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Effective Time Management - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


Learn to make your time more productive and rewarding.

Time. You can't beg, borrow or steal it, but you can learn to make the time you have more productive and rewarding. It's one of the most exciting challenges of the '90s.

Business doyen Peter Drucker said, "Time is the scarcest resource... unless it's managed, nothing else can be managed".

On a national average, managers accomplish only about 30 percent of what they set out to do each day, and a recent survey estimates that those same managers waste 15 to 40 percent of their time. That represents an annual loss of about $110 billion. By the year 2000, that loss could climb to $120 billion.

Let's bring those figures into focus. Based on 240 workdays (conservative in the furniture industry) seven and one-half hours per day and at a salary of $80,000, every minute is worth $.787 and every hour $47.27. Fifteen minutes a day wasted totals $2,833. An hour equals $11,033!

And it's more than monetary value. If we treat time with proper respect we'll have more free hours with our families and avocations. We all aspire to that elusive "balanced lifestyle"!

All the experts agree that the first step retail managers must take if they want to more effectively manage their time is to write down how they actually spend their days in a time log. Now don't groan and put this down. Peter Drucker insists, "Effective executives start with their time, finding out where it actually goes. Recording, managing and consolidating time is the foundation of executive effectiveness". Of course it's a boring exercise, but so are most of the gym or aerobic workouts we take for granted these days. Keep your eye on the goal!

Drucker tells executives who pride themselves on their memories to jot down their guess as to how they spend their work days. After running a time record on themselves, Drucker points out "There is never much resemblance between the way these people thought they used their time and their actual records."

In Drucker's opinion, the time log is the first and most essential tool in time evaluation. When complete, it should be examined, analyzed and, if necessary, one's entire time pattern should be restructured.

Another time log should be run within a six-month period since "One tends to drift back into time-wasting on trivia. Time use does improve with practice, but only constant efforts at managing time can prevent drifting".

Although it's said that "perfectionism can paralyze", there is no doubt that calendars and schedules are here to stay. These, together with prioritized to-do lists, should be regarded as primary tools in time management. There are A, B, and C lists. there are color coded list, lists on walls, refrigerators and in notebooks--every guru has his or her own system. One such expert warns, however, "Some people arrive at the stage where they are making lists of their lists. Definitely it can be overdone, but systems are useful tools if controlled".

In creating your lists, "Identify and eliminate the things that need not be done at all," Drucker admonishes. "What would happen if this were not done? If the answer is `nothing' then the obvious conclusion is to stop doing it."

What's next? First, determine how much time you have for routine tasks, then how much discretionary time is available for the big tasks that will really make a contribution. It's important to consolidate discretionary time.

Consider the suggestions of the University of Toronto professor who suggests we "Review tasks to be performed each morning, organize the tasks by association, (those which are similar will perhaps share preliminary steps), prioritize, take appropriate rest periods, establish communications channels, both formal and informal, don't fear to seek expertise and, at the end of each day, summarize briefly the tasks to be undertaken the next day".

In a time management workshop, his graduate students added, "Always finish what you start, take care of each item as you take it from your in-tray, first running through it to extract urgent matters which might lurk at the bottom of the heap," (Sounds like my in-tray!) "and utilize your prime time".

A decade or so ago, most of us thought by the year 2000 machines would be doing practically everything. That doesn't seem likely now. Technology eliminates jobs, but it also creates them. Time management and its effect on productivity has become increasingly important. As our workforce continues to swell with white collar technologists, more companies will make time management training mandatory

for all entry level employees. It will also be a standard accompaniment to effective retail sales training programs.

Women executives in the furniture industry must particularly budget their time. They often rack up as much as 100 hours a week when they total hours on the floor, in the office, commuting time and household tasks. Obviously, quiet time, opportunities to relax and shift energies, must be included in their personal patterns.

Those who have offices in their homes as well as their stores can find refuge from the stream of interruptions encountered during the day. However, productivity does decline rapidly after eight hours of work. Long hours sometimes encourage us to adopt the attitude that there is no great press to get something done because "there's always tonight". And managers who adopt such an attitude may communicate it to their staff and entire organization!

Our friend Peter Drucker insists "The reason working at home at night is so popular is actually its worst feature; it enables an executive to avoid tackling his time and its management during the day!"

Another executive has a different objection. "Don't take too much home. Your reactions will lack sharpness and clarity that spring from business pressures that surround you at the office."

There's a great old story told by Colonel Edward W. Starling, Chief of Secret Service under six American Presidents. Way back in the days of the Coolidge administration, Starling always accompanied the President on his evening walk. Relates the Colonel, "We were coming home at dusk and I noticed a light burning in the office of the Secretary of Navy. I remarked that he was a hard worker, frequently staying in his office until late at night. `He must be an excellent man for the job,' " I concluded.

"`I wouldn't say that,' " President Coolidge replied. "`I don't work at night. If a man can't finish his job in the daytime, he's not smart!`"

But the convenience and protected environment of a home office can assist in achieving major tasks if utilized correctly. Block off special time for one of your "big tasks". Instead of your usual commute to the store, head straight for your desk and enjoy your solitude. Make sure you maintain it. Tell your staff at the store they should not call unless there is a real emergency. And have all the tools you need readily available--computer, fax. research backup, well-lit good work space and a comfortable chair. Don't forget to take rest breaks.

Ron Logan, Patton's Place, London, Ontario, doesn't believe in taking work home. When asked how he controls his time, he told us that he "keeps a calendar book. I can't live without it! It's very important to me in all phases of my life, my work, the community, people coming to visit from time to time, church activities and so forth."

Ron's work hours are typical, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays "when my store manager takes over". His staff works a 40 hour revolving week which permits five days off once each month, a real block of meaningful time for them to utilize in their own way.

Every morning at Patton's Place there's a "positive" 15 minute meeting to "kick off the day". Short, snappy, motivational. After that, as at all retail establishments, Ron "goes with the flow" except for his set appointments, neatly listed in the calendar. He also keeps an open door policy, and takes all complaints.

Ron believes that all meetings should have a defined purpose, the timing should be right and the activity kept in firm control. He tells the story of a regular Church meeting a few years ago which always began at 12 noon and dragged on for at least four hours and "with no food, too! A waste of everyone's time." Ron changed that. The gathering "is now held on the first Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. and it's over by 5:30 p.m. Then everyone can go home. And now we have full attendance."

Ask yourself: "How do I spend my time?" "Am I effective in controlling time wasting practices?" "Do I accurately identify tasks and then prioritize constructively?" "Do I build and maintain a running daily to-do list?" "Am I having fun?" If you answered all these points affirmatively, you're ready for Time Management 201!