For all the innovative and clever methods developed to make businesses more productive, few things are a greater stumbling block set before that goal than the intractable problem of managing our time. Many of us find ourselves overloaded with tasks that we can’t even organize, much less complete.
So, time management consultants, coaches, and advisors have a great market dispensing advice about how to gain control over our work schedules. Most of these suggestions are quite good, and some only seem obvious because we hear them so often (and we hear them so often because so many of us blithely disregard them).
One of the better compilations I’ve seen is in a recent item posted on lifehack.org by Leo Babauta, who authors his own site called zenhabits. I recommend that you all visit the post. You will find that it provides excellent ideas that can be modified easily to fit your particular circumstances.
What I would like to add, here, is a focus on two aspects of Leo’s advice. One has to do with establishing an unswerving focus on your few top priorities. The most effective managers know that on both the organizational and individual scales there is great power in mobilizing your efforts around a single theme.
Meaningful influence, monumental accomplishments, enduring reputations have been built on a disciplined understanding of this. Peter Drucker often observed that most of an executive’s time is not his or her own – assemble as much of it as you can together into as big a block as you can, then do one thing until it is done.
Another issue of related but key importance has to do with an excellent phrase Leo uses: “default to no.” Our greatest difficulty in being effective is in our inability to reject impositions on our time that do not advance those items we have identified as priorities.
Being successful here requires disciplined tact – a challenging skill, but if it is not mastered (and used, relentlessly, all your professional life), then you’re a goner. You cannot allow yourself – or others – to think of that block of time you have so arduously and ingeniously carved out as available for others. It is yours. Guard it – and use it – well.
Mind you, giving your time to people is a central task of a manager, and you cannot possibly be effective without doing it; when you are, do it with respect and effectiveness: let nothing unrelated intrude. And then, offer your one or two other priorities the same respect, and discharge them with the same focused effectiveness.
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