Many Proven Approaches
Albert Einstein is purported to have remarked that an hour spent sitting beside a pretty girl can seem like a minute, while holding your hand on a hot stove for a minute can seem like an hour! No one would deny that there is a strong emotional component to our views of time and so it is not surprising that the way we manage time would tend to be dictated by our personal tastes.
A daily to-do list may suit you just fine, while you would find spending time creating a prioritized list to be a total waste. On the other hand, you may be unable to function without a well-developed Gantt chart. Fortunately, there are many proven approaches to managing time, so you are sure to find one that fits you.
This post will present the tried-and-true approaches that have withstood the test of time, so to speak, and will assist you in finding those methods that make you both efficient and effective.
Purpose and Focus
None of us would get into our cars and drive around aimlessly, throwing dollar bills out the window as we go, yet this is essentially what we do when we fail to manage time. If you need to, figure the cost of one minute of your time so that you can give yourself a dose of reality when you find yourself procrastinating or running around like a headless chicken.
If you have employees, throw their by-minute worth into the equation. Do the same with equipment and utility costs, rent and compounding interest. As you can see, a significant part of managing time well is managing yourself well – knowing what it takes to get the point across to yourself, and using that as motivation.
Basically, for good time management you need to have a purpose in mind that guides your actions and then enough focus to see tasks through to completion. Particularly in a business, nothing is done for its own sake; it is done in support of some higher, usually monetary, goal.
- Customer data is entered to support sales and marketing.
- Letters get written to accompany proposals.
- Equipment is maintained to produce more high-quality widgets so they can be sold.
- Telephone calls are returned to maintain good customer relationships, which lead to more sales.
- Invoices are prepared so that what is due may be brought in to improve cash flow.
Detractors and time-wasters eat away at the focus necessary to accomplish these, which in turn eats away at your bottom line. With a little planning and organizing you can launch a preemptive strike on time-wasters, hopefully avoiding entirely the need to put out fires!
Organize Your Work Space
Even if you’re starting your business out of your garage, you can organize your work space to make life easier and more productive. Regardless of where your office is, here are few things to keep in mind:
If you are easily distracted by movement, don’t face your desk so that you can see outside or wherever the action is. If noise and conversations bother you, use some white noise, either low-volume music that is playing, or if need be, a sophisticated sound masking system. Simplynoise.com is a free color noise generator available on the internet. You can also purchase a white noise machine to use in your office from Amazon.com.
If you find yourself getting up for a cup of coffee a dozen times a day – a big time waster – make sure you are not close to the coffee pot; out of sight, out of mind. If you head for Jamaica every time you see that picture from last year’s vacation, clear off your desk. Put the picture in a drawer so that it is handy when you decide you need a vacation break.
Don’t overlook the value of comfort and bodily support in maintaining good time management. If your body is fatigued and stressed, you will have difficulty focusing, not to mention the adverse health effects you may suffer.
Here are a few things that will help:
- Select a comfortable chair that fits your work surface or desk.
- Place keyboards and screens at the right distance and height for comfort.
- Select office equipment that is physically friendly.
Office-ergo.com offers an ergonomic product guide to help you make informed decisions on ergonomic chairs, keyboards, and mice. Office supply companies like Office Depot (http://www.officedepot.com ), OfficeMax (http://www.officemax.com) and Staples (http://www.staples.com) offer a wide selection of ergonomic office products.
Office Supplies & Desk Organizers
Nothing wastes more time or causes more aggravation than hunting down a paper clip! Make sure that you are fully stocked with all the little things it takes to run an office, and that they are conveniently at hand when you need them. Desk organizers are one of those small expenses that pay off big. Go to Office Depot, OfficeMax or Staples for all the essentials. Target is a personal favorite for their fresh, modern designs. You can order anything you need online or, of course, visit the location nearest you. They often have specials, so shop them from time to time to get the best deals and to make sure that you don’t run out of anything.
Your desk probably has a drawer or two in it for files, but you may need to have more file storage than that. You can purchase free-standing file cabinets from places such as Office Depot.
Know How to File
We don’t have an alphabet for nothing! It is probably the best tool for filing ever invented. Generally, you will need hanging file folders, tabbed file folders, and/or manila folders to use with your filing cabinets. You can file everything alphabetically, or you can decide if you will keep Vendor and Customer files separate with important corporate papers and tax records in a separate drawer, etc.
You will want to keep employee records in their own section with blank copies of employment applications, W-4s, and I-9s in a handy folder. Create a separate file folder for each employee. Create a separate file folder for all completed I-9s as required by law.
