Richard H. Ryder, 2018
“Lost – yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” Horace Mann
We are each given the same number of hours in a day; what we do with those hours distinguishes us from what others do with the same amount of time. The ability to manage time is a gift we give to ourselves. You can decide to spend it wisely or spend it on something that is meaningless. Of course, downtime is important; it’s a time to rejuvenate ourselves. What I’m talking about, however, is how you spend those precious few hours of each day accomplishing whatever it is that satisfies you and gets you closer to what you want to do in life. Those who choose to focus their efforts on achieving their goals will reap the rewards of their efforts. It’s your choice.
Learning effective time management is a noble goal and takes practice. There are numerous books on the subject and many have earned millions of dollars promoting it. There are many simple steps we can all take to use our time more effectively, but the following 10 tips are just a few that have served me well over the years.
- Be on time – start on time – end on time. It’s rude and disrespectful to think the time of others is somehow less important than yours, but that is the message you convey when you are late to an event or meeting. Everyone runs late on occasion – sometimes there are extenuating circumstances beyond your control. But there is no excuse for habitual tardiness. In the same vein, starting and ending meetings on time shows respect for attendees and their busy schedules. As a meeting facilitator, once you demonstrate this a few times, others will know that they must be punctual and stay focused.
- Use a calendar: some people can remember their commitments without writing them down; most cannot. People who are active in one or more organization should have ready access to a good calendar and if you own a cell phone you most likely have one at no cost. If you are low tech or just like that tactile feeling of a physical calendar, use that. It doesn’t matter. For some people a simple pocket calendar keeps them on track. Others like daily calendars with plenty of space for appointments and reminders. Whatever works best for you is what you should go with. The main thing is to use it.
- Plan your day/plan your week: how often do you plan your day or upcoming week? We are all busy with life, family, and work. But taking a few minutes at the start of each day and week will reap benefits in the long run. Looking at the week ahead warns you of commitment conflicts and may allow you to proactively readjust your schedule. A review of your day at the beginning of each day helps you to stay focused on what you need to accomplish.
- To Do List: a to do list is something most people have, either on paper, electronically, or in their head. If you are like many people, the list expands over time with more items added than removed. If this sounds familiar, try renaming it to a Things to Accomplish list. Having a to do list makes one feel that they are on top of things, but it is passive, for there is no personal commitment to act. However, maintaining a list of things to accomplish is a subliminal reminder that you need to act on each one. What ever you call YOUR list remember to time phase it for a certain day, week, or month. Consider organizing it as such in a physical or electronic folder by time frame. During your daily and weekly calendar review add and reschedule your list. If you find that you are constantly rescheduling something, this can be a red flag that either it is not important, maybe you have a fear of failure or success, or you must dedicate specific time blocks to whittle away at it. Breaking items into sub-items of manageable time blocks is a trick to help you focus on small gains that collectively will get you closer to accomplishing the bigger task at hand.
- Set effective goals, objectives, and action items: some responsibilities require more than a simple to do list or things to accomplish list. Maybe you have assumed responsibility for a committee or a project. If so, creating a strategy with goals, objectives, and action items is required to make sure you are effectively leading and managing the effort. For more information on this process, reference the Trestle Board menu at masonicmaven.org.
- Prepare for things to go wrong, no matter how well you plan: Ever heard of the saying “The best laid plans of mice and men” or the phenomenon of “Murphy’s Law”? They remind us that no matter how well you plan something, there is always a chance it will go wrong. If you accept this, then it is important for you to bake this into your plans as early as possible. Whether it is a personal item to accomplish or a project for which you are responsible, it is important to look closely at each component and think about what you will do if something goes wrong. The sooner you think about this and build in contingencies or mitigation steps, the better the chance you will be able to work around an obstacle. And, in the long run, you will save time.
- Prioritize: sometimes there just aren’t enough resources to get things done. Not enough money, time, or people to do the job; this is the lament of every project manager. However, those who realize there will usually never be enough of something to ensure success are well on their way to dealing with the problem. Being able to prioritize what is truly important or critical is a key success trait in people who can get things done no matter the obstacle. Understanding the concept of critical path will help. In other words, you need to know what steps must be accomplished and when, to ensure success. If everything is on the critical path, maybe you need a separate set of eyes to provide an unbiased opinion. If financial resources are limited, think about those steps that can be dropped without diminishing results. When time is a constraint and no new members are available, you or current team members may need to devote extra time or find ways to be more efficient. Constant review of the what is important at any given time is crucial to proactively address obstacles.
- Bring something to read: how many times have you waited in a doctor’s office or a line at a business establishment just starring at the walls and waiting? Ever go to an event, meeting, or appointment just to find out that someone is running late? These are nuggets of opportunity to get something done. Bring that article you meant to read, just in case. Have a pen and notepad to plan that event for which you are responsible, just in case. Bring a book or access one on your phone or device, just in case. Not only will the time go by quicker, but you may look forward to the delay, so you have downtime to get personal things done.
- Delegate and Collaborate: two heads are better than one, right? Well, that’s what “they” say. But some people feel that to get things done right they must do it themselves. At times, this may be true, but oftentimes many hands make light work. The art of delegation is a learned trait. Not everyone can do it, but those who can tend to accomplish more. It is certainly not a passive ability. Delegating responsibility does not mean you step back and let that person fail. You need to motivate and periodically follow-up or you may find that you both fall short. Marrying the strengths of more than one person to collaboratively accomplish an objective is a great team building exercise and helps to share the load.
- Have a meeting agenda: nothing projects sound time management skills like preparing a meeting agenda and sticking to it. It demonstrates you have given thought to what will transpire and allows others to plan for effective participation. It demonstrates respect for attendee schedules and time commitments. As a meeting facilitator, coming to a meeting and winging it sends the wrong message; plus, it can be inefficient and ineffective. For more information on planning and managing meetings, reference the Leadership menu at masonicmaven.org.