Peace of Mind through Order and Systems


Time management is one of the most basic requirements for accomplishing life goals and for career advancement. Time management improvements lead to increases in productivity and personal satisfaction.

Priority setting : The most basic requirement for time management is to determine what is most important: What goals do you want to accomplish? What do you want to have achieved at the end of one, two, or five years? Evaluate all activities for how well they fit with your priorities.

Planning involves identifying realistic goals and times, then working backwards to determine what must be done to achieve the goal. Goals describe the result desired, objectives are the steps required to achieve goals, and the daily to-do list enables making progress on the objectives.

* Use your major goals for the next five years to decide your goals for the current year. Use the goals for the year to select your goals for the month. List these on the front of your monthly planner. Check the monthly planner to decide how to schedule your week and the goals for the week to determine how you use your time each day. Check off the goals with the date that you achieved them.

* Evaluate the priority of tasks by considering what will happen if a task is not done, is late or done partially or poorly. Do tasks which have negative consequences if not completed first, so that they will not be a source of worry and the consequence will be prevented.

* Divide large tasks into small segments that can be done in tolerable chunks. Nearly every task can be divided into components that can be handled more conveniently than to try to complete all of the project at once.

* Learn to make use of tiny bits of time. Look for ways to be productive in small amounts of time. This needn't lead to feeling pressured, but rather to a sense of achievement, of rejoicing in being able to get something done which might otherwise be impossible.

* Identify potential difficulties that could interfere with your goals and institute preventive measures. Create contingency plans to use if prevention fails.

* Organize your home and workspace. You cannot be efficient if you must spend time hunting for things, wading through things which ought to be thrown out, running out for supplies at the last minute or any of the other preventable slip-ups that result from lack of organization.

* Be realistic in calculating how much you can do. Murphy's second law (Everything takes longer than you think) isn't just funny - it's an accurate reflection of life. Plan enough time so that you can do a good job, deal with contingencies, and have enough of a margin of safety in your time plan to prevent stress.

* Manage other people's expectations : check all deadlines and objectives, estimates for allow contingencies when estimating how long you need to do tasks or projects, do not take on commitments unless you know you can fulfill them.

* Automate as many tasks as possible. Many writing projects can be turned into templates which can be called up on the computer and endlessly re-used. Modify the template and leave the original intact (use 'save-as' with a new name rather than 'save'). Templates work particularly well for repetitive reports, some letters, most forms, lists, and memo, minutes and agenda outlines.

* Keep reading materials under control by canceling routing list memberships and magazine subscriptions. Put away reading material that you cannot get to immediately; when you need it, you can pull it. Schedule reading time just like any other activity.

* Every time you have to look up a phone number, list it in your organizer, PDA or rolodex unless you are certain you will never need it again. Update your phone listings while on the phone: add new numbers, eliminate numbers you no longer need, and make notes about whom to call.

* Reduce phone tag by leaving detailed messages regarding the topic you wanted to discuss, sending a fax with the information, or scheduling a telephone appointment. Take advantage of e-mail or voice mail's ability to handle longer messages. Let other people know when is the best time to reach you.

* Have only one calendar that you use for scheduling, keeping track of the tasks you need to do, and planning time use. Having more than one calendar is a set-up for chaos and failure, an invitation to error.

* Always check your calendar before scheduling anything. Keep your calendar with you. Check it first thing in the morning and leave it on a standard spot on your desk for frequent consultation. Put the phone number of the person you schedule appointments with on the date of the appointment so that you can call from the field if you get lost or delayed.

* Record your use of time. This is the most powerful of all time management techniques. You may not need to do it always (although people who do reap many benefits) but writing down everything you do helps to keep you on track, reveals where time is being wasted, and serves as a record of activities which can be used for many constructive purposes (cost-benefit analysis, billings, and legal defense among others).

* Leave at least 25% of your time unscheduled so you can deal with unanticipated projects, interruptions, admin work, or on-going projects.

* Above all else, learn to be CALM when busy and under pressure. You will get more done, have more fun, and you won't be adding to the stress level of others. Agitation is an unnecessary time and energy waster, as are all other negative emotions. Remember, stress is not an external condition, but is your reaction to events. You can learn to choose your reactions and thoughts so choose those which will support your goals and plans.

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If you would like more information than the short guides presented here, contact me to learn how we can work together to improve your business operations.

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