Ways to Better Manage Your Time

L. Douglas Mault

January 2005

Get started. Sometimes we internally resist doing something that needs to be done. This resistance can build up until it reaches the point where it is no longer the task itself but rather this resistance that keeps us from getting started.

This resistance can stem from many factors, such as fatigue, real or imagined fear of the task, rebelliousness, laziness, or dealing with difficult circumstances or people. These can hit any of us at one time or another.

Know where time is going. You cannot improve something if you don't know what it is now. A time log kept for one or two weeks can be very revealing and is a much better source of data about your actual time use than is your memory.

Look for places and situations where you spend too much time. Eliminate those that take your time and contribute little or nothing to the results you are seeking.

Some chronic time wasters to look for include these:

  • Search time spent looking for people, papers, tools, equipment, etc.
  • "Travel" or waiting time.
  • Re-work time.
  • Gossip and complaining time.

Develop a priority system and use it. Make a "To Do" list. It is the easiest way to look at all your tasks and determine the appropriate priority for each. Remember that as time passes and circumstances change, priorities are likely to change as well.

Learn to differentiate those things that must be done and those things that you simply like to do. Your time is a scarce and finite resource and must be spent on appropriate tasks.

Do first things first. Plan your work and work your plan. Do the highest priority task first. Do only one significant thing at a time. Give it your undivided attention, be thorough, and finish it.

Tackle the big one first. It is tempting to start with a little task or problem first with the intent of generating momentum to move on to the big one. As a general rule, it is better to tackle the big one first and get it out of the way. It won't go away on its own.

When you finish one big task or solve one difficult problem, take a break, physical or mental, before taking on another big task or problem. Use the inertia from the big one to knock off one or two small ones and then move on to the next "biggie."

Avoid the paralysis of analysis. Don't let so called "perfectionism" paralyze you. Learn to recognize and differentiate those few times when complete and perfect analysis is a must and those far more common times when you must deal with ambiguity.

Block out time. Set a schedule that provides large, uninterrupted blocks of time to deal with large, significant tasks. Build in time for thinking and planning.

Set time lines, milestones and deadlines. Time lines tell us how much time is needed for the task at hand. They should be realistic and allow adequate time to complete the task.

Milestones are the reporting points along the timelines by which significant portions of the task are to be completed and reported to others.

Deadlines should not be guidelines. They should be the absolute target date for completion of the task.

Know thyself. Constantly analyze, appraise and evaluate your personal use of time. Understand your habits, attitudes, tendencies, likes and dislikes. Don't set time management goals that are in clear conflict with your basic self.

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash. See his ad on page 72.