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Prioritize in advance

PrioritzePrioritize in advance and you can save a lot of time and grief in the future. And there’s little excuse for not anticipating many of the events that will occur. For instance, you know that the car will eventually run out gas. Similarly, you can bet your bank account will run dry, the copier will run out of paper and the printer will stop working. Planning simply involves recognizing that these events will occur and taking action before they do.

Yet people continue to search for a service station while the gauge is pointing at empty, make a special trip to office supply store when the paper supply runs out, and call a repair person when the equipment breaks down. It’s as though they had never heard of topping up the gas tank at their convenience before it is empty, keeping a minimum quantity of supplies on hand, and having their machines serviced on a regular basis.

Planning is not so much a time management strategy as it is common sense. And most of us have our fair share of common sense. Why is it then that we don’t take the few minutes necessary to plan?

The answer lies somewhere between busyness and procrastination. Most of us are so busy racing from job to job or place to place that we don’t have time to think. When we do think of something that should be done soon, we delay it because we’re too busy at the moment to do anything about it. Unfortunately, when the gas gauge is on empty we’re just as busy as we were when we thought of it earlier – except that now we have the added stress of urgency.

What can we do about it? Well first we have to mentally assign labels of important or unimportant to all the repetitive tasks. Important tasks should never be allowed to become urgent.

If you run out of bread or milk, is it important? No, you can survive for a day or two on crackers and water. If you run out of gas, is that important? You bet it is. Can you imagine the lost time, the cost, the frustration and the inconvenience of being immobilized on a highway, perhaps on the way to an appointment?

Planning includes prioritizing the various tasks, including the repetitive ones. If it`s important do it as quickly as possible. If it`s not important, delay it until you have time to do it. If you never have time to do it, which is likely, that`s fine.

After all, you are getting the important things done. And that`s what time management is all about; getting the important things done.

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There are three types of multitasking

multitaskingAll multitasking is not the same. There are three types of multitasking. By multitasking, I mean the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks. And since research has confirmed that it is impossible for the brain to fully focus on two things at the same time, all multitasking is not the same.

Let’s look at the three types or degrees of multitasking in reducing order of efficiency.

The first and most obvious, ineffective and potentially dangerous form of multitasking, involves physically performing two tasks at the same time, such as talking on a cell phone while driving, or text messaging while walking.

The second type involves working on only one task physically, while thinking about something else, such as planning your day while taking a shower or mentally rehearsing a speech as you collate reports or planning a dinner party while driving or worrying about finances as you iron clothes.

The third type involves what we used to refer to as a “utilizing idle time” — checking e-mail while a report is being printed or making a phone call while clothes are being dried or listening to information on your iPod while getting your hair done in a salon.

Only the first two are true multitasking, while the third one is simply making efficient use of time that might otherwise be wasted. This is not really multitasking and the worst that might forget to retrieve the printed page from the printer or forget to remove your clothes from the dryer.

Further, the seriousness of the second type of multitasking depends on the tasks involved. Daydreaming, while operating a machine or crossing in traffic is dangerous; but listening to the radio while taking a shower is not usually a problem. After all what’s the big deal if you miss the temperature report or forget to shampoo your hair.

In other words all multitasking is not the same, and much of it can be performed without serious consequences. But if you’re ever in doubt, the safest and most efficient thing to do is to err on the side of not multitasking. You can always use the idle time for rest, and relaxation, which most people don’t seem to have enough time for anyway.

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An easy way to set goals

GoalsIf you want an easy way to set goals stop thinking of it as some structured process that takes a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be any more structured than keeping a “To Do” list. And you don’t have to be afraid of losing the spontaneity and flexibility of simply “going with the flow.”

All you have to do is formalize something you have been doing all your life without really being aware of it. As a child, had you ever set your mind on getting a new bicycle, for instance? If so, not only did you have a specific goal in mind, you probably had an action plan as well. It may have been to earn the required sum of money by getting a paper route, or saving your allowances or methodically harassing your parents until they finally broke down and bought it for you. You may even have had a deadline date in mind. You wanted it in the summer so you could it show off to Jane down the street.

Buying a car or a house, visiting Disney World, going on a cruise, or simply spending a weekend with friends all require the basics of goal-setting. You decide what you want, when you want it, and establish an action plan in order to get it.

All the other characteristics of goals are self-evident. It stands to reason that they must be specific so you will know how much money you will need in order to buy the bicycle you want, and you also know your goal is realistic since you have already thought of several ways you can get the necessary money.

There’s nothing mysterious, complicated or difficult about setting goals. Yet less than five percent of the population claims they actually have personal goals in writing. Why?

It’s probably because we tend to resist change. We’re a little afraid of anything we don’t fully understand. We crave simplicity. That’s one reason we are feeling the stress of this digital age of speed where everything is changing so quickly

Accept the fact that goal-setting is not something new to be learned and mastered, but something old that should be used more fully. Goal-setting has been in use ever since Eve spotted that juicy fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And for good or evil, goal-setting does get results.

