The past century, with its ever increasing speed of life and raised stress levels, has amplified the need to get a grip on our schedules and has seen an ever-growing industry of writing on time management. Specialised courses will each teach you something slightly different, but most will contain some basic guiding principles that you can apply and adapt to your requirements and tastes:
Calculate: Find out how much your time is worth. This can help you decide on the priorities of the tasks at hand and what you should or should not be doing (see sidebar: Time is Money). Prioritise: Do you find yourself fire-fighting all the time? In The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey argues convincingly (albeit slightly counter-intuitively) that handling urgent matters first may not always be the best way of managing your time (see sidebar: Effectiveness Quadrant). Plan: Making a list of your tasks for the following day the night before will give you a head-start in the morning; it will bring the added benefit of clearing your mind after work and reduce the likelihood of waking up at 4am covered in sweat, realising you forgot to prepare a vital document. Diarise: Handle important or time-consuming To Do items like appointments; block out the appropriate amount of time in your diary for them and only accept to change them for the most pressing of reasons. If you do this long enough in advance, you also reduce the likelihood of accepting non-essential appointments because "your calendar looks free". Simplify: Wherever you can, cut down on administration time. Set up a filing system whereby, as much as possible, you touch every piece of paper only once, sorting as you go according to the Do, Delegate, Delay, Dump principle. Reduce: Do fewer things at the same time. Contrary to a widespread opinion, for most of us multi-tasking does not work. Multitasking reduces the attention you give each your activities, thereby increasing the likelihood of errors (and having to do it all over). Talking to someone on the phone while happily typing away may give you sense of efficiency - yet how well are you really listening to the person on the other end? And if you are typing because you are not really interested in the conversation, should you be having that conversation in the first place? Leave on time - be on time, wherever you go, with whomever you meet. Plan some buffer time for unexpected delays or tasks that suddenly take longer. This way you will be on time even if "something crops up" and can keep your stress levels at bay. Relax: Every day, build in some time for doing nothing - make room for proper lunch, or a stroll down to the park, or just some quiet thinking time. Unmanaged stress is our worst time waster; being well rested and ensuring you keep a sense of perspective will make you not only more productive, but will also let you enjoy better relationships with clients and colleagues!
The long and short of time management is that it is 99% about self-discipline and self-management and only 1% about time (which, remember, is the same for all of us!). Which end of personal effectiveness scale you is tending to (are you procrastinating or productive?) ultimately does not depend so much on the demands of your job, than on the way you take charge of your time.
Jean Marc Rommes works as a consultant and coach with AGA, a subsidiary of MICE Group PLC. AGA provides customised training, coaching and business development solutions to corporate clients. The contact number is 020 7493 3737. For comments and feedback, you can reach Jean Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a simple way to evaluate how much your time is worth; it can give you a rough indication of which tasks you can do yourself and what you should consider delegating:
Cost per hour: £_________ Cost per minute: £_________
Knowing the real value of your time, you can now work out how much the following activities cost: