Learn to make your time more productive and rewarding
Editor's Note: Scientists say we live in a four dimensional world. Space is curved and bound up with time in a continuum. Just like a two dimensional creature trapped within the skin of a round apple who cannot realize that it lives on the surface of a sphere, most of us cannot fully comprehend our four dimensional reality. Our notion of linear time, say physicists and eastern mystics, is only a construct of intellect.
But this article is about our 'reality'. How to make the best use of time in our daily lives and businesses. Time gets the better of us, it passes us by and other people waste our time. Having too little time and too much to do makes us cranky or crazy. Most of us view the passing of time as a series of events that catch our attention... milestones, wins, losses, made a sale or lost a sale. We are forever focusing on specific points... the past, present or future. Often our focus is fuzzy. It is impossible to see the whole picture. It is difficult to use time wisely.
As business people concerned with managing our lives and businesses, we have three options:
We can choose to not control how we use our time. We can let other people and random events degrade the focus of our attention, the efficiency of our work and the quality of our days.
We can do as the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu suggests: "Let us forget the lapse of time; let us forget the conflict of opinions. Let us make our appeal to the infinite, and take up our positions there."
We can manage our time better by using time management techniques and tools.
The last two options can lead to inner peace; the first disaster... yet only by practicing the third: time management, can you achieve a balance where many daily distractions are controlled... helping to maximize the efficiency and profitablilty of your business.
Last month we talked about some useful time management tools such as calendars, lists, analysis of time usage and the use of home offices. But we only touched on meetings, potentially useful tools in the communication process but unfortunately all too often the greatest of time wasters!
Retailers say, "Meetings in general are much too long, infuriating, unnecessary!" But meetings are essential to gather or impart information, to buy and sell, and certainly to train our sales people.
There must be a concise, specific agenda of questions to be decided, ideas to be explored and/or information provided, not just a list of topics. There must be no interruptions. If people are late with no good reason, be rough with them! Refuse to be subjected to background material at meetings where decisions are to be made; this should have been circulated prior to meeting time.
Never invite anyone who does not have a say in the issues, or a need to inculcate data. Be an intolerant chairperson, cut off pointless remarks, press on remorselessly with your agenda. Think carefully when you schedule your meetings; half are most likely unnecessary. The remainder should be kept as short as possible. Do not call a meeting at all unless your purpose is clear, that a decision can result from it or that all attendees will learn from its content.
Management expert Peter Drucker writes of a bank president who always allocated 1 1/2 hours for a vital monthly meeting. He had discovered that was his attention span of maximum efficiency. He would permit no telephone calls to intrude except for "the President of the United States who rarely calls anyway, or my wife who knows better!"
He also cites the corporation that schedules all operating work-meetings, reviews, problem sessions-for two days each week (for example, Monday and Friday), and sets aside the mornings of the remaining days for consistent, continuing work on major issues.
There are time management legends that concern some rather bizarre forms of limiting meetings-stand-up only meetings, deliberately uncomfortable chairs, clocks that show "minutes remaining", and clocks that compute the dollars ticking away as the meeting drags on. (That last one has promise!)
And then, of course, there are people who like to schedule meetings in accordance with their Circadian rhythm. The "prime time" theory can work for you in all aspects of life. What is Circadian rhythm? It's the ebb and flow of energy experienced throughout the
day, the measure that determines whether you can be described as a night or a day person, when you like to be with people and when you prefer to be alone. You'll definitely get more done in less time if you respect your personal rhythm.
A retailer we know well likes to get down to the store early and accomplish his "quiet work" before anyone else comes in. "That's when my mind seems to work best, I'm at my most creative."
A university dean who contributed her thoughts for this article is also an author. She writes her books (one each year) in her early morning commuting time. On the other hand, Winston Churchill accomplished his most spectacular feats in the evening, after dinner until midnight or beyond.
