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New Year’s Resolution: Get a Grip on Time

Psychology Today reports that fewer than 10% of us keep our New Year’s resolutions. So if despite your best intentions, you haven’t been able to manage your time effectively, chances are making resolutions won’t work.

It Comes Down to Priorities
The prerequisite to managing time is establishing priorities. Priorities point us to the things that must be done. Perhaps more important, priorities point out activities that are best left undone.

A person with priorities does what matters. A person without priorities does what is urgent. If you don’t have priorities, you’ll end up overbooked, overworked, and overwhelmed.

You create priorities by first asking what’s important to you and what’s important to your organization (values).  Mission and vision explain how you and your organization matter—the difference you want to make. Once you clearly understand the big three, you’re ready to establish priorities.

Priorities should always be about people, never about processes, procedures, or possessions.  They explain your impact on your organization, colleagues, family, friends, and the community at large. Once you understand and establish priorities you’re ready to effectively manage your time.

Eliminate, Delegate, Accelerate
Here’s the good news. Everything you need to know about getting a grip on time is contained in three simple words: eliminate, delegate, and accelerate.

  • Eliminate: Stop unnecessary or low priority tasks
  • Delegate: Assign tasks to others.
  • Accelerate: Become more efficient.

Ten Time Management Tips for 2011:

1. You can’t manage time; you can only manage yourself. Time isn’t the problem. The key is learning to manage your behaviors, attitudes, focus, and energy. Again, quoting Goethe: “One always has time enough, if one will apply it well.”

2. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Here’s the truth: perfectionists get less done. Some tasks don’t need to be done perfectly; they just need to be done. For example, don’t write and rewrite an e-mail until it’s worded absolutely perfectly (unless it’s one of those policy, procedure, or all department e-mails). Just make sure you get your point across and use correct grammar and spelling.

3. Find your rhythm. Personally, I’m more productive if I have a few points of predictability during the week. Perhaps it’s lunch with a coach or turning off e-mail for an hour every afternoon. You can call this sustainable sameness or finding points of stability.

4. Work expands to the time allotted for it. Create smaller time segments. For example, do all meetings require an hour? Would others be disturbed if you began every meeting with the intent of ending it early? A surprising benefit of effective time management is reputation and relationship building: people will love you if you hold shorter meetings.

5. Remember “High Noon.” Once you list all of your tasks, determine to complete your top priorities by noon. Deadlines create urgency.

6. Do the dirty work first. Procrastinating drains your energy and distracts your mind. If there’s a task you dread doing, take a tip from Nike and “Just do it.” I guarantee you’ll notice that the things you’ve been putting off don’t take as long as you expected. An added benefit: accomplishing a task creates energy that helps you get more done.

7. Use the “just start” rule. Think of a long-term goal and set aside 15 minutes a day to work on accomplishing it. Just start it. You may end up working longer than 15 minutes, but even a short amount of time represents progress. As Henry Ford said, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

8. Make prioritized check lists. Here’s a tip on managing your growing to do list: Quickly organize and prioritize a list by dividing your paper into four quadrants. Write everything that must be done today in the upper left quadrant (Priority #1). In the upper right quadrant write items that should be done today (Priority #2).  In the lower left write items that should be done soon (Priority #3). In the lower right quadrant list the lowest priority items (Priority #4).

The next time you add an item to your to-do list, place it in the appropriate quadrant. Kapow! You’re creating a prioritized list.

9. Look for simple elegance. My friend Joan Koerber-Walker says, “The simple solution to solving a problem or accomplishing a task is often the most time efficient. Don’t complicate things unnecessarily.”

I’ll say it more directly: “Any fool can make something complex. It takes real skill to simplify.” Occasionally, talking too much creates complexity. Sometimes it’s just best to begin and adjust course as you go.

10. Use “O.H.I.O.”: “Only Handle It Once.” How many times have you picked up a piece of paper or opened an e-mail, only to set it aside to be dealt with at some unspecified time? In 2011, vow to open it, deal with it, or delete it.

Here’s what works for me. I receive a call from my coach every day at 4:50 p.m. He asks me specific, predetermined questions about the thing I want to change. My coach may ask me, “How much time did you spend walking?” Or some other question about a measureable behavior. Accountability works for me. Perhaps an accountability partner will help you enhance your time management skills. I recommend it.

Remember, if you don’t manage your time, it will manage you. Peter Drucker powerfully states, “Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”

About the Author(s)

Dan Rockwell is author of the blog Leadership Freak (http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com). He is a social media and leadership consultant and the leader of a nonprofit organization in central Pennsylvania. Contact him at dan@leadershipfreak.com