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10 suggestions for managing time.

Make the best use of your time.

By Harold Taylor

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for managing time.

  1. Put your goals in writing. Determine where you would like to be in 10 years and 5 years and one year and put those goals in writing. Then each week schedule time to work on those tasks and activities that will lead to those annual and long-term goals. Where you will be in 10 years or 5 years or one year is determined by what you do today, tomorrow and next week.       
  2. Organize your work area.  An organized desk is not the sign of a sick mind; it is the sign of an organized mind.  People do better on exams when neatly dressed, excel in sales when well prepared, and are more productive at work when their materials are arranged in an orderly way. Have frequently used materials within reach, an orderly system of filing, and a work environment that discourages distractions.
  3. Plan your day.  If you have no objectives for the day you will likely have a matching set of results.  Plans are the handrails that guide you through the day’s distractions and keep you on course.  Plan what you will do at the start, evaluate progress during the day, and measure results at the finish.
  4. Schedule your tasks.  Listing jobs on a “to do” list shows your intention to work on them; but scheduling important tasks in your planner reveals a commitment to get them done.  Make appointments with yourself at specific times to work on your priority tasks, complete with start and finish times.  And keep those appointments.
  5. Handle paper only once.  When possible, that is.  Don’t even look at your mail until you have 30 to 60 minutes available to review and dispense with it.  As you pick up each piece of paper, scrap it, delegate it, do it, file it, or schedule a time to do it later. The same thing applies to e-mail.
  6. Don’t procrastinate.  Procrastination is putting off until later what is best done now. If it’s too large a task to complete at one sitting, break it into chunks and do a little at a time.  If it’s distasteful, do it now and get it over with.  Putting things off wastes time, causes stress and frustration, and make life more difficult for others as well as you.
  7. Write it down.  Writing things down does not mean you are circumventing your memory; you are simply helping it to do its job.  We all need reminders to prevent a myriad of essential tasks from dying of neglect.  The pen is mightier than the sword, and it writes better. Never rely on memory alone.
  8. Say “No’ more often.  Some people say, “Yes” to others simply because they’re available or don’t want to offend.  Make sure the request is compatible with your goals before you agree.  Have as much respect for your time as you have for other peoples’ time. Remember, every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something a lot more important that could be done instead.
  9. Delegate more. This is one of the greatest time-savers of all because it frees up time for more important tasks. If you have no one to delegate to, ask your suppliers to help or outsource if possible. Be on the lookout for timesaving technology that will help free up your time. And don’t delegate or outsource anything that can be eliminated.
  10. Practice the Pareto Principle. This 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of your results are achieved by 20% of the things you do. Focus on the priorities, and if some tasks don’t get done, let it be those of less importance.

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Bad news – We can’t manage time.

Good news – We don’t have to manage time, only ourselves.

By Harold L Taylor

Effective time management is a difficult process since it involves resisting four of the following five natural tendencies of people. Effective time management involves managing ourselves, not time. We must build self-discipline if we want to increase our personal productivity.

1. We tend to spend more time on the things we enjoy doing at the expense of those tasks we find distasteful. Writing call reports may be instrumental in expanding sales and planning future calls, for example. But if we hate writing reports, we tend to do other things less productive and delay or skip the report writing. If the enjoyable task is also the most important task, all is well. Frequently, this is not the case.

2. We tend to work on the easy tasks before we start the difficult ones. It’s only natural to take the path of least resistance. If something is complex or will take a lot of time to complete, it is likely to be delayed. So if we have to write a book as well as an article, guess which one gets tackled first? If the article can be polished off in a few hours, it gets the priority treatment, even though it may not be the priority, nor lead to the largest gain.

3. We tend to work on other peoples’ priorities before we spend time on our own. This is the “nice guy” attitude, which really reflects a lack of respect for our own time. For example, if someone asks to meet us at a time when we were planning to work on a task of our own, we frequently agree, delaying our own priorities rather than disappoint the other person. Since our personal priorities encompass our families, this could result in missing family activities as well.

4. We tend to work on projects that bring an immediate reward — whether it is money or recognition — before we work on those that offer an even larger reward sometime in the future. We are living in an “instant” generation, putting off things we want most for things we want at the moment. Although ineffective, it’s a natural tendency. After all, we like to feel good, so it’s tempting to work on something that will provide that reward quickly. Similarly, urgent items tend to take priority over important items.