Sure there are time management experts promoting SMART goals – saying they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed. And that they should be what you want and not what other people want for you, and that you shouldn’t have too many goals, and that they should be compatible with one another, and they should cover all areas of your life and they must be in writing ….. Ignore all that.

Instead, simply decide what you want and when you want it, write that date in your planner (Yes, I said write, because a paper planner works best), and then flip back the pages of your planner to today’s date, and schedule blocks of time each week to work on your goal. You are actually scheduling appointments with yourself to work on those things you want. When you see the deadline date getting close, simply schedule more time each week. Or simply continue past the deadline.

After all, if it takes a few weeks longer than expected, who cares? Jane down the street will still be impressed.

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How to listen effectively

ListenNot knowing how to listen effectively can waste time, cause stress, and generate costly communication problems. But there’s more to effective listening than meets the ear. It’s hard work. It requires an active participation in the communication process. It takes effort and practice.

It requires that we break habits that have been forming since childhood. One such habit is interrupting the speaker. Many of us are impatient. Some of us can’t even stand pauses. We want to rush in with more words. Even when we’re not speaking, we’re not necessarily listening. We’re rehearsing what we’re going to say, once it’s our turn.

Don’t be a passive listener. Be an active listener. Lean forward to demonstrate your interest in the speaker. Establish eye contact. Resist the temptation to let your eyes wander or glance at your watch. Devote full attention to the speaker. If you’re genuinely interested in people, listening is a lot easier.

We can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at least four times as fast. With all this spare time to kill, our mind wanders, daydreams, goes on little mental excursions, and by the time it returns we have missed something. Reluctant to admit we were not listening, we guess – and frequently misinterpret what was said.

The secret is to stay with the speaker, and use the spare time by reviewing and summarizing what is being said. Listen between the lines, observe those non-verbal gestures, and evaluate the points being made, but stick with the speaker. Resist the urge to interrupt or to start formulating your own reply. Listening is a skill that can be developed through practice. And it can also save time.

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Deadlines increase our productivity

DeadlineDeadlines increase our productivity; but the deadlines must be realistic. And we can be much more productive if we take frequent breaks in addition to longer vacations.

Canadians, with a two-week starting vacation (three in Saskatchewan) spend more time working than our European counterparts. And according to an article by Tanya Finberg in 24 hours Toronto (July 27, 2010), only 24% of us are using up vacation time. This translates to about 36.5 million extra days at work.

In addition, we are working well beyond the normal workday, bringing our office with us in the form of a smart phone or other PDA strapped to our hip – ready for action the moment it beeps.

We seem to have a false belief that more time spent working equates to increased productivity when it is actually the opposite. Productivity refers to the amount of output (results) per unit of input (time and energy). This is accomplished through efficiency – increasing the amount of output per hour.

If we were to work less and get more done, we are increasing productivity through increased efficiency. But this is accomplished, not through working more hours, but by making better use of the hours we work. We tend to do be more productive when we have fewer hours, not more. With fewer hours to accomplish a task, we experience fewer self-interruptions, give less attention to trivia, and tend to say no with more regularity. We wouldn’t have time to surf the Internet or stare out the window or overindulge in coffee during the scheduled work hours. Shorter time frames produce a sense of urgency. Working overtime frequently extends our current efficiency (or inefficiency) over a greater span of time.

Having a deadline does not put us under stress. Only unrealistic deadlines put us under stress. And it counteracts Parkinson’s Law – the tendency to expand our activities to fill the time available. With less time available, we are more apt to be creative, prioritize, delegate, and ignore the trivia that would normally distract us from our goals.

That’s one of the reasons I recommend scheduling 90-minute blocks of time in order to work on your projects. Each work session has a deadline, and is brief enough that ignoring email and allowing calls to go to voice mail would have no appreciable negative effect on your job.

Taking all the vacations allotted to you, including those mini-vacations called lunch hours and coffee breaks, will reduce stress and provide reflective time to activate your creative juices.

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The difference between organizing and time management

OrganizationWhat is the difference between organizing and time management? Organizing is the act of rearranging items that are in a disorganized, cluttered state so that everything can be retrieved quickly with less effort, maximizing both their utility and visual appeal.

Time management refers to increasing both the efficiency and the effectiveness of individuals and organizations through the organization of tasks and events by using tools such as planners and computers, and techniques and processes such as goal-setting, planning and scheduling.

The two activities are interrelated since disorganization normally wastes time. The major difference between organizing and time management is that, in general, organizing deals with things and time management deals with activities that have a time dimension. Both are important.

