Time Management – 5 Tips to Get More Time Back
When I talk to managers and executives, time management is one of the skills they talk about their teams needing the most.

Time Management – 5 Tips to Get More Time Back

Time is our most valuable resource. Once it’s gone we can never get it back and we all want to make the most of our time. When I talk to managers and executives, time management is one of the skills they say their teams need most. If you feel like you need help in this area, you’re not alone. I think almost everyone wishes they had a little better handle on where their time goes.

When I was in the Air Force I had one assignment where I was traveling at least 3 days a week, 3 weeks a month. It was an amazing job but it took a lot of time management skill.  I’m usually been pretty good at keeping track of where I need to be and when I need to be there. I’m not always good at figuring out how long something will take. These five tips will help you with both of those areas.

Time Management Tip #1 – Get a Calendar

Before you read any further, get a calendar. It can be electronic or paper, it doesn’t matter. I suggest using the one on your phone because it’s easy to make changes and we all pretty much have our phones with us all of the time. Put everything that’s important to you on this calendar. Focus on appointments when you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. Enter all the info that’s important. Use the repeating and recurring features and color codes too. Don’t go crazy with this at first. Start out by putting in appointments for tomorrow or this week. Don’t start trying to put your whole year in right now.

Time Management Tip #2 – Track Appointments

Track how long your appointments actually take and adjust them as necessary. I almost always underestimate the time it takes to complete something. Recording the time an appointment actually takes compared to what I planned helps me estimate time better. You don’t need to do this forever because you’ll start to develop a database in your mind. When you’re setting appointments for the first time keep track of their duration.

Time Management Tip #3 – Don’t Delete Appointments

Don’t delete appointments, especially ones with yourself. One rule that I use is that I’m not allowed to delete anything off the calendar once I’ve put it on there. I’m absolutely allowed to move things around, but I’m not allowed to just remove it. This still lets you take advantage of opportunities that pop up or handle time critical situations when they arise. There will be emergencies or unusual situations where you have to delete something, but it’s pretty rare that you can’t find a new day or time for something, especially if it’s important to you.

Time Management Tip #4 – Make White Space

Remember how I said put everything that’s important to you on your calendar? The emphasis is on the word important. Meetings, phone calls, time critical tasks are all good for the calendar. I even include my workouts and when I schedule appointments to meet up with friends so I don’t accidentally schedule something at the same time. Putting in all of your regular activities like “work” at your workplace will fill up your calendar and it will be hard to differentiate the most important events. White space also provides places that you can move appointments to when you have to reschedule something.

Time Management Tip #5 – Set Priorities

This is really the most important of the 5 tips, but I think it’s important to have a handle on the first 4 before addressing this. Know what’s important to you and what needs to be on the calendar. Understand which things are more important to you than others so that once you start moving things around on the calendar you have an idea of when to move them to. Also, understand what the priorities of others are and factor that into your decision-making process. Your boss may not agree with you that your workout is more important than the big client presentation and he probably expects you to show up to that.

There are your five tips to help you get a handle on your time and use it effectively. You won’t actually be getting any more time, but you’ll feel like you are. Your calendar is really just a tool in all of this. To really manage your time well it’s important to make commitments to yourself and your priorities. If you live up to those commitments, it will be easy to find the time to get them all done!

We all want to be flexible and adaptable so sticking to a routine sounds obvious and boring. Establishing routines in the right way can actually give us more flexibility in our schedule and help us meet all of the priorities we want to achieve.

Establishing Routines to Maximize Your Flexibility

Previously, we showed how setting priorities can help us focus on the things that are most important to us. This week we’re going to talk about maintaining that focus. We can achieve the focus we desire by establishing routines.

We all want to be flexible and adaptable so sticking to a routine sounds obvious and boring. Establishing routines in the right way can actually give us more flexibility in our schedule and help us meet all of the priorities we want to achieve.

Tips for Establishing Routines

When it comes to establishing routines, we get the best results if we do an activity at the same time every day. Our body and mind get used to doing that task every day at that time. If we only do something once or twice a week, It helps to schedule that task for the same day and time. For example, if we have a meeting every Monday, it’s helpful to make it at the same time on Monday every week. This helps us get used to it, but  also helps the other meeting attendees get used to it. By dedicating the time on our calendar we prepare ourselves to focus on that task.

We want to get at least one block of time dedicated on the calendar for each priority. If we have a priority for the day and there isn’t any time dedicated to it, can we expect that we’ll really get it done? If it’s really important to us we probably will, but if we get distracted or someone else starts to place demands on our time, the things that aren’t scheduled are usually the ones that get dropped.

Establishing Routines Enhances Flexibility

We shouldn’t block off every hour of the day on our calendar. We want some empty space on the calendar for when we need to make changes. Often, others place demands on our time. Our boss might call a meeting that conflicts with one of our other important priorities. We need a place to move that activity to or it will likely get dropped.  Establishing routines helps us build good habits to re-focus ourselves on an important priority.

Even though we all want to be flexible, establishing routines helps us focus on our priorities. We get more freedom than if we just let each day happen without any kind of plan. We can become great leaders by balancing the structure of a routine and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise!

Time is Precious

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I was having lunch with a friend I worked with a few years back. He was talking about a professional education course he was working on but was having trouble between work and family finding the time to complete the reading assignments. My advice was to carve out an hour a day, three or four days a week to get it done, even if he had to lock himself in the bathroom to do it. He laughed and said he’d give that a try.  Managing time is challenging for most of us, but it’s extremely important that we make time for the things we believe are important and try to spend as little time as possible on the things that are necessary, but not moving us closer to achieving our strategic goals.

This idea extends to our workplaces as well, starting with the boss. If you’re like most of us, your boss’ time is limited, especially the time you get to spend with him discussing your projects. Show up organized; tell him your goal for the meeting right off the bat, and try not to make him make decisions that you are capable of making on your own. If your boss likes to make the decisions, be prepared with options for him, make your recommendations and express your preferences as the one who has to execute the work.  Show that you value his time and he’ll probably be willing to delegate more authority for these kinds of decisions to you in the future. If you’re lucky enough to be the boss, this one is easy for you, but now your challenge is to develop this behavior in your team.

It’s also just as important to respect your follower’s time. Reduce busy work and administrative tasks to the bare minimum. Make sure meetings are productive and have an agenda. Keep meetings on task; don’t let side issues creep in. Delegate decisions and action appropriate to their level of responsibility and skill so that you don’t have to micromanage. You want to be able to focus on end results and where you want to take your team.

Finally, and most importantly, you have to respect your own time. Build your schedule to spend your time on the items that are the highest priority to you. Like many concepts related to leadership, this is simple to talk about, but often difficult in practice. In any endeavor where we need to interact with other people, we have to live with constraints. One of the ways I work with schedule constraints is by placing key strategic tasks that are very important to me outside of the regular work day. I review my notes every evening after dinner before I get involved in anything else. I don’t always do anything about them, but I always review them.  I would prefer to do it right as I get into the office every morning, but I never know what is going to happen and most days something gets in the way, so I moved it to a time I knew would work.

Time is precious. Respect other’s time, but just as importantly, respect you own.

What tools do you use to manage and protect your time?