By Marcia Pennington Shannon
Benjamin Franklin said, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." Given that Franklin accomplished such a great deal in his life, he must have been a very effective manager of his time. The last installment in this three-part series explains how you, too, can get more from time.
Time management is not about getting more done in less time. It is about having the time to accomplish the things that are important to you. That may mean building and maintaining a successful practice, writing the next great American novel, traveling to remote lands, or spending more time with family and friends. How we use our time says a lot about what we value. If what you value is inconsistent with how you spend the majority of your time, you're probably due to make some changes so that the two are congruent.
Identifying what's important to you is the foundation of the changes. Then, you can best lay the three building blocks of effective time management: self-management, organization and systems management, and people management. The previous two Managing columns focused on the first two of those building blocks. In the July/ August issue, we discussed strategies for establishing daily priorities, setting weekly goals and overcoming procrastination. In September, we discussed how to use technology tools and organizational systems to save time. In this installment, we'll focus on people management—working with and through others to accomplish your goals more efficiently. The essential strategies are communicating clearly, delegating capably, controlling interruptions and managing upward, which are all tools that will help you use your time in a more value-added way.
Working with Others: Communicating Clearly Is Key
Others can help or hinder your effective use of time. The number one key is communication. A lack of clear communication is the greatest time- waster of all. Think of all the occasions when others haven't clearly stated what they wanted or needed from you. You may well have wasted time going down a path that turned out to be the wrong one. Likewise, when you fail to clearly state what you want or need from others, time gets wasted owing to the wrong turns that result.
To turn things in the right direction, consider how you are communicating with others, both in writing and orally.
- Are you getting your message across?
- Are you being direct so that others don't have to guess your meaning?
- Are you actively listening to what is being said by the other party?
Now think about ways you can improve your communication with others. One very quick and dramatic strategy is to use the 80-20 rule: Try talking 20 percent of the time and listening 80 percent of the time. This will have an immediate impact on your interpersonal relationships, which, in turn, will have a positive effect on your time management.
Making Delegation Part of Your Work Routine
Admittedly, it takes some time to delegate and train others. However, nothing will pay off more in allowing you to use your time in a more efficient way. That's why it is important to proactively plan how you can delegate given tasks in your workday.
When delegating an assignment, it is essential to provide sufficient information to enable the person to complete the task correctly. Follow these pointers for delegating effectively:
- Give a brief description of the overall matter and the specific task you want accomplished, along with appropriate resources and realistic deadlines.
- Be clear in stating your expectations. If you want the project accomplished in a certain way, be specific about it. For example, if you have limitations on the amount of time you want individuals to work on a given project, let them know when you assign the job to them.
- Refrain from micromanaging. Trust your employees. The more they learn to do on their own, the more they can perform in the future. Remember, supervising is not the same as micromanaging!
- Promptly review completed tasks and offer immediate feedback.
Managing Interruptions During the Workday
All of us know there will be interruptions in our day. But just because interruptions are inevitable it doesn't mean that they aren't manageable. Dealing with them efficiently can make the difference between accomplishing your goals and wondering at the end of the day where all the time went.
Begin by adding in extra time to account for interruptions when planning out your day. Shut your door and ask your secretary to answer your phone when you need time to focus on a particular matter. Be sure to let your secretary know when you expect to be available to return calls so that clients who phone can be informed.
Another pointer is to visit colleagues rather than having them come to your office so that you can control the length of the visit. If someone drops by your office to talk when you're busy, let the person know that you're in the midst of a project and will follow up with him or her later in the day. Or, you might indicate that you only have five minutes to talk right now, and then at the end of that time tell the person that you must get back to work. Likewise, if someone calls while you're in the middle of a project, ask if you can return the call as soon as you finish what you're working on at present.
Managing these types of workplace interactions—especially with those colleagues who have difficulty keeping conversations short—will allow you to be more in control and gain more time than you might think.
Managing Upward: Syncing with Supervisors
Managing upward implies that you are managing your relationship with your supervisor. It is one of the most important time management strategies that you can learn. The first step in the process is learning your supervisor's work and communication style. Then you can work more efficiently with this individual by adapting your own style as much as possible to match. Also, be sure to ask questions to clarify all assignments given, rather than wasting time doing something that was not asked for.
Know your workload. When someone asks if you are available to do something, be able to talk about your current assignments and assess whether you can do this additional assignment. Letting a supervisor know your current commitments allows her or him to have reasonable expectations about what you can accomplish and, if necessary, to find another person to do the assignment instead.
If someone makes a request that will be difficult to fulfill, ask if there might be some room for negotiation in the timeline. Keep those you work with well informed of your progress, and manage their expectations throughout. As noted before, communication is key.
Don't Squander Your Most Valuable Commodity
The clear message in this three-part time management series is that time is our most valuable commodity. If it is lost, it cannot be replaced. So review the suggestions given in these columns and look at how you might find more time in your day by implementing some of them. Then you can take the extra time you find and use it in a meaningful way—one that is truly of value to you. Why waste another precious moment? After all, time is "the stuff life is made of."