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How to Take Control of Your Time


Last updated 8/5/2010

Time management behaviors are very much a matter of choice. You choose to be efficient or you choose to be disorganized. You choose to focus and concentrate on your highest-value tasks, or you choose to spend your time on activities that contribute little value to your life. And you are always free to choose.

The starting point of overcoming your previous programming and eliminating the mental blocks to time management is for you to make a clear, unequivocal decision to become absolutely excellent at the way you use your time, minute by minute and hour by hour. You must decide, right here and now, that you are going to become an expert in time management. Your aim should be to manage your time so well that people look up to you and use you as a role model for their own work habits.

The First Step: Overcoming Procrastination

It takes courage, self-discipline, and hard work to break the habit of procrastination. But the rewards are great. You will experience greater self-esteem, self-confidence, and personal pride, and achieve lifelong success. Here’s what to do:

1. Select one major task where procrastination is holding you back. Resolve to starting and finishing that one project.
2. Make out a detailed list of every single thing you will have to do to complete that task; think on paper.
3. Select the single most important item on your list and gather everything you will need to start and complete that item.
4. Set a specific time when you are going to start and work single-mindedly on that task until it is finished.
5. Break your largest tasks and goals down into bite-size chunks, and concentrate on starting and completing one part of the job at a time.
6. Accept 100% responsibility for starting and finishing your major task; refuse to make excuses or rationalize putting it off.
7. Visualize yourself working with a sense of urgency; program your mind by repeating the words "Do it now!" over and over.

Five Indispensable Time Management Tools

1. Use a time planner. The best time planners, whether loose-leaf or electronic, enable you to plan for the year, month, week, and each day. To be effective, a time planner must contain a master list where you can capture every task, goal, and required action as it comes up, as well as a calendar and a daily "actions" list.

2. Always work from a list. You can bring order out of chaos faster with a list than with any other time management tool. Begin by writing down every single task you intend to complete over the course of the day. If you feel overwhelmed by too many tasks, write down every single thing you have to do in the foreseeable future. The very act of making a list allows you to exert control over your time and your life.

3. Organize your daily list by priority. Each day, organize your list of tasks in order of priority. Rank each task according to its potential consequences, starting with what you must do and working down to what would be nice, but certainly not essential, to get done. Once your list is organized, it becomes a map to guide you from morning to evening in the most effective and efficient way. Refuse to do anything until you have written it down on the list and organized by its value in comparison to the other things you have to do.

4. Commit to using any time management system you like. It doesn’t matter whether you select one from the variety of wonderful PDAs and computer-based systems, or one from the countless systems that offer an array of forms for writing everything out by hand. What does matter is that you master your preferred time management system and use it regularly-until it becomes a natural habit.

5. Set up a 45-file system. A "45-file system" is a tickler file that lets you plan and organize your time and responsibilities for up to two years in advance. First, clear a desk drawer or get a stand-alone file with room for 14 hanging files, then get a box of 45 cardboard files to put in them. Number 31 of the files for days of the month. Designate 12 of the files for the months of the year, January through December. Mark the last two files for the next two years. When you have a responsibility for six months from now, simply drop it into that monthly file. At the beginning of each month, take out all of your responsibilities for that month and sort them into your daily files, numbered 1 through 31. Start each day’s time management planning by taking out the file for that day. Better yet, prepare your "actions" list for the following day the night before.

A Win/Win: Raise Your Self-Esteem and Serve as a Role Model for Others
If you manage others, understand that you are a role model for your employees. If you see yourself as an example of excellent performance, you will always do better and accomplish more than if you just thought of yourself as personally trying to be more efficient. The more you think about yourself as an excellent time manager, the more excellent you become. The more you see yourself as a role model for others, the better you become in organizing your own time and life.

And the better you do at something, the more you like yourself. Self-esteem and self-efficacy feed on and reinforce each other. This finding is what makes time management so important for every part of your life. The better you use your time, the more you get done and the higher is your sense of self-efficacy. As a result, you like yourself more, do even higher-quality work, and get even more done. Your whole life improves.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Time Power by Brian Tracy. Copyright 2004, Brian Tracy. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. For information about other AMACOM books, visit www.amanet.org/books.