A company in Quebec recently asked its executives to list obstacles to increasing profitability. The composite list contained 37 problems and perceived problems, too many to handle all at once. The list was returned to the group with the request they rank the problems in order of importance. The revised list showed only five matters falling into the category of "vital few"
And that brings us to the Pareto Principle, tried and true. Named after the 19th century Italian economist and sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto the principle states that the significant items in a given group normally constitute a relatively small portion of the total items in the group. Since our most important problems as well as opportunities are concentrated, the wisdom of focused effort becomes apparent.
The terms "vital few" and "trivial many" were first used by Joseph Juran, author and management lecturer in applying the Pareto Principle to a great variety of managerial situations. An insurance company in examining its business with this principle in mind, discovered that 90 percent of its business came from 10 percent of its accounts, yet overall time and effort in selling and servicing had never been targeted on this small but vitally important group. A radical policy and time management change resulted in significant gains in sales and profits. A lesson we can all learn and apply!
Bill Tepperman, President of multi-store Tepperman's Furniture in southwestern Ontario, is recognized as a tightly organized retail executive. We asked if he used calendars and he replied, "Absolutely! I'd be destroyed without my day planner. I would die!"
All levels of staff throughout the Tepperman stores are trained to use planners, and "days and weeks ahead of time" are painstakingly mapped out.
Bill believes in periodic time logs to find out "What's happening" with his days. "It helps me define where my time use is wasted, and when I should delegate more to others."
In meetings, Bill keeps a "STRICT agenda, as do all our staff. It's one of the more difficult things to teach, the need to adhere to an agenda. One should keep to time frames not just in meetings, but for all projects.
"We must concentrate on teaching people to discipline themselves. Both of my parents worked hard, and they taught us it was rude to inconvenience others by not keeping deadlines, that one must understand other people are important."
Circadian rhythm dictates that Bill works best in the morning. "The most difficult time is the early afternoon and I try to structure that period for more physical activity. However, I do what has to be done; I can continue to work long into the evening if necessary."
The Teppermans are building a new house which will incorporate an office for Bill's wife, Rochelle. Chair of the Windsor Police Services Board, and Chair of the Ontario Association of Police Service Boards, 114 Police services across the province, she needs a quite place to work as well as the office she keeps at the Windsor store. Said Bill, "Home offices definitely have their place. My reason for not having one myself is the long term commitment I made to Rochelle that as the business expands my work time will not expand. To the best of my ability, that is!"
It's obvious that better use of time may well be the critical skill distinguishing the average manager from the outstanding. With that in mind, please review the 'timely tips' below.
Peter Drucker wrote a better summary than I can: "The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterdays time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply. Time is totally irreplaceable."
Be rough with them! Refuse to be subjected to background material at meetings where decisions are to be made.
Disengage yourself politely from people who encroach upon your time. Use an alarm watch or have a chiming clock in your office and maybe a couple on the retail floor!
Work during noon hour when interruptions are rare because most others have gone to lunch.
Learn to use the word "No!" frequently.
Do not leave your door open. The open door policy used to work well to encourage
communication. No longer. In the `90s we have other more efficient ways to do just that.
Use phonemail, monitor your calls. But always return them.
When you set deadlines, make them known to the people around you so they will also respect them.
Perform "swift" tasks, like making quick decisions or delegating, during fragmented times of the day. Tackle "slow" tasks, like visioning or strategic planning, in consecutive time slots.
To ensure free days for uninterrupted work, at the beginning of each month draw lines through at least six days in your calendar. Refuse any commitments for these days; you can plan ultimate concentration on important tasks.
Work to firm deadlines. A deadline was once a line on a military prison floor. If the
prisoners crossed it, they were shot. Today's deadline is a less dangerous time limit, but it retains almost the same ability to command your attention and force your compliance.
Conserve time by doing two things at once. If traveling by train or plane (not car,
however, unless you're a passenger!) take your lap-top, necessary reading or
correspondence. Having something positive to do actually helps you survive the trauma of delayed flights, fog, yucky airports and train stations, and saves a whole lot of time when you get wherever you're going!