5. We tend to work on those things that are scheduled in our planners before we start the things on our “to do” lists. Lists of things to do are intentions; but scheduled blocks of time in our planning calendars are commitments. Rarely do we forget or delay appointments or meetings that are scheduled for specific times. But things included on a To Do list are often overlooked. Frequently, those missed activities are far more important than the scheduled appointments. We can take advantage of this last tendency by scheduling the important tasks in our planner rather than relegating them to a To Do list.

Use your willpower the next time you have the urge to act out a natural tendencies, and instead, act out a new behavior that is more reasonable and more productive. You can break bad habits and replace them with more productive ones – those 20% that yield 80% of your results – by strengthening your willpower. Neurologists seem to agree that every time you make a conscious effort to practice willpower, your willpower becomes stronger.

The key is to focus on the new behavior. The more you focus and follow through with the new behavior, the sooner this new behavior becomes the new habit. The old habit will fade from disuse. The reason this works is that by acting out a new behavior again and again, you are re-wiring your current neurons to form new circuits.

Of course it still takes willpower to start the process in the first place. And since willpower consumes energy, you must get plenty of sleep, eat well, avoid stress as much is possible and avoid marathon work sessions without taking regular breaks.

You could further assist your brain by scheduling the tough tasks in the mornings – those tasks that require deep thinking, problem-solving and creativity. Your energy is generally higher in the morning. That’s probably why people seldom break from their healthy diets early in the day; but grab snacks and cheat on their diets before bedtime.

Time-management involves self-management. The good news is that, unlike time, self-management is completely within your control.

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Interruptions are on the increase

When you leave the office, the interruptions follow

We are ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught of interruptions introduced by technology. Our brain’s natural inclination is to react to them. We coped with this in the old days by isolating ourselves from interruptions by closing our office door, having our calls screened or intercepted or by going to a coffee shop where no one could contact us.

With the advent of the cell phone, e-mail, texting and portable devices, interruptions now follow us wherever we go. We are at the mercy of our own ability or inability to resist the urge to answer our smart phones, check incoming e-mail or respond to text messages. To read articles concerning the use of technology, click here.

The battlefield, where it is determined whether we will lose the quest for personal productivity, has shifted from our office to our brain.

Although technology is evolving exponentially, our brains are not. The allure of e-mail, according to one techno-psychologist, is similar to that of the slot machine: You have intermittent, variable reinforcement. You don’t know when you will be next rewarded so you keep pulling the handle.

There are different theories on willpower. Originally it was thought that willpower was like a muscle that was easily depleted. And research backed this up. But newer research also suggests we have as much willpower as we expect we have. If you believe you have the willpower to resist interruptions, you will have it. Sort of like the placebo effect.

This latter theory also seems to be backed up by research conducted at the University of Rochester as a follow-up to the marshmallow experiments of the 1960s. In the experiments of the 1960s, children were given a marshmallow and told that if they could resist eating it for a few minutes they would get two marshmallows. Those who resisted the longest, showing the greatest self-control, were more successful later in life.

The Rochester experiments involved giving one group of children old used crayons and telling them if they resisted playing with them, they would be given new ones. But they never received the new ones. Another group was told the same thing but the researchers made good on their promise of new crayons. When they all took the marshmallow test afterwards, the group with a good experience behind them resisted eating the marshmallow for 12 minutes. The other group, who obviously had lower expectations, lasted only 2 minutes.

Although our brain hasn’t evolved recently, perhaps it doesn’t have to. We already have a brain capable of resisting temptation – although it may need strengthening – and we can still do a lot to remove the source of the temptation.

Removing the source of temptation could involve turning off your handheld devices while you work on priority projects, keeping the paperwork, to do lists and other distractions out of sight while working on a specific task, and leaving your cell phone at home if you decide to work in a coffee shop. You could also do all your priority work in the same place — one devoid of distracting scenery, pictures or paraphernalia so your brain gets to associate that space with work.

Resisting temptation might involve not going online or checking e-mail before 10 AM, ignoring a ringing telephone when you’re talking with family and friends, and resisting any urge to buy electronic devices that you really don’t need. (After all, who really needs a smart watch when they already have a smart phone? It’s much more important to have a smart brain.)

Self-discipline or self-control, focus, attention, prioritizing and planning are essential if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed. These are functions of our executive centre in the prefrontal cortex area of our brain. That’s why I say that the battlefield has shifted from the office to the brain.

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Be proactive, not reactive.

