Volume #24 - November 2001

Do you put off tasks and tell yourself that you'll get to them in your spare time and then find that you never get to them? If so, you're not alone. The bottom line is - there is no such thing as spare time. We always have more tasks to do then time in the day. With the holiday season upon us there is even more to do, so it's important to get a handle on your priorities.

Here are guidelines, some of which come from Julie Morgenstern's Time Management from the Inside Out, for managing time better.

Know what your goals are. If you don't know what your goals are, you won't know how to prioritize. When you're in the planning process, make sure you incorporate all your goals - personal and professional - into your calendar. In order to manage time more effectively, you need to consider all the parts of your life. Break your goals into yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals, so that you can keep track of what you need to do as you move forward.

Analyze all the activities that you must do to accomplish your goals. What do you have to do to get the results you want? Then prioritize. What's most important? When making this assessment, remember the 80/20 rule: Eighty percent of the value we derive from our activities comes from only 20 percent of our tasks. So what are those critical and highly valuable activities that will lead to results?

Create a strategy by figuring out how much time each activity will take. Use a planner that acts as a visual guide and when you are scheduling your tasks into the planner make sure you put a beginning time and an ending time. Don't forget to include travel time, set-up and clean-up time for activities - it's not just the time it takes to do a task, but all the supporting activities it requires. Then stick to those times. Stay focused on the activity. Being able to see what you should be doing at any given time frees you up from being pulled between tasks. Being this specific in identifying time slots also helps you to figure out whether you're estimating times correctly and can help you get a better handle on how much time it really does take to get certain things accomplished. And don't forget to schedule in time for the unexpected. There are always going to be surprises so build some cushion time into your schedule to accommodate interruptions.

Identify the barriers that get in your way of managing time. Some of these barriers are external and might exist because of the culture in your organization.

  • Does your culture support lengthy meetings, late arrivals and last-minute rushes to meet deadlines? If so, start to address these issues with others and find out what you need to do as a group to be more respectful of time. Meetings should start and end on time, should have a specific agenda that is adhered to, and should end up with decisions made and action steps identified.
  • Are tasks too complicated and overwhelming? If so, break them down into manageable steps. Take the Alcoholics Anonymous approach - one step at a time.
  • Is there a genuine case of work overload? If so, sit down and talk with your boss about the realities of what can and can't be accomplished. Ask for help in setting priorities or in getting help.
  • Does your environment set you up for interruptions? If so, set up a "no interruptions" time each day so that you can concentrate on what needs to get done without being distracted. Put a sign on your door or cubicle. Leave a message on your voice mail telling callers you are busy but will get back to them within a certain time. Set up special times to answer voice mail and e-mails. Physically move your desk so that you're not facing traffic that comes by your office or cubicle. If you find yourself being interrupted by the same people over and over, schedule regular times to meet with them.
  • Other barriers are internal and exist because of our own habits, beliefs and behaviors. Look for the patterns in your behaviors to find out what trips you up. Are you afraid of saying "no" or a perfectionist who can't let go of the details? Or do you thrive on chaos and crisis? Maybe you have difficulty making choices or are afraid of downtime? In order to make change the first thing you need to do is discover what's hooking you and holding you up.
  • If you're a procrastinator, commit yourself to action and do the toughest things first.
  • Give up perfectionism. Every time you take on a task, ask yourself if it's really necessary for it to be done perfectly. With less demand for perfection, you'll find it easier to delegate.
  • If you feel guilty about delegating, remember that just because you are not good at something or don't like doing it doesn't mean that others feel the same way. Delegating is an empowering process because it gives others opportunities to learn. Just make sure that you are clear about expectations and explanations of what needs to be done. Then leave the doing to others.
  • Streamline processes and procedures and create shortcuts.
  • Find out what part of the day you're most productive and creative and schedule around your own energy cycle.
  • Manage your paperwork by asking yourself three questions: Will I do anything with it? When will I do it? Where will I keep it? Then dump it, do it, delegate it, or file it immediately.
  • Make yourself accountable by promising results to someone else.
  • Accept responsibility for being timely and show your respect for others by being considerate of their time.

Finally, continually evaluate what's happening for you and make regular tune-ups. Then enjoy the freedom from stress that comes from managing your time more effectively and celebrate your success!


  1. What are your yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals?
  2. Does your daily planner work for you? If not, what kind of planner do you need so that you can clearly layout all the things you need to do?
  3. What are the external barriers that keep you from managing time more effectively? What do you need to do and whom do you need to talk to?
  4. What are the internal barriers that keep you from managing time more effectively? What habits and behaviors do you need to change?
  5. Who can support you in your efforts to become a better time manager?

Copy © 2001 Virginia O'Brien All s Reserved

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