “good enough” circle, they would have to make it look perfect no matter how long it took. Unfortunately, in the end, the person would still say, “It’s a circle.”
There are items on your “To Do” list or project tasks that need to be completed where “good enough” is good enough. They are tasks that don’t have to be done perfectly and if you try to do them perfectly you accomplish no more than just putting in extra time that you don’t have. The end result is the same.
Identify those items and put the effort into completing them, not over-completing them. You’d be surprised how much time this will save you.
Delegate – Many people don’t delegate for three main reasons. First, because there is a lack of trust that others will be able to complete the task to your satisfaction. Second, because there is a lack of confidence that the task would be completed the way you would do it. Third, because you feel it would take more time to teach someone else than to just do the task yourself.
None of those three reasons makes enough sense not to delegate. Set the standards for completing the task. That’s more important than your “satisfaction.” It doesn’t matter whether the person does it the way you do it, as long as it’s completed and it meets the established standards. Finally, the time you take to train someone else has long lasting effects, not just the initial training time. Delegating not only helps you regain some of your daily time, but will help alleviate some of your stress as well.
Prioritize – There are always things that are urgent and things that are important. However, there are also things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. Your job is to identify those items that are important and urgent and to ensure that items do not become urgent because you failed to plan accordingly.
Prioritizing your tasks will help you accomplish this. What are the standards for urgent? What are the standards for important? Is a task urgent if it is completed and it made no discernable difference to your business? Only you and your team can identify these things and the reasons for their urgent and important labeling. Once you’ve identified them, prioritize based on the level of importance. This will not only help you alleviate wasted time, but will also eliminate tasks that have little or no meaning to the business.
Time activate – When we create a “To Do” list everything on it has the same level of importance and because it’s on the list it must be completed today! In reality, not all the tasks on the list must be completed today. The reason they are on the list is because we just thought of them and to make sure we didn’t forget, we put them on the list.
The list becomes more useful when we put items on it that only need to be completed today. The other items need to be reviewed, associated with other tasks, and equated with a due date. Why have a task on your list today that is not really due for two months? It makes no sense and it wastes time that can be better spent on tasks that are more important or urgent. Time activating tasks helps you to better associate time with the tasks at hand.
Make meetings count – In some studies, meetings have been identified as the biggest time wasters in a person’s day. That’s because many of the meetings we go to are either not necessary or poorly run. Having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting wastes time and hurts morale.
You may not have control over other people’s meetings, but you certainly have control over yours. So first, review your meetings and ascertain if a meeting is actually necessary or whether the information can be disseminated in some other way. Second, make sure that your meetings start on time; have agendas, action items, a follow-up plan; and end on time. Eliminating unnecessary meetings and running more effective and efficient meetings will save time, boost morale, and take a few more items off your “To Do” list.