You can’t make more time, but you can manage it better

I recently wrote about taking time to enjoy life, and I heard from several people that they wished they could find the time. If you’re like some of my professional friends these days, no matter the time of year daily “downtime” comes in small doses. We all know our most valuable resource is time.

Everything else can be replaced; time cannot. There’s no such thing as “saving time.” It can’t be stockpiled, hoarded, or put in the bank. All we can do is manage how well we spend it.

Thinking we can get more done if we work harder doesn’t work. Since I often have that “too much to do and not enough time” syndrome just like my friends, I decided to consult with two time management gurus to find out if they have any secrets to learning how to work smarter and have more time to enjoy. Here are some of their many suggestions:

  • Make a monthly, weekly, and daily plan for what absolutely, positively must be accomplished. Assign certain times of day to certain tasks. Early mornings, before phone calls begin is the best time to do tasks that should not be interrupted.
  • Do one thing at a time. This is a big one. When we have frequent starts and stops, our level of concentration is compromised and jobs take longer.
  • Keep the 80/20 rule in mind — 80% of results come from 20% of efforts. Spend the most time on the 20%.
  • Carry a notebook (or use your smartphone) to record things you need to remember. Include every commitment and every event that needs to be remembered.
  • Carry reading materials everywhere. This helps you stay productive when waiting or stuck in traffic.
  • Put a sign on the office door when quiet time is needed. I have a sign that says “Knock at your own risk” that I put out when I must have complete concentration.
  • Meet unexpected visitors outside your office and talk there. If you don’t have a minute, and someone asks for one, say “No.” You can say no effectively by asking them to come back at a later time that you decide.
  • Keep meetings as short as possible. Always have an agenda and set a time limit. Begin by stating the outcomes expected, invite only those whose attendance is needed, and keep discussions moving and on track.
  • Don’t lose perspective. Remember the old adage, “No one on his deathbed ever said I should have spent more time at the office.”
  • Take right-sized vacations. Some folks work so intensely that they need at least three or four days away from the office before they can even begin to unwind. (I know a few people like this.)
  • Don’t take work home unless absolutely necessary. Black out certain nights for things you want to do.
  • Write less; phone more.
  • Keep your desk clutter free.
  • Delegate others, selectively, to make, answer, or return telephone calls for you.

Maintaining balance in life and work is sometimes easier said than done. My time management gurus say that we can save time by spending it wisely. They tell me that that’s one of the most important lessons in learning how to work smarter.

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