Making Time

"Time flies." "Who's got the time?" "Where does the time go?" These common sayings are heard all too frequently in today's busy culture. How can you ensure you are using your time to the fullest?

"Some people are natural at it, and others aren't," says Kathleen Greer, founder and president of Kathleen Greer Associates, a corporate counseling and training firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. Three things to consider when juggling a lot of tasks: minimizing urgency ("Does this need immediate attention?"); meeting customer needs ("Who are you trying to keep happy?"); and getting the most done.

"People must also be well aware of their personality strengths and weaknesses," she says. "An honest self-assessment will go a long way toward getting control of the time in your life, professionally and personally." Once you understand more about your time-management challenges, you can consciously plan your work.

Even with the advances in communication technology, such as voice mail, fax, e-mail and cellular phones, it seems there still isn't enough time in the day to get everything done. Some may argue that it is exactly those advances that have bogged down the average manager. Others would rally in favor of their high-tech tools, such as the Palm. Either way, most agree that without a plan of attack, you can drown when trying to manage multiple priorities.

Tips from the Trenches

When it comes to e-mail and voice mail, you must schedule time to sort through your inbox and separate the messages demanding immediate attention from those that can be handled later.

"Otherwise, they will rule your life and prevent you from getting your work done," says Dwight Gibbs, chief techie geek at The Motley Fool in Alexandria, Virginia.

George Yeager, manager of architecture and design for Columbia Energy Group Service's enterprise multimedia services in Columbus, Ohio, says it helps to leave a detailed greeting on your voice mail.

"I leave a meaningful message on my voice mail, particularly when I am on special projects or trips," Yeager says. "This reduces the amount of voice mail I have to access by directing callers to someone who can help." He addresses his voice mail messages daily so he doesn't miss opportunities to keep customers happy.

Greer delegates tasks whenever possible by forwarding voice and e-mail messages to a more appropriate person. Gibbs concurs: "You can't do everything, so move as much off your plate as possible so you can concentrate on the important stuff."

But what about when your time is not entirely your own? You have to meet with staff or managers to establish goals, and somehow nothing gets accomplished.

"Meetings -- avoid them at all cost," says David Lafferty, owner and president of Scientific Technology Services in Anchorage, Alaska. Realistically, he admits you cannot always avoid a meeting, but you can conquer one. Lafferty suggests publishing the purpose and agenda of a meeting in advance if you are in charge and requesting an agenda if you're just a participant.

"If you make an agenda, then stick to it," he says. "But if you are not in charge, pipe up when it gets off the topic and say something like, 'Hey, aren't we getting off the topic?' It seems obvious, but it's not always."

After the meeting, don't forget to publish the minutes along with a list of action items. Note what needs to be done, who is going to do it and when it is to be done.

Time-management tips can be used to address longer-term projects as well.

Giving staff written objectives helps motivate employees and gets projects completed on time, says Jack Wolfin, business manager for Northwest Bi-products Management Group in Seattle.

"I like to see everyone in the organization have measurable objectives to be evaluated against," he says. "I have found people will work to achieve greater performance when a clear target has been established."

Columbia Energy Group's Yeager implemented a comprehensive Notes-based activity tracking system for his department. "Everything we do for a customer is tracked with updates reported to all activity stakeholders as they occur," he says.

"The idea is to cut down on meetings and keep everyone informed with high efficiency and frequency."

Scientific Technology's Lafferty says publishing project goals helps minimize efforts later on. "If something does not directly support reaching those deliverables -- drop it," he says. "But that is where your project managers should be earning their keep."

As a final thought, The Motley Fool's Gibbs suggests changing some personal habits. "Get up early or stay up late," he says. "You'd be amazed how much work you can get done between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m."

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