Making Time and Getting Things Done

Author(s):

Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M.
Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M., 9609 West Gould Avenue, Littleton, CO 80123-2344, 303/973-2625

85th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2000 

Abstract. Time can never be used again. It is opportunity. Use it wisely and satisfaction is the reward. Use it poorly and frustration is the result. To think that we can totally control our time is a delusion. Life is not like that. But by developing a sense of how to use time well and what wastes time we can have a degree of control over that precious commodity. By exercising discipline and by planning we can focus on what is really important both personally and professionally.

Everything we do in time management terms is designed to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. The goal is to be able to do more and do everything better than would otherwise be the case. We are paid to achieve results, not to look busy. Having a clear plan - knowing and having an overview of what must be done - will reflect directly on how much we achieve. There must be a clear link between things to do and our overall objectives. Being better organized enables us to identify and concentrate on the essentials.

Managing our time means we have better coordination of tasks, we make better decisions about how things should be done, we waste less energies on irrelevancies, we have a greater ability to cope with and remove distractions and interruptions, and we are better able to cope with the unexpected elements of our job. One of the first prerequisites of good time management and productivity is to know yourself and your limits. Frequently we find ourselves attempting too much, with failure and disappointment the end results. Here are some tips for success in this area.

  • Stop telling yourself you work best under pressure - nobody works best under pressure.
  • Resist the urge to step in and take over because others are not doing their job. Their work is their responsibility - not yours.
  • Don't assume that everything has to be done. Learn to distinguish low priority work and ignore it whenever possible.
  • Stop trying to make everything perfect. Some things are simply not worth the extra effort.

Goal achievement is another component of successful time management. Without goals, our course through life would be haphazard, careless, and ineffective. And without time, even the simplest goals cannot be achieved. "If you don't know where you're going, it doesn't matter which road you take." To that we might add, "And it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there." Goals are one way to motivate yourself to greater accomplishments. But no one ever met a demanding goal without devoting time to it. Making sure you have time to devote to your goals is one of the roles of time management.

Having goals around which to focus your day's activities provides the structure for successfully accomplishing them through better time management. You need time to achieve goals. You need goals to make serious gains in time management. The gains that you can create by managing time are pointless unless you have a plan for using them to some purpose. Getting control of your time means facing up to the fact that you are usually the problem, not someone else.

There are certain attributes effective goals must have. A goal must be demanding. A goal that is demanding motivates us to do our best. A goal must be achievable. Goals that are clearly unattainable destroy morale and kill motivation. A goal should be specific and measurable. If your goal is vague and unspecified, how will you know when you've achieved it? A goal must have a deadline. Otherwise, it will not be taken seriously. Deadlines provide a sense of urgency and a way of tracking progress. A goal without a deadline is a dream. A goal should be written down. If it is not, it is too easily forgotten. A goal should be flexible. If conditions that affect your goal should change, for reasons outside your control, you should re-examine your goal. Don't cling stubbornly to something no longer possible.

Now that goals have been set, we turn to the actual work of getting them accomplished. Have you noticed that if you do not plan your day, other people will plan it for you? Others' actions will determine your priorities. A written daily plan is your essential tool. With it, you are in control of your time. Without it, your days will be a frustrating jumble of minor crises, interruptions, and dead ends.

A daily plan will guarantee that you get your top priority tasks done; guide you in determining the priorities of new tasks that arise during the day; give you psychological backup for resisting interruptions; and tell you what to return to if you do get interrupted. The key to successful time management is doing the most important task first, and giving it your full concentration, to the exclusion of everything else. The significance of the daily plan is that it forces you to do exactly that. But it's important to keep daily planning in perspective. No one is suggesting you operate one day at a time. A daily plan is the basic tool, but it works best as an integral part of a larger system.

If done right, here's what planning can do for you. A daily plan reduces the number of "what to do next" decisions. It minimizes interruptions and strengthens priorities and deadlines. Planning increases productivity and reduces the "busyness" syndrome. And it reduces the reactive response to events and the demands of others while at the same time it replaces management by crisis with a sense of control. Plan tomorrow, today, and put your plan in writing. Here's an example of the less than perfect world in which planning and time management must seek to have an effect.

Murphy's Ten Laws of Time Management

  1. If anything can go wrong, it will do so.
  2. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
  3. If you mess with something for long enough, it will break.
  4. If you try to please everybody, somebody won't like it.
  5. Nothing ever works out exactly as you expect.
  6. Whatever you want to do, there is always something else you have to do first.
  7. If you explain something so that no one could possibly misunderstand, someone will.
  8. Nothing is certain until it has happened (and then you should check it more than once).
  9. If everything is going according to plan, then it is a sure sign that something is about to go wrong.
  10. The only predictable thing about your day is that something totally unexpected will happen.

Another time management key is communication. People in the workplace often take communication for granted and assume that enough of it goes on. Talking and memo writing are almost nonstop and communication toys like voice mail and e-mail abound. But the quantity of communication doesn't insure the quality in the communication. Here are some communication recommendations that will help you with time management. Keep people informed. Decide who needs to know what and how and when they will get that information. Communicate clearly, concisely, and positively. Use multiple channels of communication. This makes it more interesting and less likely to be distorted or biased. Avoid information overload. Ask people what they think - then be prepared to listen and act on the communication you receive.

The fastest growing communication tool is undoubtedly e-mail. It is becoming central to how most of us now work and communicate. Some e-mail writing tips include: Determine the recipient of your message in advance; be very careful what you write; write a subject line that gets noticed; include the most important information right up front; use subheads, numbers, and bullets; be careful about conveying negative information through e-mail; limit the use of capital letters; check the tone and emotional content of your messages; avoid sending long messages; and read carefully.

Meetings are another time waster if we are to be successful at managing our time. There are four general reasons for holding a meeting. 1) To coordinate action. 2) To motivate a team. 3) To discuss problems. 4) To make a decision. The rules for time managed meetings include the following: Prepare an agenda, invite the right people for the right time at the right place, start on time, dismiss participants after they are no longer needed, stick to the agenda, keep socializing to a minimum, end on time, and prepare and circulate minutes.

Business would be nothing without people, You cannot remove the people, but you can make attempts to control their unscheduled disruption of your work. Often 25% of total working time is affected by interruptions. There are four responses to the problem of interruptions. 1) Refuse them - just say "no" and send the person away. Sometimes it's that easy - the matter was not important anyway. Sometimes this route simply isn't possible and the interruption should take precedence. 2) Postpone it - say you cannot pause right now but suggest a mutually convenient time to get together. 3) Minimize them - agree to pause for the interruption but put a time limit on it. If you do this, always stick to the time. 4) Prevent it - instigate a system which provides some time guaranteed free of interruptions. Do not, however, overuse the "Do Not Disturb" system. If you are never available you will still get interruptions and things you may want to hear about will pass you by. Then something may go wrong as a result.

Time management is the foundation of good organization. Its purpose is to help you do the most important things in your life. Every problem with organization is in some way a problem with time. If your time isn't well organized, chances are your papers, projects, and priorities won't be either. So here's an action plan to use. Dare to put your intentions in writing. When you write something down, you're giving a message to your subconscious. Writing also helps to clarify your thinking. Don't be afraid of change. Once you accept and initiate change in your life, you'll have more control over it. Commit to yourself and to a deadline. And with this commitment, create an experience of success. Be specific. Identify the benefits of time management for you - before you even begin the program. And reward yourself for success, remembering that it's a continual process. Time management is not about getting as much done as possible. It's about getting the most important things done.


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