Time management in any environment, electronic or otherwise, involves working both efficiently and effectively. You are working efficiently when you complete tasks in the best possible way. You are working effectively when you concentrate your efforts on the best possible tasks. What you do is considered more important than how you do it. But when you get organized and work both efficiently and effectively, you are approaching excellence.

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To Do lists don’t get things done

To DOTo Do lists don’t get things done; people do. I have always maintained that To Do lists are unreliable if you’re expecting them to get things done. They are reminders, but little else.

There is a LinkedIn survey of over 6000 global professionals that found that only 11% actually accomplished all the tasks on their “To Do” lists. Mentioned in the June 15, 2012 edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail, the survey cited e-mail, impromptu meetings and phone calls as major distractions that prevented people from working on their To Do lists.

The real issue here is the fact that 40% of the respondents admitted that they are easily distracted. This has always been the case to some extent; but with technology allowing uninterrupted interruptions and 24/7 connectivity coupled with an expanding workday, the problem has been magnified a hundredfold.

Our brains are being required to accept interruptions as they occur, and my usual recommendations of scheduling important items from your To Do list into your planner, scheduling times for e-mail, adopting focus hours, and working in 90-minute segments, although providing more commitment, are no longer sufficient to ensure maximum effectiveness in the use of time.

We must accept the fact that the battlefield has changed from our workstations to our minds. We must understand how our brain reacts to the new stimulants received from the digital environment, how neuroplasticity effects our reactions, and how we can regain control of our time by regaining control of our brain.

Our greatest asset in getting things done consists of our executive skills, those brain-based skills that help us to focus, sustain attention, ignore distractions, and stick to the task at hand. Ways of strengthening these skills are included in my new publication, A brain’s-eye view of time management, available soon.

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Should your iPad replace your Paper Planner?

Should your iPad replace your Paper Planner? For me the answer is no. An electronic beep will tell you when to leave for an appointment. An automated email message will remind you to buy your spouse a birthday card. No need to learn anything– just Google it. Don’t worry about friends; Facebook will provide them. You don’t even have to plan what to do next; incoming text messages, cell phone calls or text messages will give you your next assignment. Just focus on improving your reaction time for maximum efficiency.

Long ago we started outsourcing tasks. Years ago we started outsourcing our memories. No need to think anymore; we have technology – and the brains behind it – to do that for us. Oops, technology just corrected a spelling mistake for me. How nice.

It may seem inconvenient having to carry that iPhone, iPad or BlackBerry with you everywhere you go, including the bedroom and bathroom; but be patient. Before you know it the technology will be implanted in your brain for a nominal fee. And if you’re still young, you may live to have your brain uploaded to a computer. Continue reading Should your iPad replace your Paper Planner?

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What is Time Management

what-is-time-management

What is time management? We should define time management and distinguish it from personal organization, because the terms are frequently used to describe the same thing. Both organization and time management as we know it today have their roots in the scientific management era of the 20th century, during the period of rapid industrialization.

Organizing

is the act of rearranging items that are in a disorganized, cluttered state so that everything can be retrieved quickly with less effort, maximizing both their utility and visual appeal.

Time management

refers to increasing both the efficiency and the effectiveness of individuals and organizations through the organization of tasks and events by using tools such as planners and computers, and techniques and processes such as goal-setting, planning and scheduling.

Effectiveness refers to producing significant results. Efficiency refers to doing a task with little wasted effort. If a task does not produce significant results, it is not effective. It is either a very low priority task or an unnecessary task. It would be better delegated to someone else or ignored. Efficiency is doing a task in the best possible way while effectiveness is doing the best possible tasks. So we should always be concentrating on tasks that are effective, and doing those tasks efficiently.

From a corporate viewpoint, the purpose of time management is to increase productivity and ultimately, profit. From an individual standpoint, its purpose is to spend less time on the things we have to do so that we will have more time to spend on the things we want to do.

The major difference between organizing and time management is that in general, organizing deals with things and time management deals with activities that have a time dimension. Time management is more a thought process than it is physical activity. As Peg Dawson & Richard Guare describe time management in their book, Smart but Scattered, (2009) it is the ability to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines.

Time management and organizing go hand in hand. You can’t do the laundry efficiently & effectively if you keep tripping over the laundry basket. Your materials have to be organized. In the same ways, you can’t perform a task in the office efficiently if you can’t find the information you need. So we normally do not separate the two. We look at organizing as a part of the time management process. In fact if you are not organized, you will waste time.

There are many time management strategies. Each person selects those strategies that will work for him or her, and arranges them into a system. A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. And the only time management system that will work perfectly for you is one that you design yourself or at least one that you adapt to your own needs.

Summary

What is Time Management – summed up:
Time management refers to increasing both the efficiency and the effectiveness of individuals and organizations through the organization of tasks and events by using tools such as planners and computers, and techniques and processes such as goal-setting, planning and scheduling.

