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Strategies for Effective Time Management

An entry in Vivien’s Group Writing Project at Inspiration Bit

A reader paid me a very lovely compliment recently. What intrigued me was the question that accompanied the remark (I’m paraphrasing): How do you write such high quality articles on so many blogs with all that you have going on in your life?

My time management system is based upon four overriding principles:

  1. Prioritize
  2. Remain Flexible
  3. Resist the Urge to Procrastinate
  4. Work Quickly and Efficiently

Requisite Tools

You cannot manage your time effectively without the proper tools. All of the successful people I know have a personalized system that they have developed and honed over time through a process of trial and error, sticking with the techniques that are most effective for them, abandoning those that are inefficient.

I used to employ traditional, numbered “to do” lists — professional and personal. However, in recent months I have been using mind maps and find them extremely handy for keeping track of tasks I must complete, as well as conceptualizing, organizing, and drafting documents and articles. I can’t believe that I ever actually outlined. Mind maps are fluid and allow you to organize your ideas in a nonlinear fashion that fosters and inspires creativity.

I usually maintain one mind map for each week’s schedule, along with an individual mind map associated with every specific project I am working on, using the most adaptable of many available formats.

My computers have calendaring systems, of course, as does my Blackberry, but I am old fashioned — and cautious. If I do not have computer access, I want to be able to reference my organizational tools. So I keep a physical calendar with me in order to visualize the week and month ahead by referencing the full-month and two-page per week views. I use a 5.5″ by 8″ refillable style with pockets in the front and back where I keep mind maps that I can pull out to add notes. It fits perfectly into my purse for those times when I do not have my briefcase with me.

Each morning, I review my weekly mind map and calendar to make sure that I do not miss a deadline, meeting, conference call or any other item(s) that need(s) my attention. I usually do that first thing while taking my vitamins and checking e-mail. With that review in mind, I refine my plans for the day while I am in the shower and dressing. By the time I’m backing the car out of the garage, I am a woman on a mission.

Prioritize

Each day, there are certain projects that I must work on or complete, meetings to attend, phone calls to return, e-mails to read and respond to, etc. My organizational system is simple and workable. All tasks are designated as belonging in one of four categories:

  1. Today — The task or project must be completed that day.
  2. Looming — A due date is looming, so all items in this category are presented in order of the approaching associated deadlines.
  3. Work Toward — Tasks in this category must be completed within a nonspecific time frame. This is where long-range projects, such as lengthy writing assignments that either won’t be completed for a significant period of time or for which no firm date for completion has been established are listed.
  4. Whenever — As you can imagine, there are few items in this category!

Remain Flexible

Priorities shift, frequently due to factors beyond one’s control. So when I establish my “game plan” for each day, I always keep one word in mind: Tentative.

I learned years ago to view virtually every plan as “tentative” until such time as the event in question actually takes place, approval for a project or event is received, etc. In business, there is frequently no follow-through on what seemed like a great idea, a suggested process or policy is never implemented, the planning for a proposed event never completed so it does not take place, etc. That’s just how things work out, so it is imperative that I always remain open to a different approach, a new plan, a change of schedule.

In what color do I make most of my calendar entries? Pencil. I am frequently asked to “hold the date” pending approval, travel arrangements, etc. which means that my calendar has a lot of erasure marks as things shift from one date to another. If I were going to write everything in ink and take a dogmatic approach to scheduling work and events, I would have a calendar full of white-out, never accomplish anything — and be very unpopular.

Resist the Urge to Procrastinate

I am a natural procrastinator. If the deadline is 5:00 p.m. and I estimate that I can complete the assignment in three hours, my innate tendency is to start work at 1:30 p.m., giving myself about 30 minutes leeway.

Not a successful strategy.

Deadlines get moved up when other persons’ priorities change, crucial information is not received timely . . . all sorts of unforeseen obstacles can impact the tentative schedule I establish for completing tasks.

When I first graduated from law school, I learned to calendar real deadlines, but also artificial ones, and adopt a policy of completing work in conformity with the earlier date. That approach serves me well.

For instance, when I was in private practice litigating full time, my secretary never put real deadlines for filing documents with the court on my calendar. She always entered the deadline on my calendar at least one full business day prior to the actual “drop dead” date and time, preferably two. We sometimes experienced momentary panic when something when wrong. But then we’d stop and remind ourselves that the date we were working toward wasn’t the true deadline. We would double-check the calendar, recalculate the deadline and realize that, in reality, we had one more day to, for example, get overdue information or documents from the client that were critical to completion of a brief, pleading or motion.

Waiting until the last moment is never a good approach. It is akin to playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later, the bullet is going to be in the chamber when you pull the trigger and your days of leading a charmed life will come to a very messy end. A graphic, but apt, analogy.

Work Quickly and Efficiently

I am a firm believer in not “reinvesting the wheel” or pouring more energy into a project than is necessary in order to complete it efficiently. So I always seek effective shortcuts such as generating documents from basic templates or utilizing forms to communicate mundane but necessary information.

One of the smartest things my mother ever did was to insist that my sister and learn to type. I have been unable to convince my kids to learn to type with their hands properly positioned. They both type quickly, but I can beat them. Being able to type extremely fast and accurately constitutes a huge step toward working efficiently.

