Mastering The Time Management Myth

April 4, 2011 by Shweta Handa-Gupta

How often have you wished there was just half an hour more in the day? Is there so much to be done on your ever-growing to-do list that there’s no way you can get through all of it?!! Time, the one resource that most people wish they had more of, and the one resource that money can’t buy!! The first step is to understand that time is a finite resource and we can’t ‘manage’ time. What we can ‘manage’ is ourselves and our energy. Here are some tips to utilize this limited resource more effectively.

I) Manage your Energy – While most of us worry about time, we often take for granted the energy that actually allows us to utilize this time. The competitive and never-ending demands of our lives are why we often hear of ‘burnouts’. Our energy can be increased and renewed by concentrating on two important sources – the mind and the body.

Leave behind negative emotions, avoid distractions and participate in activities that make you feel vibrant and alive to increase your mental energies. Take regular breaks, don’t compromise on your minimum sleep, avoid stress and don’t ignore your health to build energy from the body. Remember to focus your energies on nurturing the opportunities of tomorrow not fostering the troubles of yesterday.

II) Plan & Prioritize Smartly – End each day spending a few minutes planning for the next day. Set achievable goals and prioritize ruthlessly. Remember to differentiate between what is urgent and what is important. While the important tasks need your attention and focus even if they don’t always seem urgent, things that disguise themselves as urgent may not need your time if they are not important to you.

Start each day by getting the most unattractive/ difficult tasks out of the way. Plan not just your working day but also your personal time and keep in mind that your life and health goals are equally important.

III) Seize the Opportunity – Did you really not have time to read that important mail today, or return that phone call or invest in your own health by walking for 20 minutes? One of the important factors that differentiate the highly successful people from the rest is their ability to seize the moments to work towards their goals.

IV) Efficiency Vs Effectiveness – We often get trapped into a false sense of accomplishment when we are being efficient even if our efficiency is being used on unimportant or filler tasks that are not priorities.

You are effective when your efforts are “adequate to accomplish a goal; producing the intended result” while being efficient is simply “a minimum expenditure of time and effort” in your activities. Being efficient is important, it is not enough unless it’s also effective. Focus not just on ‘doing things right’ but on ‘doing the right things’ to reach your goal.

V) Cost your Time and Energy and Set Limits – We can all assess the value of our time and energy based on how much we are paid or should be (realistically). Evaluate the cost benefit of each task to decide whether the pay-back is worth it and to set time limits for activities. If an activity doesn’t deserve more than an hour based on its pay-back then an hour is your upper limit.

VI) Avoid Time-wasting Activities – Track your daily activities and maintain an activity log for a few days to understand how you actually spend your time. The results may surprise you. Some common time-wasters you can avoid are:

1. Handle information only Once – When you see that mail, decide right then whether to trash it, archive it or act on it. Same for files or papers. Don’t keep things pending and keep revisiting them. Also, sync your mails, calenders etc. in your phone, laptop and other gadgets to ensure you have to process entries only once.
2. Distractions/Interruptions – Anything that’s not on your to do list, needs to be subjected to a quick urgent-important test and the cost-benefit assessment. If it’s not important it’s out and if it is, then the payback tells you how much time you can spend on it.
3. Delegate/Ask for Help – It’s okay to ask for help or delegate to a competent person. If doing everything yourself was such a good idea, many successful organizations wouldn’t have outsourced their non-core activities.
4. Meetings – Yes, I said it ‘meetings’!! Don’t call or attend meetings unless they are important or will add value to your work and, if you have to call one, ensure it stays on track and finishes on time.
5. Learn to say No and Goodbye – Saying a polite no or goodbye to people can be necessary when their important tasks, conversations/meetings are eating into your own priorities.

So here’s to being more productive… While in your race to be more effective in the same amount of time remember that some seemingly unimportant activities can be essential to overall productivity. So while I would tell you to set time-limits, I would also urge you not to ignore the intangible but essential paybacks of activities such as networking, taking breaks, rejuvenating yourself and investing in your health.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of” ~Benjamin Franklin

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column




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