Time management 101

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When we hear the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder,” it perhaps makes us convulse with irritation and mentally shut down on anything else that person has to say.

It’s one of those little phrases that tries to be too clever for its own good. No one really thinks they work dumb, and what does working smart really mean?

But time is not something that we can create or destroy, and it is a foe we have to always battle, said Mandy Hall, who presented to a group of the Franklin Southampton County Chamber of Commerce’s young professionals group.

“Time management is something that is needed in all aspects of life,” she said.

Even the best at time management can occasionally use a refresher course. The components of time management Hall laid out were prioritizing tasks, optimizing peak productivity times, eliminating distractions and information management.

A method for prioritizing tasks is backward scheduling. Think about the deadline, and think backward from what has to be done.

For example a report.

“You end with the finished product,” Hall said. “But before that, you have the second draft, the first draft, you have to do your research, outline the report and obtain a template and style reference for it.”

In this example, research will take the most time, so that gets the longest block, Hall said.

More complex, think about a typical workweek. In this example, Hall said you have several projects that are due at the end of the week at around the same time.

You have to complete a grant application, update your software licenses, do a financial quarterly report, finish the staff review and have salary discussions.

Hall said to do the staff review, have salary discussions and complete the grant application, you have to finish the report, so that one should be done earlier in the week. If the software update won’t impact your work, coworkers or customers, it can be delayed.

Assigning a grade system to tasks can help, A, B, C, D, E. A — if this isn’t done, there will be serious consequences. B — important, but not urgent. C — less important and not urgent. D — can be delegated. E — tasks that can be moved to another week or not done at all.

Hall suggests using a monthly calendar and to have details on the daily, weekly and monthly level.

Optimizing a peak productive time is figuring out time slots where:

• you are most productive;

• you have the fewest distractions; and

• you have the most energy.

Hall suggested finding three slots of 90 minutes to bang out your best work of the day.

In the morning, Hall said she is most productive, and that’s a better time for writing reports and compiling data. In the afternoon, after a lunch, she’s a little more sluggish, and that’s a better time for scheduling conference calls to let the conversation get your energy flowing again. Downtime in between those 90-minute periods is a good time to purge emails, file things and make sure you have responded to everything you need to respond to.

At the end of the day, she is thinking about the drive home and dinner, so that’s a good time to get her to-do list ready for the next day.

For more about eliminating distractions, read the main story, “‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.’”

Information management is all about being able to find things more quickly, so that you don’t waste too much time looking for data you need for a report.

For example, if you deal with expense reports electronically, name them something similar and consistent so that you can more easily search for it. You don’t want to look at a folder that is a jumbled mess of different files just to find a specific report. Name it something like weekly_expense_report_5.2.2015.

It can also be used to help with emails. For example, putting the deadline in the subject bar helps someone manage what to prioritize.

“In summary,” Hall said, “make your lists; set your priorities; assign grades; find your peak productivity times; find tools to minimize distractions; and retain all ideas that pertain to each task you have to do.”