The first conundrum about time management is that we can’t manage time. We can only manage ourselves within the time that we have. Time marches on, tick by tick, without us or without our awareness. The second conundrum is that it takes discipline to manage oneself.
Self-discipline is that elusive quality that forces us to keep to task and to keep on focus. It is elusive because we often want to do something else rather than do what we know we need to do. We let our emotions take over, or do something easier than what we know we should do, or, if we are honest, we are lazy and just don’t want to do it. We give in to our weaknesses, feelings and temptations. We lose the will-power and self-restraint to keep on focus and task. This is why, with all our good intentions, we don’t do what we should do within the time that we have.
The first element in managing the time we have then is to manage our selves – to become strong-willed self managers, to become self-disciplined individuals. Once we understand that this is what keeps us on focus and task we can then put the other elements together.
In organizations, we have the big picture – the strategic intent of the organization or of the business. It is spelled out in the vision, mission, goals and values statements. From this big picture teams and individuals establish work plans with specific measurable objectives. These objectives are often called SMART objectives. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. The objectives are the specific “what” of what we are to accomplish. They are the major “dos” for us to do. This strategic intent gives us our focus for our work.
From big picture focus, comes work. Work is the “doing” of the objectives. It is translated into our roles and responsibilities. It finds itself in our day-to-day activities – answering telephones and emails, writing emails, inputting data on computers, meeting people, making sales calls, writing letters, documenting calls, completing specific administrative tasks to get the work done – all related to our specific roles and responsibilities. This is our daily work.
When we look at our work objectively we see that what we do is all related to building relationships with others. So, the key to our work is building relationships. However, in doing all this work we are constantly making decisions about what to do. Each time a telephone call or email comes in, or when we are asked to complete a task, or attend a meeting we make decisions about what we are going to do concerning the request, directive, or conversation.
As we make the decision, we give it a level of priority. We ask ourselves four questions: 1) Is it important and urgent? If it is important and urgent, I must do it now. We give this item an “A” priority. 2) Is it important and non-urgent? It is important but I have time to do it later. If so, this also becomes an “A” priority because it is important. 3) Is it urgent but not important? If it is urgent and not important perhaps someone else can do it. Or, if we can’t delegate it to someone, it becomes my “B” priority. I will do it when I can fit it in my day. But remember we still must complete the task. 4) Is it not-important and not urgent? If so then it is something we can delete or not do.
In the process of making these four decisions we are deciding to “Do it now,” “Do it later,” “Delegate it to someone else,” “Defer it to another time,” or Delete it altogether. Ah, the all important “Delete Button.” A button people often forget is on their key board and in their head. Use it when necessary.
When we go about our work there are things we do that are not related to a specific decision as described above. They are related to a multitude of tasks and activities. These are assigned to projects. Projects have many tasks and activities but within each task or activity we need to go through the same decision-making process. So, although a project has many tasks and activities, each one is assigned a priority as well as to when and who will carry it out.
As we go about our day, there are unscheduled interruptions – those dastardly activities that interrupt our thought processes and activities. They may be more important than the priority we are working on, or they may not be. So, we are back in the decision-making process. How important is the interruption and when should I complete it? Or, should I delete it?
The final context of managing self during work time, is the evaluation process. At the end of the day we review what we have accomplished during the day. As we accomplish a task we check it off. Those we didn’t complete because of unscheduled interruptions, we decide when we should do it. Will it be the next day or later?
When it’s time to close the day – the last ten to fifteen minutes of the work day – it’s time to plan for tomorrow. That’s when we review the day’s accomplishments, prioritize tasks for the next day and set time frames when we intend to complete them.
At week’s end or month’s end we look at all the completed items on our list and measure them against our over-all strategic intent and determine whether we are on target, what has taken us off focus and what are we going to do about it. The evaluation process is a great way to maintain focus on the big picture and making sure our work is moving towards the end in which it is intended.
Keeping self-management in relation to time in context, and following a process of decision-making, prioritizing tasks, checking off completed tasks, determining when to complete unfinished tasks and evaluating our work against our strategic intent will keep us focused, on-point and give us a sense of accomplishment. We can say not “what did I accomplish today?” but “I accomplished these things.” The result is a positive reinforcement of what we do and provides us a greater sense of self-worth.
A great program to get back into control is offered by Priority Management within its Working Sm@rt program. You can find it here.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC