Time management is paramount to success

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TIME is constantly on the move. Once wasted, it can never be regained.

Leaders have limited time and frequently have time controlling it, for time seems to have the uncanny ability of “running away”, and no matter the individual’s position time cannot be stopped, slowed down or speeded up.

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend over dinner about her resolutions for 2012 and how she was coming along.

Well basically the main complaint of my buddy was an inability to find time to do more in a given day and consequently she was already struggling to meet the majority of her resolutions.

I began to think more about the concept of time and began to realise that the need to efficiently manage time is crucial to effectiveness.

It is clear that the world of business has morphed into an extremely competitive monster in this first decade of the 21st century, and although each professional is allocated 24 hours in a single day, for many of us it sure doesn’t feel so.

This being the case good time management can be a competitive advantage for any professional looking to become more dynamic and proficient in the workplace while also securing enough quality time away from work.

However, as any professional can attest, there are many distractions that can keep you at work longer than necessary so learning to manage one’s time is paramount to long-term success and effectiveness in the organisational context.

Just as potentially damaging though is the time fanatic: people who are so time-fixated spend days on end building time management spreadsheets, priority folders and lists, colour-coding, and separating paperwork into priority piles.

I know myself I have often been a fanatic and at the end of it all, in my efforts to manage time, I always ended up wasting more of it.

In addition time management techniques can become so complex. Leaders, managers and individuals soon give up and return to their old time-wasting routines.

To identify time-wasters, one must first look at Pareto’s Law. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto originally propounded the 80/20 rule.

When applied to time at work, it states that: ‘Twenty percent of the time at work is spent doing things that account for 80 percent of the results, and 80 percent of the time is spent doing things that account for 20 percent of the results.’

I remember hearing of this rule while still in school and to this day it still fascinates me that so much can be done to increase one’s productivity, by merely focusing more on the high leverage activities that will make a marked difference to the individual’s effectiveness over time.

This ought to be the focus of our energy and time, yet it is almost always ignored.

The impact of falling victim to time-wasters on a daily basis cannot be underestimated.

There are time-wasters that will specifically conspire against those with the best intentions — those who strive to avoid procrastination — that well known thief of time.

Well, luckily for you and I experts in the field of time management have gone to work.

Dr Donald E Wetmore, a guru in this field, identified the five major time-wasters as: poor planning, procrastination, interruptions, failure to delegate and attending meetings.

Poor planning: People don’t plan to fail, but too many of us fail to plan. Without a plan of action for the day, attention will automatically be directed to the most urgent issues and these are not necessarily the best use of the individual’s time.

Often, the hours fly past, filled with wheel spinning and busyness rather than business, leaving the impression of a demanding day yet nothing was achieved.

Think about that for a second.

Procrastination: Taking time to plan is great, but if there is no execution, it will all come to nothing.

Tasks may be put on hold because there is no perceived pleasure involved in completing them. The art of procrastination lies with the unimportant things that have a perceived positive value on an individual’s day.

The problem for most of us is that the crucial tasks are being ignored.

Interruptions: An interruption is an unanticipated event, and comes in person and electronic (telephone, e-mail, cell-phone etc).

According to Wetmore interruptions are both good and bad.

There are A (crucial or urgent) and B (important) interruptions that are received without reservation.

By definition, these have inherent value and are normally welcomed.

Then there are C (little value) and D (no value) interruptions that simply take people away from productivity and positive output.

Failure to delegate: Managers and leaders sometimes have a tendency to want to do everything themselves, as they feel the only way for a task to be completed properly is through their personal intervention.

The problem however, is that there are only 24 hours to a natural day, seven days a week — a total of 168 hours. Subtract the time necessary for sleep (perhaps eight hours a night, seven nights a week, or 56 hours in total) and there are only 112 hours a week available to do everything that needs to be done.

Delegation means plugging activities into someone else’s time stream when time is lacking or the expertise to accomplish a particular task is not available.

Delegation is the leverage of time through other people.

Attending meetings:  A meeting can be described as a situation when two or more people get together to exchange information.

What could be simpler?

Yet it can be rated as one of the major time-wasters.

Meetings are even more wasteful and unproductive in the absence of an agenda or time-frame, as they drift out on a tangent with no concrete or meaningful results.

A typical day will involve the meetings for a professional so it is important to distinguish between the necessary ones that are just a plain waste of time.

Ultimately it is crucial to remember to distinguish between low value and high value activities. As Steven Covey put it in his seminal, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “the focus of effective people is not just to be efficient in how we do our activities, but to be effective in producing the right results.”

The fact is no one will remember, care about or promote you for all the busy work you accomplished.

Would the world have cared if Nelson Mandela finished a lot of paper-shuffling but never made the high leverage moves that put pressure on the National Party leaders and gave way to the first democratic elections in South Africa? No.

The same is true for your job. Always push yourself to have a bird’s eye-view of your organisation and industry.

Your organisation will always value necessary work and masterpieces not busywork.

 Matela Lechesa is a freelance writer based in Maseru

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