All any of us have to offer are our talent and our time. Our productivity is heavily impacted by how well we use the finite amount of time at our disposal. When we get overloaded, our business results suffer and we put stress on both our family life and health.
So, what’s the secret to effective time management? Planning and awareness.
Planning should be performed along three time horizons: long term (say an annual plan), mid-term (quarterly or monthly) and short term (weekly or daily). This may be as simple as writing brief lists and reviewing them regularly so you properly allocate your time towards achieving your goals.
A plan sets boundaries. It states what you are going to do and implies what you are NOT going to do. Your plan defends your objectives from the influence of outside factors, including the whims of your business associates.
Think of business as a contest of wills. Successful people in business (and in life, I suppose) co-opt resources to support their own agenda. As a business manager and leader, you must ensure that you primarily drive your own agenda rather than becoming a slave to someone else’s.
The success of the organization depends on the cumulative ability of all employees to execute their complementary agendas. The time management challenge arises when others are driving your agenda more than you are!
An efficient time manager learns to operate on two levels. First, be good at the tasks you perform (you probably already are). Second, analyze your performance on the fly to remain in control of your agenda and your time. Here I’m referring to something along the lines of mindfulness and self-awareness.
With so many demands on your attention, it is easy to become an automaton, mindlessly reacting to incoming stimuli (responding to emails, fielding telephone calls, handling queries from your staff, jumping when your client or your boss says jump, etc.). Wake up! Your time is precious. At every moment, even in the middle of performing a task, ask yourself whether this is really the best use of your time. If not, take action to get back to doing the important stuff in your plan.
Time management “wakefulness” is the continuation of the planning process from the short term to the immediate. It is your final defence in sticking to your individual business agenda.
This isn’t easy! While there are simple tools for regular planning, awareness is the mental discipline of having your head in two places at once (simultaneously on the task and above the task). People who are good at getting results and controlling their time, do this naturally.
Almost every manager I know is a student of time management techniques (though few of us are A-students!). If you have techniques that you swear by, I’d like to hear about them. Please email me at email@example.com and I’ll compile the results in a future blog post.