Let's begin with a question. Are you unable to accomplish things that are important to you - both personally and professionally - because other things get in the way? Are you so busy with the details of success-building that you can't focus on anything else? A very high percentage of people feel this way, and there's a good chance you're one of them.
Now let me ask another question. Suppose you got a phone call that said there was a million-dollar check waiting for you at the bank, but you have to be there in half an hour? Do you think you could make it? Do you think you could postpone that meeting you're in, or maybe even cancel it? Somehow I'll bet you would manage to get over to the bank, no matter how busy you were.
What we're really talking about here are priorities. How we spend our time, what we do with our lives, is really a matter of priorities. And we're creating those priorities at every moment, even when we're not consciously aware of it. Ever wonder how a billionaire would establish his or her priorities? Would it be any differently than you or me? That's what we're going to look into here.
Above all, you need to be the one who sets the priorities. You need to be the decision maker about what's important, rather than just defaulting that responsibility to whatever comes along. You may tell yourself that all the distractions in your life just happen by themselves. But the truth is, you're creating the environment for all those phone calls and those deadlines and those FedEx deliveries. And you can change that environment if you really want to.
One thing about billionaires - they like to be in control. They're not people who just “go with the flow.” With this in mind, does your time control you, or do you control your time? Are you setting the priorities, or are they set by the demands of the moment?
Moments, of course, are units of time - and if there's one word that describes time, the word is elastic. Time can be stretched, or time can be compressed. When you want something, you can stretch or compress time to fit your needs, as when the big check was waiting for you at the bank. And billionaire thinking requires that you learn to take advantage of the elastic nature of time.
My purpose is first to give you tools to identify your real priorities, and then to tell you how to fulfill your priorities before letting the other things get in the way. But we're not going to ignore those other things, those objective needs of your work and your career, so we want to also have tools for dealing efficiently with those things. In short, we want to address the issue of time management so that you can get everything done - the things you want to do as well as the things you have to do.
Time management is really about managing yourself. It's about making a commitment to be more organized, to maintain your focus, and to use your time to your best advantage. So here are some tips to help you become more proactive and in control of your time. They're very straightforward and simple, but they do need some discipline and commitment. The results, however, more than justify the effort that's required. So let's look at some specifics. …
First, create a to-do list, and make it a habit to continually update it. Include urgent and non-urgent items so you don't forget or overlook anything. Carry your list with you at all times, either in an electronic planner or written out. Also, be sure to break down your projects and assignments into specific action points. For instance, instead of writing “Prepare Performance Reviews,” include specific items, like reviewing absenteeism records and the files of individual employees.
Next, allocate your time, based on your to-do list. Include an estimated time frame for each action point - it could be 10 minutes or three hours - and the time when the task must be completed. If the order in which you perform the tasks doesn't matter, you might be able to accomplish something during unexpected pockets of free time. For example, you could research information on the Internet while waiting for a conference call in your office.
Paying attention to how you spend your time will also cause you to make changes in how you spend your time. It's a principle of modern physics that observation changes reality. It may even be that observation creates reality - but for now let's just say that having a to-do list will cause you to alter your behavior in some very positive ways, guaranteed.
Be realistic about setting deadlines, and then work hard to meet them. It's true that work expands to fill the exact amount of time allotted to it. Have you ever noticed how quickly you can blitz through paperwork, delegating assignments and making decisions on the last day before your vacation? Your work or project will often get completed whether you have three weeks or three hours to do it, but it is a lot less stressful and much more professional to establish a time line and stick to it.
Technology has been widely praised as a time saver, but it can be a time waster too! Consider accessing your email only at certain times of the day, and let your voice mail pick up your calls to give you an uninterrupted hour or two. If at all possible, never touch the same piece of paper or email twice. Don't open your mail unless you have time to read it and take action on it: Reply to it, delegate it, file it, or discard it.
Organize your office, your desk, and your computer files so you can find things easily. Too much time is wasted looking for information you know you have but just can't seem to get your hands on. Have a clearly designated “in basket” so people do not put things on your desk randomly. Have you ever ended a meeting with files, letters, and documents all over your desk, and even on your chair? Try to keep this from happening - and if it does happen, take care of it right away.
Close your office door occasionally. Having an “open-door policy” is a truism of effective management, but it's self-defeating if you don't have the time to really listen to people's questions and concerns. If a colleague comes to your desk when you're too busy to chat, stand up and explain that you're busy and ask to set an alternative time to meet. By standing up, you give a visual cue that reinforces your words.
Collaborate and cooperate. Colleagues will expect your work to be done on time, so be sure to avoid any delays. You'll have the same expectations of them. To be safe, build extra time into the project timeline to counteract snags, miscommunications, or missed deadlines. If your presentation date is the 25th, make sure you have everything scheduled for completion by the 23rd, in case of illness, weather-related cancellations, or equipment failure.
Avoid unnecessary follow-ups. If you delegate a task or assignment to someone else, let it go, unless it is your specific responsibility to oversee it. Too many people waste valuable time listening to or reading reports about someone else's project. If your colleagues' research or business responsibilities don't impact your day-to-day work, job performance, or career goals, you should express an interest only by way of supportive conversation, maybe even over coffee or lunch.
Cancel routine meetings. A meeting should happen only if it's necessary, not just because it's time for another meeting. If the meeting is required, establish an agenda and stay on track - start and end on time.
Always be moving. Extend yourself. It's better to be slightly overworked than under worked. Remember: If you're organized, you can get more done than you think you can. Keep your skills sharp by having at least one project on the go at all times. Two or more is even better, since this allows you to switch gears and concentrate on something else for a change of pace. Handling different projects simultaneously ensures that you always have something to work on. It keeps your mind active and your perspective fresh.
Pick your projects carefully. Make sure your work has value for the company and that it makes the best use of your skills. There may be good reasons to decline a request to sit on a committee or refuse to take on an additional project - and billionaire thinkers know how to say “no.” Ask yourself: “Am I able to commit the necessary time to this assignment?” You'll earn a lot more respect by collaborating with a colleague than by overburdening yourself and burning out.
Stop procrastinating. It's human nature to postpone unpleasant tasks - so schedule some of the more enjoyable aspects of a project to follow the difficult ones. If you dislike working with figures, for example, plan to do accounting tasks first thing in the morning when you're fresh and there are fewer opportunities for distraction. If you continually put things off and miss deadlines, maybe you should look carefully at your current job and your career goals. Habitual procrastination is often a sign of dissatisfaction.
Last but not least, reward yourself. Time management is not entirely about work; it also involves scheduling some downtime to relax and recharge your batteries. Plan rewards once your tasks are completed. In the short term, this could mean taking a coffee break as soon as you've finished reading an engineering specifications report for a new product. In the longer term, it could be a vacation once the new product has been launched.
The bottom line is this: Make a decision to pay closer attention to how you spend your time. Make this a basic part of your billionaire thinking. Avoid procrastination, maintain your focus, and practice good organizational skills.
You may not earn a billion dollars, but you'll definitely earn respect and recognition in your career.
Remember this: The world's wealthiest person has no more time than you do. So make the most of it!