Getting More Out of Your Time

Ruth Linné Lander, FACMPE

September 2012, Vol 2, No 5 - Practice Management


I am going to start this business article with something personal. Dec­ades ago I read a book that had a very good chapter on personal time management. I have followed one tip in this chapter ever since. In summary: pick the 5 outfits you want to wear Monday through Friday of your workweek during the current season. If there is a jacket, accessorize it with a pin. If there is a necklace, hang it on the outfit hanger. Have your shoes picked as well. After you have worn the outfit, say on Monday, move it to the end of your 5-day row, leaving the accessories in place. This saves you many decision points in the morning on what to put on, as well as what shoes to wear, and if you are female, what jewelry to add. If you are working in an office setting, you usually can get several wearings from an outfit before laundering or dry cleaning temporarily moves it out of the rotation. Let’s face it, you only wear your favorite outfits anyway, so you could declutter your closet and save time every workday morning, and save money and time on shopping for additional clothes, with this approach.

?Little did the author know that this tip has piqued my interest in planning and using time well for the past few decades, in my personal life and in my work environment.

Begin with the Big Rocks

?Time is something we hate and love at the same time. We are often torn by how to spend it. A quote from Jim Rohn (The Treasury of Quotes. Success Books, 1994) puts this topic into perspective well: “We can no more afford to spend major time on minor things than we can to spend minor time on major things.”

?We are all bombarded with e-mails, voicemails, printed information, and interruptions by staff, as well as by our personal issues, every day. With our smartphones we are never really out of touch any more. Although these advances have brought us incredible benefits, we need to bring some order to their use, or we will all become plagued with what looks like attention deficit disorder and feels like we are the hamster on the spinning wheel on any given day, crashing in bed at night with the feeling that little was accomplished.

?When the late Steven Covey’s book First Things First (Simon & Schuster, UK) came out back in 1994, I read it with great interest. His visual analogy of putting the big rocks into the jar before the little rocks made a lasting impact on me. If you start with the little rocks and then add the big rocks, there is no room for all of them to fit in your container. If you reverse the order, putting the big rocks in first, the little rocks fill in around the big rocks and everything fits. Try this for yourself with pebbles and rocks, or a baseball and marbles, and a container—it works.

?In other words, you need to focus on what is important, and first make room for that by planning realistic and appropriate blocks of time on your calendar; amazingly, the less important items will then somehow get done around these important items. If you do not block the time for the important “tyranny of the urgent,” smaller items will gobble up your time, leaving that important item “unfunded” in time.

?Takeaway: Plan for the important thing, or it remains a dream, or a hoped-for goal, and you remain discouraged with your lack of time for it.

The Communication Deluge

?I am not antisocial, but I do love the time-savings of electronic communication. If I send a clear e-mail, I have a written record and ideally a timely response, and I have saved myself the lost time of playing telephone tag through voicemails with the other party, or the actual telephone contact, which is filled with extraneous conversation that is not really the best use of time. If you have projects or issues in process with your team, and we all do, proactively updating them by e-mail can also avoid unplanned phone calls, or visits from them that interrupt your day, because they just wanted to know the status of those projects or issues.

?As the day progresses, have set times to scan e-mails and deal only with the important e-mails during those times. In my experience this is a small percentage of the total e-mails I get daily. At the end of the day, when you are probably winding down, or at the beginning of the day, when you are trying to get going, scroll through all the remaining e-mails and do not be shy in deleting. Remember that if it is not important, move on. I do the same with voicemails.

?Your phone use can be a real time guzzler. We all have contacts who are talkers. If they are not busy, they pick up the phone and call you. What they do not realize is that you may be very busy doing what is important in your day. If you have caller ID, you can choose to answer now or let the call go to voicemail and return it (or not) during a convenient time.

?If it is a persistent problem, I nicely tell the person that he/she may have time at that moment to chat but I simply cannot, because of my busy schedule, and that we need to talk at a time that better fits my personal schedule. If the person is a good friend, that is fine. If the person is just a distracted talker, that person moves on to a more willing listener.

Manage Your Work Environment

?Coworkers can take your precious time, too. They may just stop by to talk on their way to another destination in the office, and minutes can go by with unnecessary conversation. I nicely say that I do not have time to talk now and ask whether we can arrange a better time to catch up. If I stand up and move toward my door with something to deliver, it can be a good hint, too.

?If you need to be on the move within your work environment, plan your trips around the office in order, and try to do multiple stops in one trip. This saves up-and-down time throughout the day, and these minutes add up. On these trips just say hello to a coworker you encounter along the way; you do not need to stop and talk. By your very walk, a coworker can tell whether you are purposefully going to a destination or are willing to be interrupted for a visit. You need to decide which is true for you.

?Don’t be afraid to say no. We get asked to be involved with multiple nonessential activities throughout our working life, internally or externally, if we are any good at all. If a task is voluntary, say yes only to the requests you really want to do.

?I remember the 1980s ad, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. Cause I’m a woman.” It was a catchy ad, but not really true. To be really good at something takes focus, and it is hard to stay focused on too many things, so be more selective, and choose only the best activities that fit with your life goals.

?Don’t waste smaller snippets of time. You can usually complete many small tasks or get one more item crossed off on a project while you wait on hold, or even during lulls in a webinar.

?If you really want to dive deeper into time issues, I would suggest visiting Pam Vaccaro’s website (www.designsontime.com). I have heard her talks several times over the years and find her website a rich source of downloadable articles and audios on the use of time. Her approach is practical and refreshing, if you have had bad experiences with time management to date.

Keep Your Perspective

?Finally, I need to encourage you not to go too far. Don’t become a working machine that never unwinds and uses almost every second. If you need a visual example, think of Scrooge before and after he changed in the well-loved A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You need to balance your working and personal life, and have breaks during your work- day, to remain on an even keel and keep an appropriate perspective.

?If you use your time well throughout your day, you will find freed-up time for these needed breaks, at work and in your personal life.