Time Management for Managers: Five Practical Ways to Make the Most of Your Time

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As a manager, you are responsible for overseeing both people and processes. You may, at times, feel there aren't enough hours in a day to do all that you need to do. Here are some simple tips for freeing up your time to focus on the most important aspects of your job.
  1. Consider the "payoff" when planning and performing your work.

    High-payoff activities are those that provide the greatest long-term value, as they are important to the fulfillment of your goals. They are often complex, time-consuming, and require uninterrupted concentration. Low-payoff activities are typically short, quick, and easy to do, but provide no real benefit. They tend to outnumber and take time away from high-payoff activities. Here are some strategies for effectively performing each:
    High-Payoff Activities

    • Schedule them during your "prime time," the part of the day that you are most alert.
    • Divide them into smaller units if possible. It is easier to find the time to complete three two-hour pieces of a project than an entire six-hour project.
    • If possible, minimize distractions: close your office door, forward calls to voicemail, and request that unplanned visitors schedule time with you.

    Low-Payoff Activities

    • If possible, delegate them. (More on this later.)
    • As they generally require less concentration than high-payoff activities, schedule them for the time of day that you tend to be least alert.
    • Rather than waiting idly between high-payoff projects and meetings, reply to an e-mail message, read a journal article, or file a few reports.
    • Don’t do more work than necessary. Handwrite a response to a memo rather than typing one. Make a phone call rather than composing a letter.
  2. Catch up on your reading.

    Chances are good that a large amount of written material crosses your desk each and every day: industry journals, policy manuals, direct mail pieces, company newsletters, etc. Chances are also good that these documents are stacked on a credenza in your office collecting dust. You know that there's some valuable information in that heap, but how can you possibly read when there are so many other demands on your time?

    Try this: Place all of your reading material - as well as a pen, highlighter, and pad of sticky notes - in a folder. Bring this folder with you everywhere... on the train during your daily commute, to business meetings, to doctor's appointments. Take advantage of idle time by reading through the documents, highlighting important text, making notes in the margins, and marking them for photocopying or future reference. You'll get through that pile before you know it, without even having to set aside time to do it!

  3. Get started on the project(s) that you've been putting off.

    Procrastination is the avoidance of starting a task. We've all procrastinated at one time or another: concentrated on preparing for the work rather than actually doing it, performed unimportant activities rather the one we set out to do, or deciding to lie down or call a friend instead of starting the job.

    Here are some strategies for conquering procrastination:

    • Don’t put off beginning the project because you don’t have everything you need to complete it. As long as you have what you need to get started, you can gather the rest later.
    • Start small. Divide the project into chunks. Reward yourself after the successful completion of each unit.
    • Imagine how good you will feel when the job is done. If that doesn't work, consider the negative consequences of not doing it.

  4. Make every meeting count.

    Too often, business meetings are longer than necessary and don't seem to accomplish very much. Here are some strategies for ensuring successful, productive meetings:

    • Prepare and distribute an agenda prior to the meeting. This agenda should clearly define the purpose of the meeting and assign time limits to each topic.
    • Confirm that the meeting room contains any necessary electronic equipment, such as a speakerphone or overhead projector. Set up and test the equipment prior to the arrival of the other attendees.
    • Start the meeting on time, even if some people are running late. You will be amazed how punctual they will be next time!
    • Keep people on track. If a topic exceeds its allotted time or a new issue emerges, add it to the agenda for the next meeting and move forward with the current agenda.
    • At the conclusion of the meeting, summarize decisions made and actions to be taken.

  5. Resist the "If you want something done right..." urge.

    Perhaps you are unable to accomplish as much as you would like because you take on more than one person can reasonably handle. If this is the case, you may wish to consider delegating some of your work to others. Delegation is the assigning of an activity in your area of responsibility to another person. Proper delegation involves:

    • Carefully evaluating what needs to be done.

    • Identifying the individual who is best suited to do it.

    • Clearly communicating essential information about the work, including:

      • Its purpose and desired outcome;
      • Exactly what needs to be accomplished;
      • The amount of authority you are giving the person over how the job is performed;
      • The level of support he or she can expect from you and any other available resources;
      • The standards you will consider acceptable and how you will evaluate the results;
      • The deadline for completion.

    • Encouraging questions.

    • Monitoring progress.

    • Letting go. (This means accepting that the other person's approach may be different than yours and that the results may not be perfect the first time. Also be open to the possibility that the other person's methods may be better than yours, providing you with a learning opportunity.)

Admittedly, many of the above strategies are easier said than done. Future articles will dig deeper and provide further guidance in some of these areas.

Copyright Christina Morfeld. Reprinted with permission.

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