How to improve your time management

by Per Wickstrom on October 2, 2013

Time Management“Time management” is a general term for managing an activity or business against the continuous stream we call “time.” There are quite a few schools of thought in the field of time management. I have not studied them all by any means, but they are generally composed of an analysis of one’s activities, reviewing where one can increase efficiency, and compartmentalization of specific activities. There’s also something called a “time-motion study” which was developed from two different systems: the time study and the motion study. Essentially, a time-motion study consists of breaking down what you’re doing so it is more efficient and so more work gets done. I could quote endlessly from these texts but I decided it would be better if I tell you some things that have worked for me and that I have observed through the years.

Does Time Control You or Do You Control Time?

When you think of “time” you probably think of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, lifetimes, centuries, etc. Most people live “by the clock.” Their day starts when their alarm goes off and they get only so much done in that day. Hours later, the day ends around a certain time and it’s time to sleep. The next day it starts over. This works alright but there is more to know about it. Time is actually bendable. To one degree or another it can be controlled. You see, time and space are perceived and handled differently by different people. Just watch some footage of Michael Jordan or Usain Bolt for a while. But you don’t even have to get philosophic about it. If you get twice as much done in half the time, then you just made time, didn’t you? Here are a few highly practical ways you can rise above time and cease to be a slave to the clock:

  • Tools

Any job or profession has its tools of the trade. If you are a carpenter you have your saws, squares, hammers, nails, etc. If you have a desk job you probably have a computer, pens, paper, paper clips, etc. In order to maximize your time and motion, you’d make sure you had everything you need within arm’s reach or as close to arm’s reach as possible. When you are done with something you should put it back where it belongs. You don’t want to spend all your time running around trying to find things. That’s pretty basic but a lot of people waste a lot of time because of neglect of their tools.

  • Communication

We live in an over-communicated society. Communication is streaming in continuously through the internet, social media, email, traditional mail (bills), and various other channels. It can be difficult to determine what is vital, what is important, what is interesting, what is useless, and what is harmful – and everything in between. One result of this is that we can miss or ignore important communication. Anyone in an executive position of an expanding business will need a secretary at some point to handle the traffic. But we aren’t all executives. Organizing your communication channels will pay off in many ways. Go through your emails, memos, bills, etc. Take care of them, get rid of what you don’t need, and clear the way for vital information. Trust me, you’ll be considered a cut above average simply by doing this.

  • Strategy

You can spend hours, days, months, years, a lifetime working on something, but if your actions do not lead to the end result, if you are doing it wrong – to a greater or lesser degree – you’ll wind up with nothing to show for it. That’s why you’ve got to extend your vision into the future, and do your best to work out what actions will get you and your team to the intended destination. Ideally this would be in the form of short-range plans, medium-range plans, and long-range plans. Any set of plans would contain individual actions to get done in a specific sequence. You also assign TIME to it – WHAT has to be done WHEN? You also assign WHO – each action is to be done by a specific person or persons. For a more elaborate plan, you’d do well to have someone assigned to manage the plan.

So you have WHAT, WHEN, and WHO as three essential elements of your plan. Things change and plans must be adjusted accordingly. You also want to meet with your team on a routine basis to go over progress and ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • Numbers

The statistics don’t lie. One field in which this is painfully evident is sales. Either you sell or you don’t. It’s a brutal profession because it often pays by commission only. If you sell you eat. If you don’t sell you eat significantly less while you look for another job. Any business has to answer up the numbers. Even if it’s just you, you must answer up to yourself.

One thing that can be overlooked is that you can assign a numerical measurement (statistic) for anything and use this to your advantage. If you sell cars or insurance or houses, you can isolate how many appointments or interviews result in a sale (on average) and work up those figures. In internet marketing, you can access all kinds of demographic information in order to narrow in on your target public. It’s all very rudimentary but people neglect these steps altogether.

  • Schedule

I recommend formulating specific times for various activities. This is in the form of a daily schedule and a weekly schedule, and can extend months ahead depending on your workload. If you assign a slot per day – like the morning – to handle your emails and other communication, you can avoid it all piling up and getting out of hand. You can do this in your personal life too, assigning time to exercise or spend with your family. There will never be enough hours in the day, but if you work over your schedule and look where time is wasted, you can start to get clever about it and come up with solutions. Read on…

  • Think outside the box.

I recall a friend who had a job crunching numbers. He kept track of millions of dollars for a large corporation. This was back in the day when computers were VERY slow – unlike now when they all work perfectly all the time (!). One day someone from corporate came to see him because it was taking way too long all the time. This other person looked at what he was doing and suggested another computer be installed right next to the one he was using. One was put in and all of a sudden he gained several hours per day. He wasn’t a dumb guy – in fact he was a genius; he was just too close in on the problem. Someone from outside saw it differently and could pinpoint the problem and solution. This is a small example of thinking outside the box.

The greatest minds in history, the great entrepreneurs, inventors, military strategists, football coaches – have in common that they thought outside the box. Step outside your activity for a moment and look at it from a different point of view – you may see something you never saw before. You may see that you’ve been wasting several hours per day. You may see that you’ve been barking up the wrong tree for quite a while. It’s very enlightening when you spot some of these things. New doors can be opened – doors you didn’t even know existed!

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