Key points to take away:

  • Both organization and time management as we know it today have their roots in the scientific management era of the 20th century, during the period of rapid industrialization.
  • The major difference between organizing and time management is that in general, organizing deals with things and time management deals with activities that have a time dimension.
  • We normally do not separate the two (time management and organizing). We look at organizing as a part of the time management process.
  • There are many time management strategies. Each person selects those strategies that will work for him or her, and arranges them into a system.
  • The only time management system that will work perfectly for you is one that you design yourself or at least one that you adapt to your own needs.
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How to get Unstuck- Taking Control

Your mission helps determine your goals which require a plan that is expressed in the form of a schedule, which enables you to take control of your life and keeps you on target and directs you to your desired destination.

Key points to take away:

  • Micro time management is more concerned with quantity whereas macro time management focuses on quality. People looking for “quick fixes” tend to focus on the micro but to truly be on target you must understand and implement macro ideas as well.
  • We should have goals in writing. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, time-framed, in writing, cover all areas of your life, reflect you and not what others expect of you, and finally they should be scheduled.
  • You should have a written mission statement. Your mission is the why and your goals are the what.Personal policies are important as they will help us to say no when needed. They also reflect our values, save time when we are confronted with difficult situations, and help us to stay consistent with our mission.
  • In order to achieve your goals they must be broken down into small chunks and scheduled into your planner. Goals that aren’t scheduled are merely a glorified “To Do” list.

Micro vs. macro time management

We have looked at the beginnings of time management and how companies were looking to increase productivity through time studies, organized workplaces, standardized procedures and incentives. Unfortunately this quest for getting more done in less time has followed us into the modern era, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by what we refer to as micro time management ideas.

Productivity is a measure of output per unit of input – such as the number of widgets manufactured per hour or the number of units sold in a day. A person can be more productive if she gets things done in fewer hours. But we don’t know the value of some of the things she gets done.

We do know that being busy does not necessarily mean that you’re being productive. And even though productivity is important, improving productivity still doesn’t guarantee success. Getting more things done in less time says nothing about the quality of those things. Micro time management is concerned with getting more things done in less time, thus increasing productivity. Macro time management, on the other hand, assures you that you are getting the right things done.

For example, developing life goals, and long range plans are macro. Reducing interruptions or improving e-mail and meeting efficiency are micro. Career choices, life balance and lifestyle are macro. Office organization, file management and the use of technology are micro. Micro concentrates on how to do things. Macro concentrates on what things to do.

Both micro and macro time management are important. But when you launch a time management program for yourself, be sure to start with the macro ideas. It’s better to be doing the right things inefficiently than the wrong things efficiently.

Goals will get you started

The main objective of this section is to help you to set goals, plan, schedule, and prioritize. Goal-setting, planning and prioritizing are all macro because they are all involved in deciding WHAT a person does. Scheduling is really micro, because it involves the HOW of doing something that has already been decided. But it is by far the most important micro idea, and without it, people may have a hard time achieving their goals. Later we’ll discuss the Pareto Principle, also a macro concept, and discussing another important macro idea, that of life balance.

Based on hundreds of workshops in which participants have filled out the Time Problem Survey sheet, very few people seem to be aware of the underlying cause of their time problems. They quickly identify the symptoms, such as rush jobs, stress, interruptions, and procrastination, but fail to see the relevance of a lack of goals or insufficient planning.

People are generally interested in quick fixes and suggestions that provide instant results. But they do not all buy into the more arduous task of thinking about the future, drawing up personal goals, and spending precious time on long-range planning. Understandably, their immediate concern is coping with the time demands of the here and now. In other words, they gravitate towards micro time management and tend to neglect macro time management.

Benefits of setting goals

Having specific goals to work towards allows you to plan your own future and provides greater control over your destiny. One of the greatest stress relievers is the feeling of being in control of your time and your life. Goals are challenging, and making progress towards them provides a sense of achievement and self-worth.

Goals add meaning to our lives. We have a reason to get up in the morning and a purpose for our lives. Going to work each day and doing what we do on a regular basis makes sense to us. We become results-oriented – working smarter, not harder – and the goals provide a means of self-evaluation. We are able to follow our progress and make adjustments where necessary. They help us to develop our skills, expand our capabilities, and increase our chance of success.

In short, they add a new dimension of meaning to our lives.

Getting started

The first step in the process of goal-setting is to visualize what it is you want to do with the rest of your life. Some people have a problem doing that. In fact, we find that many people have a hard time buying into the goal-setting concept. But it is an important process, because without goals, it’s difficult to know what your priorities are. Our definition of priorities, in fact, is “those things that help further your goals.” They are the activities and tasks that have intrinsic value in relationship to your purpose in life.

Many of our clients are reluctant to sit down and develop goals for themselves. In fact many of them don’t think they need a formal goal-setting process. They tell us they’re doing fine without them, and they are happy with what they have and where they are heading. We are quick to tell them, “Maybe you don’t need them. Maybe you’re exactly where you want to be right now; but here’s an exercise that will show you whether goals would help you or not.” And we show them the following exercise.

