Time Management Steps That Save You Two Hours Each Day

September 29, 1995

I came across the following article on time management. It was written for engineering managers, but I believe it should be applicable to all professionals. So, enjoy.

One common complaint often heard is about time Ė more precisely, the lack of its availability to get the job done. "Iím putting in longer hours and I just seem to be falling further and further behind" is the typical lament. While time management is apparently a more serious dilemma for many engineering managers, there are some solutions worthy of consideration.

At a recent time management seminar more than a few practical ideas to counter familiar time stealers were discussed. The participants were asked to identify and rank their major time management problems. Interestingly, the groupís major time stealers were interruptions, managing the telephone, and how to say no effectively.

Saying no firmly, politely, and not feeling guilty about it. Typically, most individuals feel guilty when they have to say "No," said seminar leader Nancy Wilber, president, Time Resources (Westford, Mass.). Usually the initial reaction is to respond with an automatic yes. She outlined several reasons for this reaction:

The appropriate time management techniques that can be applied to effectively saying no include:

1. Set goals and intermediate steps; set priorities and stick to them. List your goals, and memorize them. For support, always keep the list of goals in sight, and review them several times a day.

2. Practice saying no in a variety of situations and learn to redirect. As an example, to a subordinate or colleague, say, "No. I cannot help you with that, but I can spend five minutes with you right now to help you think of someone else." To a superior, the approach is similar, but ask where the priority is in relation to other goals and assigned projects and attempt to negotiate an appropriate solution.

3. Practice saying no to yourself. Before you begin a project that you initiate, ask yourself if this project will help you to achieve your goals.

4. Count to 10 when a request is made; review priorities and time schedules before accepting new tasks or responsibilities.

5. Donít let your nonverbal signals say yes when your verbals are saying no; look the requester in the eye; act serious; if youíre not sure they are, then ask them directly.

6. Set limits if you canít say no: "I can do this if..."

7. Delegate; build your network of colleagues to whom you can pass an the opportunity. Consider vendors, other organizations within the company, and other organizations outside the company, as well.

Save one hour per day by managing your telephone calls. According to a survey by U.S. West, an average unplanned business call lasts 12 minutes. A planned call takes only seven minutes. Considering the average manager makes 12 calls each day, 60 minutes per day can be saved by planning the content of each telephone call made. Managing the telephone will require breaking many old habits, such as believing that every phone call is important and urgent, or fearing that youí11 miss same information. Therefore, among the new methods to adopt, as recommended by Wilber, include:

1. Acknowledge that the telephone is your tool subject to your terms and conditions.

2. Practice good telephone techniques. Start out with a business-related first statement, learn to use interruptions tactfully ("Excuse me, but we have a minor emergency here."); cue the ending (Before we hang up, I want..."); and even state your time limit ("Iíve three minutes before...").

3. Have your calls screened by an assistant who can skillfully and tactfully handle the call, refer the call to someone else, postpone the call until a time convenient for your, or expedite the truly important and urgent calls.

4. Use electronic media such as voice mail, an answering machine, fax, and electronic mail.

5. Leave messages that others can act upon.

6. When making a call: prepare your objective; get to the point; and get off the phone.

Plan for interruptions, theyíre going to happen anyway, so be prepared. As manager of a major department youíre often the center of advice giving, care dispensing, and decision making. So what to do? Wilber recommends the following approaches:

1. Realize the interruption is demanding priority over your established priorities, ask yourself: should it?

2. Realize that a minute never means a minute.

3, Before saying yes ask the visitor what itís about.

4, Have an assistant screen unexpected visitors and handle them, refer them to someone else, schedule them into your calendar, or interrupt if a true emergency.

5. Identify the need, and then decide to deal with a brief question or true emergency, set up a time to meet, refer them to another person, or ask them to problem-solve and suggest several solutions.

6. Stand up, and walk them to the door.

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