7 examples of a proactive person

Proactive people are always looking ahead at future activities, projects and events and anticipating needs, problems and possible outcomes. For example, if they are attending a conference in a different city, they go beyond actually booking air travel, arranging ground transportation and booking a hotel room. They mentally walk through the three-day event, deciding in advance what they will wear at the various functions, which presentations they will attend, and who they will seek out in order to maximize their networking opportunities. In the process, they might decide that they will need business cards, writing materials, an empty carry-on bag to house the information that they will be collecting at the exhibits and casual clothes for the Saturday night barbecue.

It’s no accident that a few people always seem to have a spare pen to loan, a safety pin to offer, a Band-Aid or pain killer when someone’s in distress and shampoo when there’s none in the hotel room. These are the people you turn to when you need a hair dryer or a list of meeting rooms or change for the hotel vending machine. They are also the people who are frequently selected as project managers, management trainees and group leaders. They are organized, punctual and productive – and respected by their managers and peers alike.

What is their secret? How are they able to be prepared for almost any situation? Here are a few of the tools, strategies and mindset that form an example of a proactive person.

  1. Set goals. Proactive people hold planning sessions with themselves as well as with others, and set specific goals for the future. They not only put them in writing, along with deadline dates, they schedule time in their planners to actually work on them. By doing this, they are helping to create their own future as opposed to reacting to unplanned events.
  2. Block off time for important tasks and activities. Proactive people use planning calendars as they are supposed to use them – to reserve time in the future for priority tasks and activities. By being able to visualize the future, they are able to anticipate possible problems and act before they can occur. Just looking at an event such as a scheduled meeting in writing, sets your mind thinking about things you will need for that meeting. Proactive people normally schedule their priority activities about a week ahead, leaving unscheduled time each day for those important and urgent tasks and activities that inevitably pop up throughout the week. They may have to do some juggling in order to fit them all in; but they never allow a priority task or activity be replaced without first rescheduling it to another time slot. And they never replace a scheduled activity with a less important one. They realize that the good is the enemy of the best.
  3. Use checklists. Proactive people make up checklists for all repetitive events or activities, such as meetings, travel, conferences, sales calls, workshops and interviews. These checklists are updated if necessary after each event. If anything was missed, it is added to the list so that it won’t be forgotten the next time. Checklists save time and money and prevent errors.
  4. Review results. Proactive people don’t just follow through with planned tasks and events, they follow up as well, and make sure the value received was worth the time and effort expended. This ensures that they are indeed completing the 20% of the tasks that yield 80% of the results. They always question whether they are making the best possible use of their time. 
  5. Plan long range. Proactive people recognize that it’s never too early to plan, and that planning too late causes crises and time problems. If the Titanic had started turning sooner, it never would have hit the iceberg. Small adjustments made earlier avoid large adjustments having to be made at the last minute.
  6. Set deadlines. Proactive people set deadlines on every planned activity. They are aware of Parkinson’s Law, which indicates activities will consume as much time as you have available for them. Setting deadlines both increases efficiency and prevents procrastination. Proactive people realize that deadlines don’t cause stress; only unrealistic deadlines cause stress. So they always allow more time than they think the task or activity will actually take. This allows for those unpredictable interruptions.
  7. Maintain the right attitudeAlthough there are certain tools and techniques that proactive people use, a big part of it is their attitude or state of mind. In fact, it could be called a way of life. Proactive people wouldn’t think of making a telephone call without first jotting down the items for discussion or going to the supermarket without first making a list of the items they need. They don’t resent looking at a map before taking a trip or googling a prospect’s website before meeting making a cold sales call or reading the instructions before assembling a swing set.

These practices can be developed and nurtured until they become habits. Practice with little things, such as deciding before going to bed what clothes you will be wearing the next morning. You may discover that something needs pressing. In the morning, mentally walk through the day. What time will you leave the house, where will you park, what jobs will you do first etc. The more times you think ahead, the more comfortable you will become with planning. As you see your days running smoother, with fewer crises and problems, the more you will be encouraged to become proactive in everything you do.

Proactive means “acting beforehand.” Taking action in the present will influence things in the future – perhaps even the future itself. So practice those habits exhibited by proactive people. Set goals. Schedule time for priority tasks and activities. Use checklists. Review results. Plan long range. Set deadlines. And continually make adjustments to improve future outcomes.

There is power in being proactive.

Note: Being proactive is one of the keys to increasing personal productivity. For other ways to do so, attend Harold’s three hour workshop on “Increase your Personal Productivity” in Sussex, New Brunswick, on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Click here for details or select workshops from the “Shop” drop-down menu on the Home page.