Current life situation Extrapolating current lifestyle 10 years Where I would like to be in 10 years
Date:    
My Age:    
Age of my family members (parents, spouse, children):    
Profession or occupation and brief summary of responsibilities:    
Formal education completed and self-development courses taken:    
Hobbies, leisure activities:    
Annual Income:    
Most important personal possessions:    
Total cash in the bank:    
Total money owed (mortgage, loans, credit cards etc.):    
Investments, pension, life insurance, disability insurance, will:    
Accomplishments that gave greatest sense of achievement, including travel:    
Associations in which I am actively involved:    
Close friends and relatives I spend time with:    
State of my health, weight, eating habits, exercise:    
Other significant areas of my life (Spiritual etc.):    

What this exercise is actually asking, is that assuming you continue to do what you are presently doing – in terms of your career or job, education, financial and personal habits – will you be where you want to be ten years from now? If so, that’s great. You don’t need goals; you just need to keep doing what you’re doing.

But if not, now is the time to make changes. Set some long-range personal goals and start doing what you have to do in order to get there. These may include registering for some educational courses, saving a percentage of your earnings, changing jobs, writing a book, taking flying lessons or any number of things.

Many of us get locked into a job or career and are so busy keeping our heads above water that we really don’t consider whether we’re heading in the right direction or not. Studies show that when people retire, many of them start to work on something that they used to love as a child. It could be a new business, a second career or a hobby. They are finally free to do what they were meant to do in the first place. It’s a shame that so many people spend a lifetime on their second choice so to speak.

There is a sample of this form here if you wish to print it out. You can draw up your own or simply adapt this one as needed. The one we use includes age and age of family members at the start, even though it’s not possible to change those things; because looking at the ages of any children in ten years may jolt someone into realizing how time flies and that soon the children won’t even be home.

Harold actually drew up this form while he was still teaching full time at a community college and running his business as a sideline. That was about 40 years ago. When he started filling in the form he realized that he would still be in the same position, teaching the same subject ten years from then.. And he still wouldn’t be in a position to go full time with his business.

The important thing to remember when using this exercise is that you cannot put in column two where you would like to be or think you’ll be in ten years. You have to project, based on what you are doing now, where you will be. If you are not saving money now, you can’t say you’ll have $10,000 saved by the next decade. If you haven’t enrolled in university now, you can’t say you’ll have a degree in ten years, and so on. Intentions don’t count. You are extrapolating what you are doing now. It’s a matter of doing an honest self-appraisal. Then, when you compare where you are heading with where you would like to be, you are motivated to make some changes to what you are currently doing.

There is nothing magical about ten years. It could just as well be five years. Most things can be accomplished in a shorter period of time. But Harold’s lofty vision at the time was to become Canada’s top time management authority in Canada within ten years. Almost anything is possible if you set not only your mind to it, but your actions as well.

Develop a mission statement

If you have a clear vision of what you will be doing in the future, you might want to develop a mission statement, reduce it to writing, and keep it somewhere visible as reminder. We have a mission statement for our small company that we keep in the front of our planners. There is an actual space for it in the Taylor Planner.

To develop a mission statement for a company, you will have to decide what it is you are going to do, who you will do it for or to, how you will do it, and the purpose for doing it.

We have virtually the same mission statement today and it has kept us from being sidetracked from what we do best. Each year we enter our mission statement in the space provided near the front of the Taylor Planner. Currently it reads as follows:

To help individuals and organizations manage their time and their lives, through time management training, products and services, so they can more easily achieve their personal and organizational goals.

Mission statements should be brief – one sentence if possible – so it can easily be reduced to writing and committed to memory. If it’s a company mission statement every employee should understand it. It provides direction and focus in your business. It should be clear, brief and memorable. If it’s a personal mission statement it should reflect who you are. Goals are specific. They tell you exactly what you will do, when you will do it and how you will do it. But a mission statement explains why you will do it.

We encourage people to have a personal mission statement that reflects what they want to do with their life.

Have personal policies

Each of us has also written down some personal policies, such as I will not work on Sundays, and I will work only two evenings per month. Harold didn’t want to accept a lot of evening work since he would soon find himself speaking every night of the week telling people to manage their time and spend more time with their families. You have to walk your talk. So it makes sense to draw up some personally policies to guide you through life. These are personal guidelines, and each member of a company or family may have different policies.

Corporate policies such as the customer is always right, we will not be undersold and satisfaction or money refunded have been around for over a century. They serve as guidelines for employees to make tough decisions, provide consistency and express the organization’s philosophy. They also save time.

