Tips on Using Time Wisely
by Beverly D. Flaxington
“I wish I had more time to [fill in the blank].” To what? Do more marketing? Find new authors? Get to the gym more often? Get through emails? All of the above and more?
For many of us, the struggle with time management turns into a struggle with stress management, because not having time to do what we need to do breeds frustration, depression, or difficulties with relationships.
As an independent publisher, author, corporate consultant, certified hypnotist, college professor, mom of three kids as well as eight rescue pets, and daughter of aging parents, I know firsthand the struggle to get things done. But I also know that the key is self-management instead of time management. In this connection, self-management means getting the important things done in a way that generates the lowest stress and achieves the highest-quality output.
Sound impossible? It’s not. The following are practical, workable tips.
Establish your goals. This first, critical step may seem a no-brainer, but most people have relatively vague ideas about what they want to do and don’t take the time to be clear about success criteria.
Spend a few minutes reflecting on what you want to accomplish and when—and then write your goals down. The good news is that the world is filled with opportunities, and it’s the bad news, too. Pick your top three to five goals for the upcoming year, and make five your absolute limit.
Be specific about what success looks like for each goal and identify timeframes. Things like: “I’ll find a new author with an idea for our woodworking line that I can work on for publication in 2011” or “I’ll spend 15 hours a week on marketing our upcoming books.”
Be sure the goals meet the SMART requirement (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound). And align them with goals for your company and your personal life.
Build a better to-do list. When I do trainings and ask who uses to-do lists, almost every person in the room raises their hands. We love them, but traditional to-do lists are often ineffective because the activities they specify are too large.
Break your to-do lists down into discrete components and then schedule time for each discrete activity. Every time you define a project, be sure you have created a plan that allots time for every step it entails.
Prioritize your activities. As you go through each day, make sure to view your plans and to-do list through the lens of your written goals. Get into the habit of prioritizing your activities as they pertain to your goals. This helps cut time wasted on things that really don’t matter.
One useful technique is listing the things you need to do today and/or tomorrow, and then rewriting lists in terms of your priorities. Things that aren’t moving you closer to your overall goals will slowly drop off altogether.
Say just plain No to any activity that isn’t aligned with your goals.
Become a planner. No, this doesn’t mean you have to be the most organized person who ever used Microsoft Outlook. It does mean you have to have some method that works for you to keep track of what you are doing.
You might want to use color-coded folders and write specific steps you need to take on individual slips of paper that you stick inside so you can take one slip out at a time and get that one thing done. Or, you might get rigorous with a PDA, or post everything to your CRM or Outlook system.
Just be sure you are capturing what you need to do in one place and not duplicating efforts because your system is disorganized.
Assess trouble spots. Take a few moments to sit quietly and reflect on where you get stuck and feel frustrated by lack of accomplishment.
Define your own Achilles heel and what has you continually running into walls. Identify your own time stealers and acknowledge them so you can create a plan for working around them. Push through where you usually stall. Most important, give up blame—see where you need to improve and then make a commitment to work on that aspect of yourself.
Take a break. Yes, that’s right. As you try to make better use of your time, be sure you relax now and again. Take a walk outside if you can. Do some stretching in your office. Play a song you like. Do something that takes your attention away from the computer screen or the phone. We lose our creativity when we force ourselves to plod through project after project after project. Set a timer to remind yourself to take time out.
Although deadlines, marketing tasks, demanding customers, and authors can’t be ignored, you can feel more in control of them by taking steps to clarify what things are really meaningful to you and your business and focusing your day-to-day activities on them. You’ll find you can do more in less time. And with less stress.
Beverly Flaxington, a corporate consultant and professor at Suffolk University, is the author of 7 Steps to Effective Business Building for Financial Advisors: How Top Earning Advisors Attract and Retain the Most Profitable Clients (ATA Press), and Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, released in 2009 and available on Amazon.com and at understandingotherpeople.com.