I avoid and eliminate keystrokes whenever I can. Setting up e-mail software with contact lists, folders, rules for handling incoming mail, and signatures saves an enormous amount of time, as can configuring your browser and utilizing add-ons. I use Bloglines (I did not like the Beta version) to keep up with my daily reading and have been experimenting with Netvibes, but I do not think I am going to utilize it fully. Although you can import your e-mail account on the front page using a widget to see if you have any new messages, in order to actually read or respond, you have to open another browser tab and log into your webmail account. So that pretty much defeats the purpose, in my estimation, of using the service. But there are a lot of other great features and many bloggers are posting about how delighted they are with them.

I strive to make the most of every minute of every day — I hate to sleep because time spent sleeping is, in my opinion, time wasted.

What techniques do you employ to manage time wisely and efficiently? Leave a comment, including links as appropriate, with your best tips and suggestions!


45 Comments

  1. WoW, this is some post on Time Management. Thank you, Janie.
    I can’t say that I hate sleeping, it’s nice to turn off my mind for at least a few hours a day.
    I definitely need to straighten up my time managing skills, and I’m so happy with all the entries to my project. Thanks for adding your wisdom to the list.

  2. MyStarbucks

    😯 That is a truly great post! Very good recommendations and tips. I have to disagree on the sleep issue though, that is one of my favorite times of day….bedtime.

  3. I think my main problem is procrastination. I keep putting things off till the last minute. Then again, I think I work better under pressure. 🙂

  4. Great post.

    Just one thing: Sleep is not a waste of time. Among many other things, it is necessary for our brains to process the information we acquired during the day. Without it, memory fails pretty quickly. Also, lack of sleep has tremendous impact on our productivity (i.e. how fast and accurately we can do things, our ability to assess priorities and our stress levels). Being fatigued is pretty much the same as being drunk in its effects, down to the inability to assess how truly impaired we are. We wouldn’t even think about having a meeting with an important client drunk, yet we don’t think twice about being tired for the same appointment…

  5. I’m sorry – I just don’t have the time to read this – do you have a Coles notes edition? I kid – good article.
    😆

  6. This is an interesting blog. I´m here for the second time and find every day new interesting details.

  7. I agree that sleeping is “a waste of time”, but i can’t help loving the activity 🙂

    Great post Janie.

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  14. most people know what to do.
    just a reminder, it takes to hit the head and keep working.. ❗

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  21. This could probably help me a little. I suck at time management. 😕

    Jenny’s last blog post..Sitely Future & Life Happenings

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  23. True. I’ve read it 5 times and I still can’t seem to fight the urge to procrastinate.

    Tess’s last blog post..Enhance the educational experience of the virtual classroom by using eLearning collaboration software

  24. sims cheats

    I love sleeping but with two very small kids its not even a problem. The big one for me is ditractions, like reading random blogs and commenting on them.

  25. Komik Sözler

    I always procrastinate, and I don’t know why. I guess its because of me being comfortable with what I do. However, I hate blaming others when I fail…

  26. Once TimeManagement became a problem for me too.It’s better to say that it is a problem still now.As for me point 3 is most difficult to coupe with

  27. Nice article. I still go to school and I often get me in the will to learn, but doing nothing else than just senseless surfing and chilling….

  28. World Directory

    thanks for tips, time management is a great knowledge. to be organized and to make a plan works great for me and to take each day at a time, moment by moment and to trust and play with the time. 🙂

  29. Steve Elliott

    I have to confess that time management is something I am terrible at. If it wasn’t, I would have been back here posting ages ago, it’s been a while.

    Maybe I’m not alone but I spend far too long doing the things I enjoy and not enough on those that need to be done…so my wife tells me!

    I also seem to make far too many lists…all my time making lists…no time doing any of the things on them!

  30. Miko Perez

    can somebody tell me the full name of the author Strategies for Effective Time Management? i need it for my thesis…related articles..

    tnx….

  31. iPod Touch

    Time management? I’ve never even heard of the thing! I am too disorganised to even begin to comtemplate managing my time effectively.

    If I start a task, I will get distracted on to something else within minutes.

    Great article and I really must take note of the advice you are giving!

    John

  32. Prioritizing my time seems like an impossible task. I always set a schedule for what i need to do, but i always end up working on something too long and messing the schedule up.

  33. Transmission Tower

    Inspiring article. I need to better manage my time. Good!

  34. Matt (Project Management)

    Some great advice that we should all heed!

    Matt (Project Management)s last blog post..PROjEN to upgrade Greenergy’s newly acquired sites

  35. Dans Calibration Services

    Like most things, routine helps you establish efficiency. The more you do something the more natural and quicker that action becomes.

  36. Drew@TheSolutionWebsite

    Very nice article, you’ve covered it all.

    I’ve always been of the mind that procrastination is the enemy of good Time Management techniques. Every thing you put off ends up costing you time or money (or both) in the long run, so “get it done” before it costs you.

    Thanks for the article
    Drew

  37. Project Risk Management

    good tips and points… i just wish #3 wasnt so hard to resist :/ procrasination is my biggest enemy; still trying to figure out how to kill him o_o
    -Jack

  38. Online Dizi

    good article. thnx for sharing 😉

    Online Dizi’s most recent blog post..ADSL’de alternatif “B?R?” var

  39. Hieyeglasses

    Great post! I should apply this to my own work habits!

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