BUSINESS MANAGEMENT - TIME MANAGEMENT

This is the 34th of a series of newsletters published on Business Management and Management Skills. Not all topics will apply to your business, but each section will be beneficial to establish company goals and objectives. By reading and studying these newsletter articles, you’re taking the first step in achieving your goals.

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Ask any group of people what they wish they had more of. Some people will say money, of course. Some will say clothes. You’ll get various other answers also but the number one answer that crops up the most often is - TIME! Time is one item we all have the same amount of. Time can be wasted, spent foolishly, or invested wisely, but never stored up for future use.

The point is, we don’t know how much actual time we have, and since time is such a precious commodity, no one can afford to waste it. Very few of us have memories that can recall our complete daily schedule for priorities, meetings, telephone calls, sales calls, special events, etc., plus what went unfinished the day before. Organize your time and plan your schedule. Don’t wait for things to happen before you take action. Consider your alternatives, and set your plans into operation in time to forestall problems. Leave time for family, social affairs, personal needs and hobbies. You must determine the importance of specific items as they relate to your business, your personal life, your overall sense of accomplishment, and your needs and self-satisfaction.

Set up organized systems for keeping track of names, addresses, phone numbers, and files. Keep track of your appointments, meetings, and recreational activities on a calendar or computerized handheld organizer. Everything from pocket calendars to various types of day timers to electronic personal data assistants, such as palm pilots, can help you control your time commitments and project obligations. The cost is worthwhile due to the amount of time and aggravation you can save by eliminating schedule conflicts, missed appointments, etc.

Use timesaving technology. In addition to the computerized calendars, consider the amount of time you save using a touch-tone phone with an automatic re-dialer and the timesaving advantages of other now common office equipment, such as the postage meter, automatic sealers for envelopes, letter openers, and dictating equipment using standard and micro-cassette recorders. Almost everyone in business is using a FAX machine and E-mail. These modern conveniences allow you to transmit material electronically - quickly and accurately. And don’t overlook your computer. There are many commercially available software products that are designed to help you plan and organize your tasks, such as contact managers. These programs can be used to create your personal calendar and “to do” lists. Remember, the busier you become, the more likely you are to forget important things. Use commercially available aids to help you become more efficient.

Build a time cushion into your plans. You’ve made an appointment for Tuesday at 11 a.m. that’s scheduled to last for about one hour. You mark it on your calendar and know that you have to set aside one hour for the appointment - WRONG! You have other considerations to make - preparing for the appointment, obtaining, reviewing and organizing the materials you’ll need, the drive time to and from, if applicable, and returning and putting your materials away. Add this time into your appointment and then add in a little extra time to take into account the unforeseeable delays in getting the job done.

Make quick decisions on small matters. Decisions take energy. Some decisions take a great deal of time, depending on their urgency and complexity. Be reasonable when using this technique. Consider the ramifications of your decision. When you’re pushed for time is an excellent opportunity to delegate to others.

Correspondence. Set up an efficient routine for processing your mail. To shorten time spent on correspondence, use response checklists on which people can quickly indicate a response. Write your own responses to inquiries on the bottom of the original request and return it to the sender. Use standardized forms and form letters, and keep all correspondence materials together in a convenient location. Again, handle each piece of paper only once. Word processing software programs contain templates, form letters, fax covers, meeting agendas, and many other timesavers. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel; customize and tailor to your needs what is readily available. Chances are several of them are already in your computer that with a little work will not only save you time, but make you appear more professional.

Phone Calls. Keep names and phone numbers current and at arms reach so you won’t have to spend time looking for the numbers you want to call. Keep phone conversations to a reasonable length by having a set time of day for making and returning calls. Use an answering machine or service to protect yourself from untimely interruptions if you don’t have a secretary or receptionist.

Limit time on the phone by telling callers you only have a few minutes. Rather than discussing points in detail over the phone, ask for or send written materials to be reviewed later. Arrange to call back after you or your caller has had time to think over ideas brought up. Practice using a three-minute egg timer to limit the amount of time you talk on the phone. Plan what you’re going to say before you place the call. Learn not to waste not only your own time, but others as well. Be always courteous for sure, but efficient as well.

Projects. To manage large projects efficiently, break them down into smaller tasks and list them in the order they need to be completed. Assign deadlines to each task and set up a project file that will serve as the clearinghouse for the entire project. Today there are many good project management software programs available. Get one for the entire office. If it’s good for you, it will be better for everyone else. On the inside cover of the project file, write the following information in pencil:

Keep all correspondence and material related to the project in this file. As work progresses, check off the tasks you completed and note any modifications to your project schedule. Consider pre-printing invoices and envelopes when billable projects are first established; billing dates can be handwritten when mailed.

The biggest time-waster is not being able to find information that you need when you need it. Use a special technique to prioritize the things you must attend to. For instance, keep things on your desk that are of the highest importance. Put the next most important items in your desk. Pending matters can be placed in the file. Trash anything that’s not necessary.

Keep a log of your daily activities to determine how you’re spending your time. Keep it faithfully for a period of three days at a minimum. Log everything you do and keep in mind that you want to avoid wasted motion and time. We’re all allocated a specific amount of time for our lifetime, although none of us is privileged to receive that information in advance. Therefore, we must all make a concentrated effort to manage our time and use the time that we have wisely.

If you have something to do and can’t get it done, plan to complete it the next day or at the next available opportunity. Never allow one missed appointment to cause a delay for the remainder of the day (like the domino effect). Apologize, reschedule, and continue through the day. Get things done, don’t waste time!

Take advantage of the various types of time management forms and software programs available in order to help you manage your time effectively. Be sure to allocate sufficient time for pursuit of personal interests.

One last word of advice - protect your free time! Everyone needs to take time for relaxation and having fun. Engage in hobbies or other pursuits that you enjoy. Don't become a workaholic.

NOTE: For additional information, please refer to the section on Planning and Organizing (#26) and Computers (#10) in this series of articles on Business Management.

Mike Holt’s Comment: I would like to extend a special thank you to L.W. Brittian, a Mechanical & Electrical Instructor in Lott, Texas, for reviewing and editing the various articles in these newsletters. His comments and suggestions have been invaluable in the preparation of my Business Management and Management Skills’ Workbook. This newsletter article was extracted from that workbook. Watch for our next newsletter, and as always, we invite your comments and feedback. Send us your real-life experiences. We value your opinions and participation. Please respond to Barbara@MikeHolt.com. And… be sure to visit Mike Holt’s Website at www.mikeholt.com

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