Follow these seven maxims to better manage your time
Let’s talk about time management, shall we? We all want to effectively manage our time, but where do we learn the concept of time management? Bill Wilson, CPCU, ARM, AIM, AAM, discovered the concept in college, thanks to a classmate nicknamed Mungo. We could all use someone like Mungo in our lives.
Retiring from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”) as the associate vice president of education and research last year, Bill currently blogs on his InsuranceCommentary.com website, and speaks publicly through The BrightPath Company.
Like most college students, Bill had difficulty adapting from high school study techniques to those required at the university level. Mungo shared his study techniques: waking up in the morning to study, and scheduling classes every other hour, in order to spend the hour in between reviewing what was just learned—these hours were spent using the PQRST (preview, question, read, self-recitation, and test) method.
Learning how to study successfully helped Bill learn the concept of time management.
The concept of time management can be broken down into two parts. Micro time management focuses on the tactical uses of time, or how to spend your time most efficiently. Macro time management addresses effectiveness and the strategic use of time.
“Figure out what’s most important to you (the macro) and work on the micro,” Wilson says.
An easy trap to fall into—this writer is definitely guilty of doing so—is suffering from what author Jeffrey Mayer calls “time indigestion,” or “eating too much from a plate that’s too big in the time available to you,” according to Wilson.
The Institute for the Future claims that over 50% of employees feel overwhelmed and over two-thirds are stressed. Research from the Mayo Clinic adds that 80% of illness involves mental stress. Aside from adding stress, attempting to tackle too much can lead to poor productivity and high turnover.
The five leading causes of “time indigestion” are:
- Failure to prioritize;
- Failure to organize around priorities;
- Failure to execute around priorities;
- Lack of structure or organization; and
- Incongruence between priorities/actions and values/roles/relationships.
Time management is all about priorities and structure.
“For most people, at least one-third of time is unproductive, due to a lack of management planning and structure,” says Wilson. “Determine what’s important and develop a framework to accomplish goals.”
Wilson recommends following these seven maxims to better manage your time:
Simplify—The concept of keeping things simple was simply (see what I did there?) stated by fashion designer Geoffrey Beene when he said, “Own less, do less, and say no.”
Own less—Toss out what you no longer need. Complexity and clutter create mental stress. Think about all the time you have spent moving things around while trying to search for something and how frustrated it made you feel.
Do less—Reduce the number of activities you participate in; this is where time indigestion fits in. Narrow things down to the ones that are most important to you, your work, or your family.
Say no—The next time you’re asked to do something, think about what the consequences will be if you don’t do it. If something is considered to be “urgent,” ask yourself, “Urgent to whom?”
Organize—“Once you simplify and identify the important things, organize your priorities,” says Wilson. According to an Esselte survey published in the Boston Globe, 43% of people say they are unorganized, and 21% have missed vital work deadlines. Nearly half say disorganization causes them to work late at least twice each week.
Wilson says, “An office worker tends to spend one year of his or her career searching through clutter. Keep your desktop clear, and on a daily basis take out only the files you will be working on.”
Create a filing system that works for you. Practice the “Four Ds” when handling paperwork, electronic dwocuments, or tasks: Destroy, Delegate, Delay, or Do.
Balance—While organizing, don’t forget about keeping your life—career and family—in balance. Remember that what’s important to you today may not be tomorrow. Bill related this maxim to the 2001 film Rock Star. Mark Wahlberg’s character, Chris Cole, the lead singer of a cover band, is a fanatic of the band they perform covers of—Steel Dragon—and yearns for the rock star life. He gets kicked out of his band—Blood Pollution—after an onstage fight with the guitarist, who claims that Chris has no original music ability. Coincidentally, Steel Dragon fires its lead singer and Cole auditions and gets the gig. He goes on tour and lives the “rock star” life, only to find that what he preferred doing was playing at smaller venues, where he later reconnects with his former guitarist and even starts writing original songs.
“The main reason people attend seminars on time management and then don’t implement what they learned is their unwillingness to turn the approaches into habit.”
When focusing on work-life balance, it can be beneficial to create a chart, labeling the tops of the columns as the things important to you—work, family, community, health, etc. Jot down what you’d like to accomplish in each category—both short- and long-term. Pencil in a schedule for accomplishing them.
Prioritize—German author and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” Personally or organizationally, determine what’s important now and in the long-term. What needs to be done annually and what’s a one-and-done deal?
Author and educator Steven Covey illustrates the concept of prioritizing in his book First Things First. Imagine you have a bucket. To fill the bucket, you have big rocks, pea gravel, sand and water. Your most important things are your big rocks, so you place them in the bucket first. This can be followed by the pea gravel, sand and water (your smaller, everyday less-important things), which fill the spaces around the rocks. Now try putting the big rocks in last. With the less important things already in place, there is less room to put your important things. Prioritize.
Aim—According to Roman statesman Seneca the Younger, “Our plans miscarry if they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
“Determine what your big rocks are and set goals,” says Wilson. Goals should meet six criteria:
- Motivational—Goals should be personal, positive, and value-anchored. You should feel a need to have them fulfilled.
- Attainable—Creating unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment when they’re not achieved. Goals should be realistic and consistent with abilities, yet still be challenging.
- Clear—Everyone involved should understand what the goal is. The goal should be concrete, specific, and tangible.
- Measurable—Goals should have indications of progress and completion. Results should be quantifiable.
- Time-Constrained—A starting time and targeted end date are required for effective goals.
- Written—Goals must be written down to measure progress and keep you committed to its purpose.
Structure—Structure facilitates efficiency and effectiveness, or as British-born management behaviorist Bill Redden said, “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”
When creating a structure, “it’s best to plan monthly, schedule weekly and prioritize daily,” according to Wilson. “Make to-do lists.”
When planning monthly, make sure to plan ahead by creating a game plan for the next month during the end of the current one. Allow time for any important goals.
When scheduling weekly, spend time setting up your commitments and appointments. Be consistent and plan at the same time—like on Sunday night before the work week begins. Again, allow time for working on any set goals.
When prioritizing daily, at the end of each day, review what you accomplished during the day and what you plan to get done the next day.
Habituate—“The main reason people attend seminars on time management and then don’t implement what they learned is their unwillingness to turn the approaches into habit,” says Wilson. Take the information from all the previous steps and make them part of your routine.
When in doubt about an activity, ask yourself: Is this the best use of my time right now? W.W.M.D. (What would Mungo do?)
By Christopher W. Cook
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