Think through how you organize your computer desktop too. You don’t want it cluttered with things you rarely open and do want to keep some items handy. Also, create folders within your applications instead of just saving everything to the same place. Pay attention when you save a document, so that it goes where you intended it to. Create folders for your e-mail messages and use spam blockers.
Organizational Tools and Tips
There is a whole library of books about time management and tips for getting organized. You can find many good ones just by entering ”time management” into your search engine and researching a few that come up. The tools and tips that follow are practically guaranteed to save you time. They are among the most effective and easily implemented recommendations that can be made:
A Year and a Month of Folders
In the file cabinet you can easily access while sitting at your desk, you should have 12 folders, named for each month, and 31 folders, numbered for each day. Or you may opt for 5 folders, one for each week. This set up will save you tons of time, since you can decide which day to act on something and place it in that folder. Then, even if you forget about it, it will be there waiting for you when that day rolls around. If something must be handled several months from now, place it in that month’s folder then. When that month rolls around, transfer it to the particular day that you plan to deal with it.
Your goal is to handle a piece of paper only once. Most times you can pick out the junk mail very easily – throw it away immediately. Place bills in the month or day folder when they must be paid, allowing for mail delivery time. (For instance, if a bill is due on the 15th, allow 5 days for delivery and plan to mail payment on the 10th.) If a letter must be responded to, do it right away, or decide when you will reply. Then place it in that day’s folder.
If it takes you an hour to write a two-paragraph letter that someone else can dash off in ten minutes, then by all means, pass it off! If there is no one to pass off to, consider purchasing a collection of stock business correspondence and adapting them to your needs. Something such as the products found at WriteExpress.com can save you a ton of time.
If you have to gather some information before you can reply, note that and file it in the folder for the day when you plan to reply. If you want someone else to reply to it, put it in an interoffice envelope right then and place it in your out box, being sure to indicate the date that you expect that person to reply.
Calendars & Planners
Some people like a desk calendar, some like an online calendar. Whichever you prefer, make sure you utilize one. You can keep a daily to-do list on your calendar, checking items off as they are completed. Any that are not completed are rolled over to the next day. To-do items that will be done in the future are written or entered on that day and are figured into the mix when that day arrives. Meeting times and locations are written or entered on the calendar, and online calendars can give you a reminder.
If you like to have a physical calendar, check out FranklinCovey (http://www.franklincovey.com/), the global leader in productivity tools. Office Depot and Target offer numerous options for productivity tools as well. With the increasing popularity of smartphones, traditional planners are becoming less and less popular. Check with your phones app store for options. Read the reviews and see what others are saying about the app.
There are also computer desktop calendars available for MAC and PC computers. If you are a MAC user, iCal comes with OS X Lion and Snow Leopard. Microsoft Office users have Microsoft Outlook at their finger tips. The trick is to learn how to use all the features.
Online calendars are especially good if you have a secretary helping you manage your schedule. Your calendar can be accessed from any computer with the proper username and password. Google Calendar is a free online calendar that allows you to organize your schedule and share events with business colleagues and friends. If you have a smartphone, you can sync your Google Calendar with your phone and even receive pop-up notifications for events. If you looking for something more, checkout WebOffice.com or CalendarWiz.com and see what an online calendar can truly offer you in increased productivity.
Even on a to-do list, you will place some value on each activity to decide in what order you will do things. Some things must be done in sequence; some can only be handled when someone else is available; some are not very important but can be dispatched quickly. Some are more difficult for you to do, so will require more effort and agony. These are likely to be the ones that you tend to procrastinate about. If they cannot be handed off to someone else, who will not agonize over them, then you must set a deadline and hold yourself to it.
Motivate yourself – figure how much money per minute you are wasting, reward yourself with a fresh cup of coffee when you finish, make a big red checkmark beside it when it’s done – whatever it takes!
Any goal that encompasses several tasks over a period of time can be considered a project. Online project management programs have revolutionized the way businesses get things done. Liquid Planner (http://www.liquidplanner.com/) is a great example of a program that change the way you get things done.
But your needs may not be as in depth as this type of application can handle. All you need may be a Gantt chart approach, where you set a date for completion of a project and work your way back to determine when you must start it.
Using this approach you will need to:
- List all the tasks that must be completed
- Determine how long each will take
- Decide the order in which they must be done (if some are dependent on others)
- Evaluate the resources needed for each (cash, employees, equipment, materials, etc.)
