There is one resource that all people do share equally – the number of hours in the day. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, educated or uneducated – the time dimension is fixed. So, the question becomes: “How will you use this precious commodity that cannot be stored or amplified?”
Time Management Principles
1) Time is a resource like food or space or energy that can be used or wasted. The terms “use” and “waste” only have meaning in the context of a person’s goals. If time is spent moving toward a goal, one can consider it more or less “well used”. If time is spent and no goals are achieved (or some have become more distant) then one can consider that time has been more or less wasted. Thus, the same activity could be a waste of time for one person and an efficient use of time for another depending on their personal goals. Any coherent time management system must therefore begin with a set of goals. Goals can and should evolve over time; but, one should always have them and use them daily to make important decisions. “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” And the corollary is, in a competitive world, a person with a specific tangible plan will succeed way more often than a person without one.
2) Balance is important. We all operate in multiple spheres: work, home, community, etc. One’s goals in these different spheres are superficially at odds with one another; but, with thought and effort these goals can usually be aligned in a synergistic way. Spending time with one’s family and friends can easily make a person so much more effective at work that he or she will outperform someone who spends much less time with their family and friends. Working hard and achieving professional and financial success can also contribute to a happier and more secure family environment.
3) Flexibility is important (i.e., the ability to change from a planned task to an unplanned opportunity) but one must not be so flexible that one blows from task to task like a leaf in the wind. In general, one should strive for 30-45 minute blocks of effort, should “plan tomorrow today” (see item 7 below), and should stick to the plan at least 90% of the time. If one is having trouble sticking to the plan 90% of the time, then someone else is in control: and, moreover, that person (or those people) does (do) not have a coherent plan for your time (or at least one that you understand or know about).
4) Procrastination is bad. At best it moves things unnecessarily from zone 2 to zone 1 (see “the cube” below) – at worst, it prevents you from succeeding because you run out of time to accomplish something important because something unexpected occurred. One should expect the unexpected (be prepared).
5) Spend as much of your time as possible in Zone 2a. This is a variant of a principle espoused by Stephen Covey in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It reminds us that “urgency” can masquerade as “importance” and that other people’s missions, cloaked in urgency, can masquerade as your mission. Finally, doing things in an urgent fashion is stressful, often expensive, and does not always result in doing one’s best work.
6) Completion of tasks is important. Simply progressing on projects without completing them is not sufficient. Many projects are vulnerable to damage or loss while uncompleted. It is like buying a bunch of expensive lumber and storing it uncovered in the back yard while waiting for sufficient time to build a piece of furniture. Buy the wood, make the furniture, get it done, get it inside. Don’t start it until you are in a reasonable position to finish it. Multi-tasking is OK, and is necessary for good efficiency. However, hyper-multi-tasking (which can be recognized by a completion to effort ratio that is very low) is inefficient and puts many projects at risk of failure and loss.
7) Plan tomorrow today. Make a list of no more than 6 items that you intend to do tomorrow. Do them. If you are not completing many of these tasks, then you need to evaluate why and take steps to gain more control over your time.
8) Delegate all tasks that can be done by someone as well or better than you can do it yourself. Be sure to delegate sufficient authority to the people to whom the tasks are delegated to allow the tasks to be completed without your involvement. Spend your time doing things that you are uniquely qualified to do.
9) Control your calendar. Travel no more than once per month and only for things that directly contribute to your mission. Do not accept many invitations over a year in advance because this will seriously constrain your ability to control your calendar in the future. Plan vacations and other family time more aggressively than work related items for two reasons. Failure to do so will allow work to overwhelm your calendar by mass action. Second, your years with your children are fleeting. As my wife Mary pointed out to me some years ago, “the Dean won’t be coming home for Christmas 20 years from now”.
10) Sharpen the saw. Again, an idea from Stephen Covey. Don’t just work harder. Spend time thinking about how to work differently. Take an executive management course (or read some of the books in the Stone Rounds Professional Success Bibliography) and use it (them) to thoughtfully evaluate many areas of your life looking for ways to realign your priorities to make better progress toward your goals. A somewhat mundane variant of this principle is “clean up your desk/office/workshop”. It is easier to work at a desk that is not cluttered with unfinished junk. Get rid of it. Delegate it. Throw it away. Sort it. Store it. Whatever. But get it off your desk (and out of your office) and keep it off of your desk and out of your office. It may require up to 10% of your time to keep things cleaned up but you will be more than 10% more efficient and will enjoy your work more.
11) Set aside some specific time each week to spend with each family member in a meaningful way. For example, walk with your spouse for one hour each morning. Spend at least thirty minutes each week one on one with each of your children. Set aside additional time to spend with the family as a group.
12) Handyman days. Set aside one or two days per month – on the calendar – to be spent doing projects for and with family members. Prioritize these projects with family input and then do them. This allows one to gain control over these tasks and reveals to family members the amount of this stuff that you do. Without such a strategy, it may appear to family members that you are “too busy to help them” when in fact you are spending much more time doing things for them than you are spending on yourself.