By Beth McIntire
If you are already a high achiever who still has time to do everything you need and want to do, then stop reading right now and send me YOUR time management tips. If not, you can effortlessly and automatically add several hours of productive time to your week with the following strategies.
1. Limit Television. There's a reason the TV carries such disparaging nicknames as the "idiot box" and "boob tube." For many people, the television wastes incredible amounts of precious time. I'm not saying all TV is evil; it's simply a matter of priorities. Many people who say they have no time to exercise always find time to watch The Sopranos, American Idol, and CSI. If you're going to watch something, get a DVR, if you don't already have one. At least you can record your must-see TV and fast foward through the commercials when you watch it later. I can't stay up late enough to watch Jay Leno, but since we got the DVR a couple of years ago, I watch his monologue every morning while eating breakfast. I have never seen nor have any desire to watch most of today's popular TV shows. Occasionally, I get around to the list of episodes of Mythbusters on our DVR, usually on a morning when the previous night's Leno was a rerun.
There are almost always more important things to do in the evening than watch TV, like building my business or reading to my toddler. If you run your own business, think of it in terms of your hourly rate. How much would a customer or client pay you, or how much could you earn in other ways, during the hour you spend watching that rerun of Law & Order? Of course, you can't put a price on family time, and you can't give full attention to your spouse or offspring with one eye on the tube. If you have the space and funds to furnish a room with a television, DVD player and/or DVR, and a treadmill, you can actually make good use of your TV time. Add more exercise equipment for even better results. You can make time for your favorite programs while staying in shape.
2. Banish Mindless Internet Surfing & Computer Games. The Internet is a wonderful, miraculous piece of work, but can also quickly pull you into a nearly infinite galaxy of interesting but not-terribly-useful information. You can easily lose track of time while clicking one intriguing link after another. Many folks set timers for their children to limit their computer time, but think nothing of losing valuable sleep time staring dazedly at the screen. Computer games also can quickly suck the life blood out of your work and family time. If you're not careful, you'll lose track of time - time that could be spent in more productive endeavors.
3. Turn Away From Office Gossip. Resist the temptation to spend 15 minutes here and there in idle chit-chat with coworkers. Don't get me wrong - some degree of relationship building at work is important, even critical to your professional happiness and success. But you can easily turn 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there into a major disruption. The next thing you'll be discussing is that you don't have nearly enough time to do all of your work, and you don't know where the day has gone!
4. Disconnect From Constant Monitoring of Email & Phone Calls. Just because you can be constantly available doesn't mean that you must be. If you have a secretary or assistant, this person can screen your calls, visitors and emails. Set aside time on your calendar to return calls and answer emails. Many unannounced outside visitors will be salespeople. They often provide a valuable service by introducing you to new or less expensive products and services, but out of consideration for your time, they should make an appointment, if you have any interest in their wares. If you have no interest whatsoever, don't waste their time or yours. When you're in a time crunch, close your email program so that you are not tempted to keep checking it. You can program your cell phone with a distinctive ring for calls that you know you'll want to accept, like those from your spouse and children. That way, you don't need to keep checking the caller ID every time it rings.
Ask your employees, coworkers and family to send high priority messages with 911 or some other special code at the beginning of the subject line, to make sure you read those first when you do scan your new mail. Keep in mind that probably 90% of so-called emergencies can be handled by someone else. Whether you own the place or just reside high enough up the food chain to warrant urgent calls for help, letting your staff learn how to make good decisions will save everyone time in the long run. When you leave a phone message for someone else, leave a good callback time to avoid the dreaded, time-consuming telephone tag. Example voice mail: "Good afternoon, this is Joe Block, from Block & Block, returning your phone call. I can be reached at 401-555-1772 between the hours of 2:00 to 3:00 this afternoon, or tomorrow morning between 10:00 and noon. I look forward to your call." If possible, change your voice mail greeting each day to indicate the best times to reach you. Example greeting: "Hello, this is Joe Block with Block & Block. I'm sorry I missed your call. Today is Friday, June 5th, and I will be in the office between 9:00 and 10:00 this morning, as well as from 3:00 to 5:00 this afternoon. If you'd like to leave a message, please do so after the tone."
5. Put the Brakes on Waiting. You can both minimize waiting and make the most of time that you must spend waiting. While waiting on the telephone on hold, check and respond to email. While driving to work or waiting in traffic, listen to educational or motivational audiobooks. Use this time to learn a foreign language or perhaps pick up new business strategies from one of the many tycoons who have written books.
When scheduling medical appointments, try to get the earliest available appointment. Some of the
best medical providers get way behind as the day progresses because they spend whatever time is necessary to answer all of their patients' questions and attend to their needs. The later your appointment time, the longer you will wait. Avoid Monday and Friday medical appointments for routine visits. Sick people line up to be seen before the weekend, or call first thing Monday after feeling progressively worse all weekend. Avoiding Mondays and Fridays means avoiding the most crowded waiting rooms full of
sick people and their germs.
Since some amount of waiting is inevitable, always take along a newspaper, magazine or book to pass the time. Some medical offices rely on donations of old magazines from employees to fill their racks. If a 1999 issue of Field & Stream doesn't interest you, you'll be glad you brought along today's newspaper. Alternately, you can use the free http://www.AvantGo.com service to download fresh content directly to your PDA before any appointment. It's a great way to carry around enough reading material for a long wait without needing a heavy backpack.
6. Don't Finish It Just Because You Started It. If the book doesn't live up to its Amazon.com ratings, or you bought into the hype of a very bad movie, you have already wasted money. Don't waste your time as well. I have abandoned books after only a few chapters and walked out of the theater during terrible flicks. Studying reviews may save you both the dollars and the hours sometimes, but not always.
Please note that I am not heaping criticism upon those who watch hours of TV, spend a lot of time in conversation with coworkers, check their Blackberries every 10 minutes, surf the Internet, play video games or read boring books. I merely offer an outline for raising your achievement level by breaking away from common time traps. The rest is up to you.