For example, let’s say you want to include a full-color product brochure of Holiday specials to be placed in with orders that you are filling. These need to go into the orders that are being filled in August, September and October, so you need to have them ready by August 1. You plan to send it to the print shop you always use, and they always give you a 2-week turnaround time, so you need to have camera-ready artwork to them by July 14. You think you will need 5,000 of them and have a budget of $2,500.00.
Things to be done in this may scenario include:
- Choosing and pricing the products to offer
- Creating the brochure
- Reviewing your sales to find popular holiday items
- Checking inventory to see if some stock levels are high
- Deciding if you will give a deep discount on a loss leader
- Checking out competitors to see if they are starting to do similar offers
- Watching the marketplace to see if something is particularly hot this season
- Pencil-pushing to see what discount is enough without being too much
To actually create the brochure, someone has to take photos or get ones that are already done; write or adapt copy; and design a layout. Plus you have to figure out: How many pages? How may products per page? What will catch the eye first?
If you are the one doing all these things, your task schedule will look very different than if you have 2 or 3 others helping you. Many of these things can be done concurrently by a few people – checking sales and stock levels, competitors, and the market. Meetings will need to be scheduled to bring all the info together and make decisions. Then, photos can be taken once products are selected. Copy can be written after products are selected. But the brochure can’t be laid out until the photos and copy are ready. And so forth. When you review all this, you see that you have to start this project no later than June 1 to be ready.
The sources of distractions are endless, a few being things such as activity and noise in the environment. Two major common distractors are the telephone and employees. If the telephone is ringing off the hook because of customers, this is great news, but can still interrupt your train of thought and make it difficult to pick up where you left off.
What you can do here is make sure that you have a purpose and plan in mind when you begin working on something, since this will make it easier to get back into it once you are off the phone. Also, before you answer the phone, get in the habit of scribbling down the essence of your idea, so you can resume after you hang up.
If you are bring interrupted by phone calls from other than customers, you might consider caller ID, to decide if you will pick up, and set it to voice mail, so that you can answer later at your convenience.
If you are being interrupted by employees, perhaps they do not have a clear idea themselves of what they are supposed to be doing, or they lack the skills or knowledge to do it. If this is the case, setting expectations and training are in order. If they keep coming to you because they need attention or lack confidence, then perhaps they need some coaching or correction.
If you work out of your home, you probably have one of two problems: spending too much time with the kids and the household tasks, or spending too much time at your desk, often working late into the night.
If you are working out of your home so that you can be close to the kids, then ignoring them will defeat your whole purpose. You also don’t want to neglect your business. Certainly, if there are nap times during the day, you can plan your time to capitalize on this. If you can concentrate on your work while your kids are in the room, so much the better. But it is not unreasonable to expect them to have some times of working on their things in another room as you work in your office.
If you are the workaholic type, you will need to set limits on yourself so that you don’t burn out. Having your house well organized is a major plus. Websites such as FlyLady.net and OrganizeYourselfOnline.com, can be a real help, in addition to the numerous books available at Amazon.com.
Even a well organized friend or neighbor can be enlisted to help you get things in line. Then once things are running smoothly, you can stay on top of them in the course of your well-organized business day.
Rule of thumb: determine to handle a household task whenever you have to leave your desk for whatever reason. If you have to go answer the door to take a delivery, throw a load of laundry in on your way back to the office. If you have to tend a scraped knee, wash the vegetables for dinner.
Remember, having a good idea of what must be done in both the office and the home allows you to accomplish more in a day without neglecting your family or yourself.
Time can be well spent if you keep your purpose in mind and work to eliminate distractions. Setting up a comfortable and well-organized work space gets you off to a good start. Having all the supplies you need at hand saves time and headaches. Using some simple but effective filing techniques keeps you handling things only once and getting everything done in time. Projects can be managed with some thought and coordination. If you work at home, you can make it all hum along with some good arranging and planning.
IMPress Action Checklist
Below is a list of steps that will help you to better manage your time. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.
- Know what it takes to motivate yourself
- Know the higher purpose for each task
- Set up an ergonomically sound workspace
- Buy all the office supplies and desk organizers that you will need
- Get enough file cabinets to meet your storage and filing needs
- Alphabetically arrange your vendors, customers, corporate papers and employee info
- Organize your desktop and use file folders within applications
- Use 12 monthly folders and 31 daily folders
- Handle paper only once
- Assign priorities to to-do list items
- Use Gantt chart concepts to plan projects
- Organize your home to keep it all running smoothly