Deb Rodahl, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS President

If you want to get something done, just ask a busy person! Why is this? Usually it is because they have a proven track record of getting things done (on time) and they practice the secrets of time management. What are the secrets to time management? The truth is that there are no secrets in time management, just a lot of great tips and tricks. 

If you can manage your time more effectively, you will be rewarded in a variety of ways:

  • More time for you and your family
  • Less overall stress
  • Improved self-esteem

Have you thought about where you have time management issues? Work, home, volunteer activities, other commitments, all of the above? Do you have concerns about work/life balance? The truth is that we own the majority of our time management challenges. Things may conspire against us (flat tires/health/needs of the family) – after all life is unpredictable! However, how we react to these challenges is in our control. You must assess this for yourself. What are your time wasters? 

Minor Time Wasters:

  • Interruptions we face during the day
  • Being a slave on the telephone
  • Unexpected/unwanted visitors
  • Needless reports/junk mail
  • Meetings without agendas

Major Time Wasters:

  • Procrastination
  • Afraid to delegate
  • Not wanting to say “no”
  • Problems with objectives/priorities

There are a lot of things that make it difficult for us to manage our time effectively. Let’s consider some of the most common ones, and see if they apply to you:

  • Unclear objectives: It’s hard to hit a target with your eyes closed, and it’s just as hard to accomplish something when you aren’t exactly clear about what you want to. The use of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited) helps ensure your objects are clear and measurable.
  • Disorganization: It’s easy to see when your desk is too messy, but sometimes you have to step back and ask yourself if you are taking an organized approach in completing all of your tasks. 
  • Inability to say “no”: We all want to be as helpful as we can when others need us, but this can mean taking time away from other priorities to do something we may not have planned. 
  • Interruptions: Many times, we are in the middle of accomplishing something really important and the telephone rings. These calls can not only take you away from your task, but sometimes they interrupt your train of thought and you can’t return to where you were without retracing your steps. I know someone who will hang a sign on her door to indicate that she is “in” but to not interrupt. Her staff knows they can bring critical items to her but to hold-off on basic questions or updates.
  • More interruptions: We all like to visit with others, but conversations at inappropriate times can cost us time. We need to monitor ourselves on this. Find a way to dismiss yourself from the “water-cooler”, Xerox machine, or hallway conversations. Sometimes I just “apologize” by saying I’d like to stop (stay) – but I’m on a deadline!
  • Periods of inactivity: As much as we think we are always busy, there are times in our day when we are not really doing anything. Recognizing and making use of these times can have a positive effect on our efforts 
  • Too many things at once: Many of our tasks are not routines. They require concentration to detail. When we are attempting to do too many different things at one time, each individual task suffers as a result. Multi-tasking is not “lean” or productive to efficiency or effectiveness.
  • Stress and fatigue: Everyone experiences stress from time to time, and sometimes we actually operate a little better when there is some level of stress. Too much stress, on the other hand, causes our work to suffer and wears us down physically and mentally, leading to burn out. Dealing with stress is an important part of time management
  • All work and no play: Most successful people know how to balance work and play. When work takes over your life, you not only give your body little time to re-energize, but you may end up sacrificing the really important things in life like family and friends. My boss recently shared with us that he will work on e-mail catch-up at home, but does not take projects home. This is his commitment to his family to help his work/life balance. 

The obstacles that we face are not insurmountable. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to identify that these obstacles exist and are affecting your ability to manage your time. Start by making a list of everything you need to complete (daily, weekly, and monthly). Sometimes the feeling of checking off items on your to-do list can be very motivating. It actually can release endorphins! Try creating a multi-leveled to-do list. Group your list into categories. For example, your work list might be organized by projects, meetings, and routine tasks. Keep a separate list for other parts of your life (home, volunteer activities, school, etc.). If your lists are overwhelming you, maybe you have too much on it – so evaluate your to-do list. Use the Five D’s to make a first pass review of your list (tip – this works for e-mail, too):

  • Do: Determine from the list the things you think are most important to accomplish and are things you should do yourself.
  • Diminish: Consider perfectionist vs the magic of “good enough.” Resist the temptation to do small, insignificant tasks too well.
  • Delegate: Effective leaders do not try to accomplish everything themselves and they recognize that some things are better handled by others. Delegating not only frees up your time for other things, it ensures that resources are used wisely and that others who want to help are motivated and involved.
  • Delay until another time: Some things can wait. The danger is delaying too many things until deadlines are near. The best policy here is to consider when things are due, how long it will take to accomplish them, and what your current workload will allow. It makes sense to delay things that are not due when you’re overburdened and to accomplish them ahead of time when you can.
  • Delete: You may recognize that some of the items on your list are not achievable or realistic, or that they are just not important. A good leader knows when to concentrate on the important and eliminate the rest. 

These are just a few helpful tips for time management and organization. Not all tips work for everyone, you just have to try and see what works for you. However, remember that it takes at least 30 days for a new activity to become habit, so practice, practice, practice!