It is so interesting how many people call me to speak to their companies on Time Management. They are shocked when I say “Time Management is a myth…you cannot manage time, you can only manage the choices you make during the day.” So, the first strategy is to drop the notion of “time management” and shift your thinking to “me management.” We all have 24 hours in a day, and the way we choose to use that time can mean the biggest difference in success or failure in both business and life.
1. For one week, keep a time log to find out where you are losing time.
This is an activity that I implement with the majority of the executives I work with. They are so busy, and they always complain about not having enough time to finish important work. By keeping a time log, you can uncover:
- Where you are wasting time
- How you are wasting time
- Interruptions (people and things)
- The time of day when you seem to be losing most of your time
2. Empty your inbox at the end of every day.
I am amazed at how many people literally have over 1,000 emails just sitting in their inbox. That is crazy-making! All email programs provide file folders, stars for unread email and other tools to let you know if you need to address this now, tomorrow or in the future. An inbox that is overflowing creates dread and crowded thinking. I have a rule: do it, delay it by folder date or ditch the email. I have a rule of “only touching things once” and “doing it now”. This is how I can deliver quick service to my clients and create open space in my thinking.
3. Get your worst things out of the way first thing. Each morning, write out your “to do” list for the day, and get the stuff you dread out of the way.
Once you make your list, and place each item into 4 categories:
- “I don’t want to do this.”
- “Looks important and urgent, but it can actually wait”
- “Must be done now!” (Believe it or not, this category is very, very small. We may think something is urgent and important and a “must do it now”, but it can really wait).
Many people tell you to tackle the most important things first. From experience, I have learned that the best thing you can do for yourself and your mind is to go ahead and get the worst of your tasks out of the way. If you have something you are dreading doing, it will spin in the back of your head like a program running in the background of your computer. Just go ahead and knock them out, or even better…delegate those things out to someone who can do the task and who loves doing it. From there, attack your important list. Working on the things that are most important will yield greater results that constantly putting out fires and reacting to those “urgent things” that can actually wait.
4. Use RoboForm to keep your passwords organized.
RoboForm is a small piece of software that is a fabulous web tool that can actually remember and fill your user name and password into your websites and online accounts for you. You can also use the RoboForm Identities feature to securely store your name, address, email, , and all other personal information. Just click on your RoboForm Identity to fill entire web forms automatically. This will save hours of needless typing! Just think of how much time you spend filling out forms online and trying to find or reset a password every day…if you add up all the minutes each day you spend, it is probably hours over the period of a week.
5. Stop being a slave to your email! Get on a schedule.
Many people tell me that they sometimes just sit for 3 hours and keep refreshing their email so that they can “be on top” of their email. This is a huge time waster. My approach is this: I check email one time in the morning, one time around 12:00 Noon and one time at 5:00 p.m. During the 5:00 p.m. check, I clean out my inbox, and it saves me a great deal of time. I was once a slave to email, and I simply cannot be that slave if I want to work on the most important aspects of my business.
6. Manage your distractions.
Many time management gurus say that we can lose up to two hours each day due to distractions. That is over 500 hours per year! If you could capture that time, and work on what is most important, imagine what you could accomplish. Managing distractions include things like:
- Turning off the telephone while you are working on important projects
- Turn off your email notifications while working on important tasks
- Close your door and place a sign on your door that reads “In important meeting. Please come back at 12:00 p.m. (or the time you want them to return). The important meeting is a meeting with you! If you are constantly being interrupted by external distractions and people, it will be very hard to get the most important things done.
7. Stop procrastination now!
We all have a tendency to procrastinate, and there are some people who admit they would earn an A++ for their procrastination skills. When you procrastinate, you are usually:
- Checking emails all day long
- Doing low level priority tasks just so that you can feel like you accomplished something
- Sitting down to work on a big project, and you end up getting a snack or a cup of coffee…anything so that you don’t have to address the big task in front of you
To beat procrastination, you must be willing to:
- Admit that you are procrastinating
- Consider why you are procrastinating (do you not like the project, are you afraid of the project, is it too overwhelming or are you missing some pieces of the puzzle?)
- Start implementing strategies that will move you away from procrastination. A few steps include:
- Breaking your big task into smaller steps, and work on one step at a time
- Get organized! If your desk, home or car are disorganized, it will be very easy to procrastinate. The messy home, office or car become excuses for you to not work on something important.
- Reward yourself for taking on tasks that are important and moving them to completion
- Set goals with actual timelines. Stay committed to the timelines by having an accountability partner hold your feet to the fire.
- Hire a coach to help you make decisions (if you are indecisive) and to help you stay on track
8. Consider the time of day when you know you work best.
I am a morning person. By about 3:00 PM, I am pretty worthless, so I head to the gym or take a small nap. Every person has a different circadian rhythm, so each person will find that they work best at a certain time of the day. Use your best time of day to work on the projects that require your best thinking and focus. You will accomplish much more than if you try to work during a time when you are sluggish or when your thinking is clouded.
9. Refuse to spend time waiting.
When you make an appointment with anyone…a client, doctor, attorney or accountant, set a deadline for how long you will wait. My rule is 10 minutes. If I have to wait on someone for more than 10 minutes simply because they are running behind, I reschedule the meeting or I find another service provider who CAN be on time. I also know of airlines, restaurants and hotels that are known for making the best use of my time and who can serve me quickly. Keep a list of those people and companies, and start doing business with people who truly value your time as much as their own. I truly believe that if someone is chronically late for appointments with you, they are sending you a message that “their time is more valuable than your own”, and this is just one more habit that you need to break, starting today
In closing, I cannot say enough good things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done. He has a book and software programs for integrating his time and productivity tools into your email system. The book has sold millions of copies, and I believe everyone should pick up a copy and read it. I know the book changed my life, and it is worth a glance if you are struggling in even one area of managing yourself and the hours that we all have during the day.