It is similarly effective for individuals to develop a set of personal policies or value statements to help guide them through life. Policies help people make decisions regarding their personal use of time and prevent them from getting involved in activities inconsistent with their beliefs. These policies will be different for different individuals and may include statements such as:

  • I will not compromise my beliefs, values or personal mission.
  • I will not attempt to do two things in the same time frame or be all things to all people.
  • At no time will other peoples’ lack of planning become my crisis.
  • I will not become an activity packrat; for every new activity I take on, one of equal time value must be subtracted.
  • I will have as much respect for my own time as I have for other peoples’ time.
  • Decisions or choices affecting my family will be discussed in advance with my family.
  • I will not be coerced into changing my priorities; they will be changed only if my heart is in it.

A policy is a predetermined course of action that guides and determines present and future decisions. Personal policies will save us time and frustration by speeding up the decision-making process. Personal policies could also include such statements as I will always get up at 6 a.m., I will not work on weekends, or I will save 10 percent of my pay. Personal policies help us develop self-discipline in areas where we tend to be weak. A policy of never eating between meals, for example, once we adhere to it for a few weeks, becomes a habit. Eventually, it will take little willpower to say no to an afternoon snack since we say it automatically.

Personal policies also help us to achieve goals, since they are standing plans that lead us in a specific direction, such as towards financial independence, cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, etc. They provide stability in our lives and accountability for us.

To establish personal policies you must first determine the values you want to protect and the image you want to project. Once you are clear on your priorities and how you want to use your time, put your statements in writing and post them where they’ll be a constant reminder. This might be at the front of your planner or in your smartphone or other electronic organizer. Be sure to discuss your policies with family members or others who will be affected by them. You could end up modifying them, but be sure that you end up with a set of guidelines that reflect your beliefs, not those of others.

With your personal policies in place, you will be able to say no at the appropriate times, and use your discretionary time wisely. For example, if someone asks you to serve on a volunteer committee, your policy prompts you to say no unless you can free up time for it by releasing a current activity. You won’t have to waste time deliberating or taking it under consideration or giving the person false hope with a maybe. Or if you were asked to do something unethical, you would quickly refuse. Policies speed up the decision-making process and prevent you from straying from your life mission.

Policies are guidelines, not rules. They are flexible depending on the situation. For instance, you may decide not to refuse to work overtime if your job actually depended on it. However, if you were consistently confronted with overtime at the threat of losing your job, you would either start looking for another job or change your policy. You cannot continue to live in opposition to your personal values. To do so would increase stress, diminish your self-esteem and take much of the fun out of life.

Your policies can be modified as time passes. Your priorities may change as your situation changes. As people grow older, for instance, they may have a greater respect for free time and less respect for money. Single people may have different priorities if they marry and have children. The important thing is that we maintain control of our lives by deciding our priorities and how we spend our time. Policies help us to live by design, not by default.

We usually ask people to try writing out some personal policy statements that will help achieve goals that they have set for themselves. It’s good to review them each morning until they are committed to memory. Then adhere to them throughout the days ahead.

Setting goals

Once people have visualized the future, wrote a mission statement and drew up a set of personal policies, they are ready to set some specific goals. But if you choose to ignore the other stuff, fine, then start with goals. Unfortunately, most people don’t have personal goals in writing. They may have some vague idea of what they want to achieve but they have never attempted to actually express these dreams as goals or put them in writing with target dates for achieving them. Goals work for organizations so there’s no reason they shouldn’t work for individuals as well. Goals provide people with greater control over their future, allow them to make the best use of their time, and reduce stress.

We mentioned before that a goal is a dream that has been written down. If you cannot express a goal in writing, you probably won’t be able to achieve it either. The physical act of putting your goals in writing sensitizes your mind to opportunities that would help you to achieve those goals. It’s similar to the situation where you look up a word in the dictionary and start seeing that word frequently afterwards. You had never noticed it before because your mind had not been sensitized to it. A similar thing happens when you buy a car that you had never noticed on the road before, only to see dozens of them on the road once you buy it. Writing down goals makes you aware of them and the opportunities that would further them.

Goals, if they are not structured, are like New Years resolutions. More than half a million Americans make resolutions each year, and at least half of those fail to keep their pledge. That’s what psychologists estimate, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times. A study tracked 200 people who had made New Year’s resolutions. Within a month 55 percent had given up. At the end of two years, only 19 percent had kept their promises. If you want more recent statistics, MJ Ryan, in her 2006 book, This Year I Will, quotes statistics that 45% of us make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of us succeed.

What makes for effective goals?

When you write down your goals, make sure they’re specific and measurable, not vague statements such as to make lots of money, to be happy or to live a good life. They have to be measurable so you’ll know when you have achieved them, such as To earn $150,000 per year in net profits as an organizational consultant by the end of three years.

They must also be realistic. This means that anyone else with the same resources and abilities as you could achieve them as well. And you must be able to present a plan indicating just how you propose to achieve them.

