Pumpkins In The Water: How To Effectively Manage Your Time

One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.
Chinese Proverb

No one ever seems to have enough time anymore. In fact, just about everyone talks about being swamped at work and snowed under at home. And that’s a lousy way to live.

So what’s the answer? It may NOT be putting in more hours. It may be learning how to use your hours more effectively.

As Randall Tobias, CEO of Eli Lilly, points out, “Historically we looked at whose cars were in the parking lot at 7 p.m., and we made the assumption that they belonged to corporate heroes hard at work. In truth, some of those people were probably poorly organized or spending time on the wrong things. We have to get more focus off measuring activity and onto measuring results — not the number of hours put in but what gets produced.”

And the answer may NOT be taking another complicated training program. Sales consultant Jeffrey Gitomer says, “Time management is not complicated — unless you take a time-management course. Then you have to have a minor degree in rocket science to figure out what piece of paper gets what notes in what category and with what priority.”

The answer is to simplify the way you use your time. So let me give you 10 tips for getting things done when you never have enough time.

=> 1. Say “no” once in a while.

You see … some people think if they say “yes” all the time, they’re going to be more popular and have greater career advancement. That’s not always the case. You may simply be labeled as a sucker or a doormat.

The “no” word is one of your most powerful weapons in the battle against time. But it’s not an easy word to use. Even Tony Robbins, the motivational guru, says, “I overload myself … I overload my back with my mouth and agree to too many things.”

So practice saying “no” in a friendly but matter-of-fact manner … without over explaining. Remember it may be possible to say “no” when you’re asked to take over an entire project, while still offering to help in a smaller, specific way.

=> 2. Avoid over-commitment.

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, spoke about that. She said, “If I accepted all the requests I had to serve on boards or committees and to attend luncheons and dinners, I wouldn’t have time to accomplish anything else. Help out when you can. Participate in good causes when you have the time, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. You can’t manage your time if you give it to everyone who asks for it.”

If you find yourself over-committed too much of the time, it means one of two things. Either you haven’t learned to say “no” or you don’t know how to accurately assess how long various tasks will take. Start working on those two skills. And then check your master calendar before you agree to do ANYTHING more.

It’s just one of the many skills I teach in my program called “Take This Job and Love It! A Program For Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, And Balancing Your Life.”

=> 3. Maintain a master calendar.

Don’t rely on your memory. Write it all down. As Gary Fisher, the western regional director of customer services for Highland Ridge Hospital in Salt Lake City, says, “For a long time, I knew my desk and office were a mess. I knew where all the stuff was. But I had things on my desk that would take me 10 minutes to find. The key was to keep a single calendar and to keep information in one spot with a system you can refer to.”

For those of you who like to wing it, or keep your options open, or prefer a more casual, spontaneous approach to life, you probably won’t like the idea of a master calendar … initially. But it works.

Keep one master calendar that has EVERYTHING on it from your personal and professional life. Include overtime, business travel, school conferences, transportation needs, doctor’s appointments, and everything else.

=> 4. Schedule major projects.

If you have a number of major projects gathering dust because you’re going to do them when you “find time,” stop waiting and start scheduling. Most people never find spare time; so if you really want to get a project done, set a start date and a deadline. Then map out the steps you’ll need to take to complete the project and stick to your timetable.

Of course, some people refuse to schedule things because they tell themselves they work best under pressure. But that’s nonsense! Telling yourself that you work best under pressure is nothing more than a polite way to give yourself permission to procrastinate.

=> 5. Use lists.

It’s amazing how much time this will save you. So list every step of a project, and you won’t have to redo it because you forgot a crucial step. Make a grocery list, and you won’t have to run to the store a second time for forgotten items. Use daily, weekly, and monthly lists, rather than making a huge list that creates more fogginess than focus.

=> 6. Start with some unpleasant tasks.

Most people waste more time thinking about dreaded tasks than actually doing them. But if you get one or more of your most disliked jobs out of the way first, you’ll get a great sense of accomplishment. You’ll also be able to enjoy the rest of the day, knowing the your worst task is out of the way.

=> 7. Eliminate distractions.

Distractions come in a thousand different forms … everything from coworkers who want to keep on talking and talking, to a TV set that is always on, to the constant bombardment of new emails. As Mike Atkins, an attorney with Seattle’s Badgley-Mullins law firm, says, “Life is full of distractions. The Internet is just the newest one.”

It doesn’t matter what the distraction is. They all have a few things in common. They disrupt your attention, spoil your focus, and waste your time. They stop you from working, and they stop you from moving forward.

The next time you’re tempted by a distraction, stop yourself from giving into it. Force yourself to stay focused on your priorities. Force yourself to think in terms of what is the best use of your time at this particular time.

That’s what John D. Frager, senior managing director of real-estate services company CB Richard Ellis, does. He says, “Good time management is a challenge that is never quite finished. It’s a lot like staying in shape. Perhaps the most difficult thing is to slow down long enough to focus on doing the ‘right things’ the right way.”

=> 8. Avoid procrastination.

Lely Barea, the co-founder of uniform-maker Ibiley, tells her people, “Don’t ever leave things for later.” And it’s good advice.

After all, nothing good ever came out of procrastination. Procrastination sabotages your career and damages your relationships. Quite simply, when you put off what you need to be doing, you end up working “under the gun,” which means your projects won’t get your best effort.

When you’re about to procrastinate, remember Nike. Tell yourself to “Just do it.”

=> 9. Avoid perfectionism.

Perhaps you’re guilty of telling yourself, “I can’t start this project now because I don’t have time to do it right.” Or perhaps you find yourself redoing something because “it’s not perfect.”

If so, you’re allowing your perfectionism to steal your time. Many of your tasks are non-critical, so let “good enough” be “good enough” and move on.

=> 10. Delegate occasionally.

When you delegate, you instantly increase your amount of available time. As Dr. Jared Schwartz, chief of the medical staff at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Presbyterian Healthcare System, says, “If someone else can do something that frees up your time, let them. It’s very easy to get caught up in the minutiae rather than rely on the experts you’ve hired for their recommendations.”

And there are two ways you can delegate. You can delegate the details as you focus on the big picture.

That’s what Steve Kahn, the CEO of Integrity QA Software, does. He says, “We outsource our benefits administration. When the benefits people come here for a meeting, I don’t want to hear the details but I know they need some face-time. So I bring my assistant, stay for the first five minutes to go over the big picture, and leave. My assistant handles the details. It’s like getting an executive summary and delegating to someone else. I hold these meetings in a conference room — it’s pretty hard to walk out of your own office.”

You can also delegate in a way that helps the other person increase his/her job skills. You thoroughly explain the job, your expectations, deadlines, and how you’ll monitor progress. Put these points in writing for the other person. And then ask him/her to summarize the assignment, so you’ll know you’ve clearly communicated what’s been delegated.

In summary, Andrew Grove, the CEO of Intel, says, “Time is any manager’s most precious resource, and how you use or abuse it determines how effective you will be.” He’s right. And the more you use these 10 tips, the more successful you’re going to be.

Action:  Pick out 1 of the 10 tips to focus on. Keep on using that tip until it has become an automatic and natural thing for you to do. And then go on to picking out and mastering a second technique.