Five Tips For Better Time Management

If you want something in your life, you have to make a space for it.

Last week I talked about living by your priorities rather than your pressures. I focused on “effectiveness,” on doing the right things, or doing the most important things. In essence, I wrote about life management.

“Dear Abby” also wrote about priorities and life management in one of her columns. She wrote: “Today. Don’t waste it. On this day end a quarrel. Search out a forgotten friend. Dismiss a suspicion and replace it with trust. Encourage someone who has lost faith. Keep a promise. Forget an old grudge. Examine your demands on others and learn how to reduce them. Fight for a principle. Express your gratitude. Overcome an old fear. Take two minutes to appreciate the beauty of nature. Tell someone you love him. Tell him again. And again. And again.”

By contrast, “efficiency” focuses on process, on doing things right. It’s all about time management.

Unfortunately, more people make fun of time management than actually do it. One person said he always wanted to be a procrastinator; he just never got around to it. And Christopher Parker says: “Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”

Some of you may be guilty of wasting too much time. Maybe you’re like the person who said: “There really is nothing good on television these days. You’d think spending 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, that I’d find something.” And one less-than-stellar employee said: “I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.”

The truth is most of us need to get better at time management. We need to get better at doing things right.

If you’re in sales, for example, Jeffrey Mayer, author of Success Is A Journey, says there are six obvious signs that say you need to work on your time management skills. Read through them. Do any of them apply to you?

1. You have too many unfinished tasks sitting in piles on top of your desk.

2. You have too many proposals awaiting your attention.

3. You have too many prospects calling and leaving a message, but you haven’t had time to get back to them.

4. You have too many prospects sending you e-mail, but you haven’t gotten back to them.

5. You have too many prospects that completed some form of response card, but you haven’t followed up on those responses.

6. And, you’ve left too much money sitting on the table because you didn’t have time to manage the entire sales process.

Even if you’re not in sales, you probably have a few of those signs as well as several of your own. You have some signs that say you need to get better at managing your time.

And if you’re like most people, you’d love to squeeze an extra hour out of each day. If we had a half-day seminar together, I could tell you exactly how to do that, but here are a few things that will make an immediate, positive difference in your use of time.

First, GET RID OF THE CLUTTER. If you walk into your office and feel deflated by the mess, take this step to heart. Whether it’s papers piled on your desk, the floor or in boxes, or whether it’s dozens of post-it notes all over the place, such clutter wastes your time. You waste your time digging through piles, trying to find things you need; and you waste your time reading all the post-it notes over and over again, trying to find out what you have to do first.

One good thing you can do is get rid of excess paper. Look at all the paper that surrounds you. Ask yourself, what can you throw out, give out, or leave out? If you’re months behind in reading your professional journals, scan their tables of content. Rip out the articles you need and throw out the rest.

Second, ELIMINATE THOSE THINGS YOU’RE TOLERATING. List 25 things you’re putting up with, such things as a dirty car, a squeaking door, a picture that won’t hang straight. Pick the 10 easiest ones to take care of and fix them now. Believe it or not, those “tolerations” are bothering you more than you know. So notice how you feel when you take care of those first 10 items, and notice what happens to your sense of energy and self-control.

Third, PRIORITIZE YOUR TASKS. If you’re at work and have ten unfinished pieces of business, you can waste a lot of time attempting to choose between them. If you’re at home with ten unfinished chores, you may feel so overwhelmed that you may give up and watch TV. And no two tasks have equal importance.

Prioritizing your tasks gives a relative value to each task. And it’s astonishing how much time and energy you will save by completing each task according to its importance.

If you don’t prioritize your tasks, chances are you’ll find yourself doing marginally important activities instead of the essential ones. And the more you concentrate on the nonessential matters, the worse you’ll feel about not focusing on the more important items. By the time you get to the important items, your energy level will be so depleted and your frustrations so high that you won’t be very productive in the time you have left.

So prioritize your tasks. Do them in the order of their priority. And stop doing those things that keep you busy but don’t make you productive or profitable.

Fourth, APPLY THE 15-MINUTE PRINCIPLE to your prioritized tasks. With all the demands on your time, you may not be able to complete every priority at one setting. But you can always make some progress toward their completion. And a good way to do that is give each of your prioritized tasks fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but it adds up to a major difference if you give each of those fifteen minutes your very best. Charlotte Hale Allen, in her book, Full Time Living, says: “In just one year or less you can accomplish some tremendous tasks by investing just 15 minutes a day. For example, you could read the entire Bible, plant and keep up a small garden, become physically fit, learn to play a musical instrument, paint a house, learn a foreign language, or write a book.”

Finally, PUT BOUNDARIES ON YOUR TIME. It’s okay to turn off the phone, close the door, and concentrate on your work without any interruptions once in a while. The chances of the world coming to an end while you’re sheltered in your office or the chances of you missing that one call from The Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes are very slim.

You can also put boundaries on the time you give other people. If someone asks if you have a minute, be honest. Tell them how much time you have, whether it’s a minute or five minutes, or whatever. That will encourage the other person to get to the point rather than waste precious time on irrelevant details. And if the person is not finished in the time you give him, you can easily say that you’ll have to schedule more time at a later date to finish the discussion.

Two things happen. You teach people to be much more efficient in their use of time. And you retain some control over your use of time.

Everywhere I go to speak in the world, I hear the same complaint. People keep telling me they don’t have enough time. They don’t have time for all the things they want in their life. As my tip suggests, if you want something in your life, you have to make a space for it. And you make that space by managing your time well.

Action: Combine two of my suggestions this week. Eliminate clutter by using the 15-minute principle. Everyday this week, spend 15 minutes getting rid of the clutter in your work and in your home. It will make an amazing difference in your outlook, your productivity, and your energy.