A deadline is essential. It leaves no opportunity for procrastination. Deadlines make us more effective as long as they are realistic.

The goals also must be compatible with one another. For example a goal to start a new business and a goal to spend more time with the family might be in conflict with each other. You might have to delay one or work out some temporary arrangement to make them work.

You must own the goal. Owning a goal simply means that it is your goal or you are committed to it as though it were your own goal. You would not be motivated if it were someone else’s goal and you didn’t believe in it.

It’s also a good idea to prioritize goals in the event that you are unable to accomplish all of them. The most important goals – those that impact your results the most – should be worked on first.

Finally, they should be scheduled, or at least the time to work on them should be scheduled. Which brings us to the key to getting the important things done – scheduling meetings with yourself in order to work on those goal-related priorities and protecting that time from others.

When providing information on goal setting, or anything else for that matter, it helps to use acronyms to make it easier to recall the information later. You have probably all heard of the acronym SMART for the requirements of effective goal setting.

Specific (Exactly what you will do)

Measurable (So you know when you have reached it)

Attainable (Realistic as opposed to pie in the sky dreams)

Results-oriented (Describes what you are actually going to accomplish)

Time-framed (Deadline date on each goal)

But be sure you don’t sacrifice valuable information in order to fit material into an acronym. We added the word WAYS to the SMART to make sure the information was complete. The WAYS stands for:

Written

All areas of your life

Your goals, not other people’s idea of what you should do

Scheduled. A very important action to take if you want to achieve goal.

Your plan of action

This brings us to the key to getting things done, your plan of action. This involves scheduling. The Taylor Planner allows you to distribute the workload throughout the days and weeks and allows you get the priorities into your planner ahead of everyone else’s requests.

That doesn’t say that To Do lists are useless. There’s nothing wrong with being reminded about what has to be done. But those priority, goal-related projects and assignments should never be relegated to a To Do list. They should be scheduled in specific time slots throughout the week. You don’t schedule your daily routine. You schedule your projects. These are the important things you have to get done within a specific time frame. Your planner serves as a project manager.

That’s the reason a planner should show a week at a glance with sufficient space to jot down the name of the project or the task you will be working on. The priority items from your To Do list are spread throughout the week so you can actually see at a glance how much of your time is being consumed. It would be foolish to take on more commitments this week if all your time is already spoken for – unless you are willing to displace one of those priority tasks that you have already scheduled. A planner allows you to plan. A To Do list actually blinds you to the future.

The point is that a To Do list and a pocket calendar just won’t do. You have a lot of choices in planners but it needs to have more than little squares for the days. You need to be able to spread your activities throughout the week and there should be space enough to schedule the more important items directly into time slots.

We all have more things to do than we can possibly get done. But we can insure the important ones get done by blocking off time in our planner to get them done. A To Do list is only an intention. A scheduled block of time is a commitment. A planner should be used for scheduling appointments with yourself, not just with others.

What are the key things you want to accomplish during the year? These could be personal, business related or both. Put them in writing and assign a target date to complete them. In the fall of each year we decide what our business goals will be for the following year. Basically we ask ourselves, “If we could do only one thing to further the aims and objectives of this company what would it be?” After considerable self-talk and scribbling, we write down our first goal. It could be to revamp the website, develop a distance education program, write a book, or any number of things. Then we assume we can get two things done, and we select another goal and so on. When we get to 5 or 6 we stop. If you have too many goals they become like a To Do list. And seldom do To Do lists get completed.

There’s a book by Buck Rodgers written over 20 years ago that provides the key to what should be scheduled in your planner. Rodgers was the ex-vice president of Marketing for IBM and the book was called The IBM Way. In that book, he said that he and those who worked for him limited themselves to 5 major objectives or priorities in any one year in order to provide focus.

The trouble with most people is that they lack focus. A small business owner, for instance, may haphazardly do everything they can to increase profits rather than focus on the 20 percent of the possible actions that would lead to 80 percent of the results. A planner allows you to focus on what’s important by scheduling goal-related activities directly into it’s pages. So if you feel it’s imperative to write a book in order to gain credibility as a consultant, you would estimate how much time it would take to write a book. Initially it’s a wild guess. After working on the project for a few weeks you can adjust the time allowance. If you estimate 100 hours of uninterrupted work to complete a project and you have 50 weeks to complete it, you would have to schedule 2 hours of uninterrupted time each week to complete the project. But there’s no such thing as uninterrupted work, so you schedule 3 hours per week to allow for those unexpected interruptions or self-interruptions that are bound to occur. It varies depending on the nature of your job, but as a rule of thumb, we schedule about 50% more time than we think the job will take.

If you find it difficult to block off a 3-hour chunk of time in one day you might consider scheduling one and a half hours twice per week.

