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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Time Management Isn't Just "Handle It Once"

by Shel Horowitz

You've heard it a thousand times: handle every piece of paper just once. But even though that's unrealistic for most of us, there's plenty of useful information to learn from a skilled time management consultant.

Dr. Valerie Young, Director of Training for Time/Design - a Family Business Center member business based in Agawam, selling not only time management services but its own line of organizers and software - used her brand of gentle humor to introduce several key concepts that can help us get more done in our workdays.

It isn't necessarily easy. "We have 36 hours of work on our desks, and 90 minutes to do it."

Key to her approach: separating the "forest" - the big picture, the reasons we're in business and our key objectives - from the "trees" - day-to-day minutiae. Separating out big-picture tasks and focusing on them lets you "differentiate between 'flea collar for Corky' versus 'develop a strategic e-commerce plan for my business.'"

Some practical tips:

  • Don't start the day by dealing with your e-mail. Set aside 5 minutes at the beginning of the day to review your high impact project list. Then, build at least 20% of your time that day to chip away at these highly-leveraged activities. Once you get sucked into your e-mail, you're lost in the trees and you won't have time for the forest.
  • Understand the difference between "do on" and "due by" a different date. "Do on" activities must be done on a certain day or they expire (doctor appointments, due date on taxes) while "due by" activities imply you have some discretion about when they get done.
  • Organize blocks of time for interruptions: for every person you meet with regularly, keep a page in your planner of issues to discuss. This is far more effectual than jumping up to call or walking over to their desk for every question (and of course, when they interrupt your work, if it's something that can be delayed to your next scheduled encounter, let them write it on their planner pages).
  • Recognize that most interruptions come from your own mind; "we talk to ourselves 40,000-60,000 times a day."
  • "Download your brain"; write it all down: "If you think it, ink it."
  • Separate tasks into manageable chunks: focus on the next task you need to accomplish to move the project forward.
  • Delegate (and communicate) the right tasks to the right people (more on this in a moment).
  • Recognize that a calendar-based approach isn't always the right one; information can be organized five different ways: alphabetically, along a continuum (such as a number sequence), by location, by category, and, yes, by time. If you are like most people, the majority of your "to-do" items are not date and time-specific. Remember the difference between "do on" and "due by?" So, in most cases, "time" is not he best way to organize your activities. In fact, your brain works categorically, so organizing by category is a logical way to organize yourself.
  • Organize your day by examining various categories such as "current goals and projects" "next actions" and "frequent communications."
  • "Your brain: Don't leave home without it" in the form of your personal organizer.

TIME/DESIGN, like many training companies, uses a matrix of personality types from the perspective of "Self-Management." While one person may approach their work in a very disciplined, planful way, another may prefer a more plan-as-you-go, spontaneous approach. One person may be a big picture thinker who gets bored with the details while the next person can't wait to dig into the facts and details to make the big picture happen. The bottom line? Since planning, flexibility, focusing on the big picture and managing the details are all important, you'll need to build on your current strengths and build up those self-management muscles that are less developed.

I'd tell you more about the Time/Design approach, but I just ran out of time.

For more information about Time/Design, visit their website at www.timedesign.com

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