Managing your Time and Your Work

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

How we spend our time today has an impact on where we will be tomorrow. Whether it is going to school for that advanced degree or working on the project that just might result in a big promotion; effective time management is one of the keys to success. We may want to be more accomplished, achieve greater satisfaction, or increase the quality of our life. In order to achieve all that is important to us, we must learn to balance our time.

Time management is a popular training topic. Everyone wants to know how to create more time and manage his or her work more efficiently. There are numerous books, articles, workshops, calendars and planners available on the market.

One of the most obvious problems with some of these tools is the amount of time needed to read the book, attend the workshop, or complete the planner. The people who create these products seem to take away the very thing they are trying to help you get more of - Time. This is not meant to reduce the value of these products and tools in general. Some of them are excellent. However, they are frequently unnecessarily complex.

Trying to improve one's efficiency need not be a detailed, complex undertaking. Improvement in time management can frequently be accomplished with relative ease. Often it is simply a matter of focusing on the problem areas and making necessary changes in work habits or establishing a few new ways of handling problems.

There are seven key strategy areas for improving your time management: Setting Priorities, Planning, Taking Action, Resisting Involvement, Paperwork, Deadlines, and Self-Confidence.

Setting Priorities

The first step in managing your time is to determine what has the highest priority. By developing a system, which will allow you to prioritize your activities, you will be doing things that really matter. This will contribute to your sense of accomplishment and will make a difference in how you feel. Don't waste your time on activities that keep you busy but don't really matter.

Here is a simple but effective way to set priorities:

  1. Determine your objectives - write a simple statement about the results you want to achieve (e.g. complete the Marketing Report by June 1st.)
  2. Determine what needs to be done to achieve your objective (list only the important or essential things.)
  3. Assign priorities to these activities and do these things before other activities.

You may want to subdivide these into short and long-term objectives or professional and personal objectives since most of us now juggle both. Estimate time lines in order to establish priorities more effectively.

Planning

If you spend a great deal of your time reacting to problems, or find that you typically "wing it" when faced with important projects or activities, you could benefit from devoting more time to planning. Find time for analyzing what needs to be done in advance of taking action. Reacting requires little prior thinking but being proactive requires a great deal of thought and planning. Planning allows for more effective resolution of issues. Here are some ideas for increasing your planning time:

  • Do daily and weekly planning.
  • Make planning a habit. Find a regular time to plan your activities.
  • Develop a "to do" list, prioritize the list and make sure that things on the list relate to your objectives.
  • Cross off items as completed to contribute to your sense of accomplishment

Taking Action

The best laid plans and intentions are useless if you are unable to translate them into action. If you know what needs to be done but have difficulty taking the necessary action, you should analyze why this is a problem for you. Why are you procrastinating? Is the task unpleasant? If so, what alternatives do you have? You may be able to delegate it to someone else. If not, you may be able to get someone to help you with it. Be sure to reward yourself when you complete unpleasant tasks.

Sometimes we avoid tasks because we are avoiding the people connected with those tasks. If this is the case, you have several options. First, you can try to improve communication with those individuals. Second, you could resolve existing conflicts with them. Finally, you may be able to work with alternative people.

Once you have determined the reason for your procrastination, take positive steps to improve your time management. Are you wasting time on low priority tasks? If so, develop a system setting objectives and assigning priorities. I know, this sounds like the first two steps described above, and it is. You may also need to resist the urge to always do the things that come easy to you first. You may need to practice a little self-discipline. Some people don't take action out of fear of failure. If this happens to you then do your best to visualize yourself successfully completing the task. You need to believe in yourself and your abilities.

Resisting Involvement

Sometimes it is extremely hard to say "no" when someone asks you to do something. This is true in both our professional and personal lives. However, if you are going to have control over your time and your life, you must learn to say "no" to others. You cannot afford to do the work of others, nor can you afford to spend your time socializing excessively. These are time wasters that interfere with your objectives.

If you have trouble resisting involvement you may need to develop better communication skills. Often the problem lies in your ability to be more assertive. You have to learn how to say "no" to requests. Start by saying "no" to requests of lower importance. Before saying yes to any request, make sure it is in your best interests and the best interests of all involved. As you say "no" more often you will find that you will receive fewer requests for help. If necessary re-focus on your objectives and evaluate your need to be involved in other activities of all kinds.

Another problem in this area involves other people interrupting our work. Here are some ways to discourage interruptions:

  • Immediately upon being interrupted inform the person in a nice but firm way that you are busy
  • When you need uninterrupted work time, keep your office door closed (if you have a door)
  • When people drop into your office to chat, stand and move toward the door. This tends to prevent them from "settling in" to a chair in your office
  • Insist on sticking to meeting agendas
  • Meet in the other person's office for a meeting (this makes it easier to leave and terminate the meeting)
  • Occasionally forward your phone to your voicemail even if you are there

Paperwork

The amount of paper the average worker must deal with is overwhelming. Computerization seems to have made things even worse. Here are some suggestions for better document management. Try to concentrate only on the paper and documents that will help you achieve your objectives. If something isn't important, don't read it. Handle each piece of paper only once, then move on to something else. Either act on each piece of paper or discard it.

We all tend to save too many documents. Before you save a document make sure that you will need that document again, and you will not be able to get it from someone else. If you can always get it from somewhere else, don't keep it. Find ways to minimize the amount of paper you receive from others. Get off mailing lists and distribution lists whenever possible.

Deadlines

Being "on time" is a basic courtesy that most of us learn as children or young adults. It is important to remember that the failure to meet a deadline, be "on time", or prepared for a meeting or event almost always has a negative effect on other people and their objectives. If you are consistently having difficulty meeting deadlines, you need to ask yourself why. Develop a sense of urgency and pay attention to important deadlines. If you work on all the previously mentioned areas, it will help with meeting your deadlines.

If you have trouble getting to meetings and appointments on time, put it on your schedule to get there early. If you get to an appointment early, bring some work or reading to do while you wait. You also may not be handling deadlines effectively due to stress. Find ways to handle stress more effectively through readings, relaxation or stress management training. Sometimes devoting more time to setting priorities and planning is a tremendous help in meeting your deadlines.

Self Confidence

A low self-esteem or lack of confidence can result in problems when trying to effectively manage your time and your life. In order to succeed, you must have confidence in yourself. Try to identify your standards, both personally and at work. Examine and uncover your limitations and work to improve them. Each of the other areas of time management discussed contributes to your confidence. Visualize yourself as a successful individual, worker, manager, or professional. Understand how success is defined for you. In addition, your confidence can be greatly enhanced if you find a positive role model to study and emulate. Watch what they do and how they do it, then do it like they do.

If you start to practice these steps you will begin to become more effective in your work and your life.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at [email protected].

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