How can I make better use of my time? (Part I)

by Sam on April 20, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  As a result of reading this week’s advice, you’ll be six minutes closer to death.


A morbid thought? No…the truth! Someone once said, “Only three things in life cannot be recalled—time passed, the spent arrow, and the spoken word.” Since I’m not an expert on archery and given that communication is an upcoming topic, we’re solely focused this week on “time passed.”


The titles of certain well-publicized seminars notwithstanding, time is not something to be managed. It is rather something to be cherished. Indeed, as the only thing standing between you and your inevitable demise, it is of the utmost value.


We launch a five-part series today aimed at showing how to make the best use of the time you allocate to the several arenas of your life, whether work or play, family or friends. Here in Part I you’ll discover the five different ways we consume time as well as which one among the five is the most instrumental to your success.


Five-Minute Answer:  Do you spend your time in a way that maximizes your contribution to your organization? Consider this thought.


In any series of elements to be controlled, a selected small fraction, in terms of numbers of elements, always accounts for a large fraction in terms of effect.  ~Vilfredo Pareto


Pareto’s advice is particularly critical for managers. Known as the 80-20 rule, it suggests that you need to distinguish your significant few work tasks from the trivial many, and then focus your effort on the former while de-emphasizing, passing off, or even ignoring the latter. In other words, 20% of the tasks you currently undertake on any given day yield 80% of your impact.


In order to discern your 20%, you need to acknowledge the five uses for time. At every instant of your existence—including right now as you read these words—your activity is either (1) routine, (2) crisis, (3) wasted, (4) misguided, or (5) strategic.


Even before the five are fully defined for you throughout this series, you already understand that your productivity rests on having the greatest number of your pursuits fall into the strategic class. Yet, many managers testify that no more than 10% to 25% of their workday chores are of such value. The best way to expand that percentage is to reduce time spent in the other four classes. So in this and the next columns we’ll reveal how to trim those classes. In the final column, we’ll include tips for growing the strategic class, as well.


Let’s start with routine.


What is the Routine Class? These activities do not add direct value to your contribution, but may support that value. They tend to be tasks that can be performed without a great deal of thought, experience, or proficiency. They may include anything that those compensated at a lower level should be performing rather than you. Examples include…

L     Maintenance tasks such as filing

L     Record keeping

L     Calendar entries

L     Making travel arrangements

L     Actions that often repeat themselves

L     Responding to predictable requests

L     Habits—conscious or unconscious

L     Details you needn’t be handling


How Can I Shrink the Routine Class?  This category will never disappear completely, nor should it. That said; it may be all too present in your day. In order to reduce the routine, think of the four “ates”—delegate, negotiate, automate, and eliminate.


J   Delegate:  Does your administrative support relieve you of the right amount of routine burden? One way to find out is to ask this question: “Am I allowing you to support me in all the right ways, or am I doing things that I should turn over to you?” Do you have other direct reports—perhaps at management levels—that are being compensated more appropriately to take responsibility for things in which you now meddle? Sometimes you belong in the detail, but most leaders expend too much effort there. Will you allow your people to coach you on how to stay out of the weeds when you should be redesigning the garden?

J   Negotiate:  You may need to ask your boss to relocate “administrivia” more favorably for you (and hopefully for the organization). You might also bargain with peers to assist you personally or with loaned or reassigned clerical resources.

J   Automate:  Moore’s Law is out of control! Its original statement was that the power of computers would double every 18 months. But the current experience is that technological advancements have outstripped Moore’s prophecy. Are you taking full advantage of the latest gadgets to scream through mundane processes you previously performed at a snail’s pace?

J   Eliminate:  Someone once said that life is all about two things: making habits and breaking them, and that on a given day the most successful among us will break more habits than we make. What time consuming habits can you profitably rid from your day? What routine tasks can you stop doing with little or no harm to your effectiveness?


Enough Said:  “The habits of our whole species fall into three great classes¾useful labor, useless labor, and idleness. Of these only the first is meritorious; and to it all the products of labor rightfully belong; but the latter two, while they exist, are heavy pensioners upon the first, robbing it of a large portion of its rights.”  ~Abraham Lincoln


Next Week:  Part II in this series focuses on controlling the crises that so effectively erect roadblocks to an orderly and productive day.

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Am I strategic with my time? | Ask Sam Deep
05.18.10 at 9:17 pm

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Dan Dupee 04.24.10 at 10:53 am

Great investment of 6 minutes and very timely for me, Sam.

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