Then it becomes a matter of self-discipline to stick to your schedule. We know it’s possible because we repeatedly stick to our schedule if it’s an appointment with a doctor or dentist, or a meeting or an appointment with a client or a night out with a loved one or any number of commitments that we make on a regular basis.

The one thing that is working against us is the habit we have acquired of using our planner for other people and our To Do lists for ourselves. We have to change our way of thinking. We must have as much respect for our own time as we have for other people’s time. Most people simply don’t schedule their priorities. According to a Day-Timer’s Inc. survey of American workers, only one-third plan their daily schedules. And only 9% follow through and complete what they planned. (Make Today Count, by John Maxwell, Center Street Publishing, New York, 2004.)

We have included below a sample planner page and one filled out as well as 25 principles of scheduling. We frequently issue planners to our students in time management workshops and have them actually schedule the priorities from their “To Do” lists into their planner. Or we simply hand out week-at-a-glance sheets.

The key is to schedule time only for the really important goal-related activities. The others can remain on your “To Do” list. Don’t fill your whole planner. Leave plenty of discretionary time to accommodate last minute priorities, unforeseen crises, and those important people in your life.

Getting things done – Scheduling

It is not difficult to plan your week and schedule time to work on your priorities; but sticking to your plan requires self-discipline. This requires strong “executive skills” as revealed by the marshmallow test described elsewhere. It’s so easy to put things off, regardless of their importance, as long as they are not urgent.

Your self-discipline will grow stronger the more you exercise it; but make it easier for yourself by considering the following guidelines when you are scheduling tasks, projects and activities in your planner. They are designed to help you fulfill your commitment to getting the important things done.

Guidelines for scheduling

  1. Place deadlines on all appointments and meetings. If you call an open-ended meeting, how can the attendees schedule the balance of their day?
  2. Make appointments back to back. If you have an appointment to see someone from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m., and someone else asks to see you at 10 a.m., see if they can make it earlier at 9:45 a.m. This will add strength to the first appointment’s deadline. It’s easier to stick to a deadline when another person is waiting to see you – and it adds credibility to the comment that you’ll have to stop on time since you have another commitment. A fifteen-minute period between two meetings is rarely productive even if it does materialize.
  3. If you have made an appointment with yourself to work on a task, schedule a definite time period, say 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., but in this case, don’t back it up with another appointment. If someone asks for 10:30, see if they can make it 10:45 or 11:00. This will allow you to continue with your task if you’re on a roll. It also allows space to schedule last minute priorities.
  4. Always schedule tasks to be completed ahead of the deadline date. If a project is due Friday, schedule it to be completed by Wednesday. This allows for any unseen problems, emergencies or the possibility of missing the deadline through illness.
  5. When scheduling time for a task, always allow more time than you think that portion of the job will take. If you think it will take you one hour to complete it, schedule an hour and a half. If you plan to work on an ongoing project for an hour and a half, schedule two hours. This will provide time to accommodate those interruptions that invariably occur when engrossed in a task.
  6. If you have many tasks to be scheduled in a week, always schedule the priorities nearer to the beginning of the week. Time is less available as the week passes. Also schedule the important tasks during your prime time – when your mental energy is at its peak. For most people, this is in the mornings.
  7. Don’t over schedule. Try not to block off any more than 50 percent of your week in advance. Leave plenty of free spaces to accommodate priorities that emerge during the week.
  8. There is no limit as to how far in advance you can schedule; but blocking off time for priorities only a week or two in advance is usually sufficient. People rarely ask for appointments beyond a week or two in advance. Major activities such as vacations, conventions and celebrations can be blocked off years in advance.
  9. If you’re serious about getting things done, schedule the time in ink rather than in pencil. Pencil cries out that it’s only tentative, and you’re more likely to change it if it’s more convenient for others. Have as much respect for your time as you have for everybody else’s time. It may be messier to make changes to ink, but it’s better to be a messy doer than a neat procrastinator.
  10. Don’t limit your scheduling to business-related activities. Evenings and weekends are fair game. Make commitments in your personal life by scheduling time for family, friends, and yourself.

Taking Control summed up:

Your mission helps determine your goals which require a plan that is expressed in the form of a schedule, which enables you to take control of your life and keeps you on target and directs you to your desired destination.

Key points to take away:

  • Micro time management is more concerned with quantity whereas macro time management focuses on quality. People looking for “quick fixes” tend to focus on the micro but to truly be on target you must understand and implement macro ideas as well.
  • We should have goals in writing. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, time-framed, in writing, cover all areas of your life, reflect you and not what others expect of you, and finally they should be scheduled.
  • You should have a written mission statement. Your mission is the why and your goals are the what.
  • Personal policies are important as they will help us to say no when needed. They also reflect our values, save time when we are confronted with difficult situations, and help us to stay consistent with our mission.
  • In order to achieve your goals they must be broken down into small chunks and scheduled into your planner. Goals that aren’t scheduled are merely a glorified “To Do” list.