3 steps to get a handle on your workload and available resources

Everyone gets 168 hours a week. At the end of the week, we all switch over to another week’s inventory of 168 hours.

If you sleep seven hours a day, that number is reduced to 119 usable hours, which you are expected to spread across life and work, managing your time accordingly in both.
Time management is a misnomer. You can’t manage time; you can only manage your activities within a period of time. Therefore, time management can be considered a range of skills, tools and techniques used to manage activities.

These activities include planning, allocating, setting goals, delegation, analysis of time spent, monitoring, organizing, scheduling and prioritizing.

As a manager or supervisor, the burden is on you to effectively manage a wide variety of tasks and personnel. However, your first and most important assignment is to become an effective manager of your own activities. Considering all the responsibilities of managers and supervisors, one fact is certain: if you can’t manage your time effectively, you will have a hard time managing anything else. Yet, most managers and supervisors waste precious minutes, hours and even days, reacting to what is going on around them rather than developing skills that will keep them moving forward and help accomplish their most important goals.

Time management skills help you handle tasks effectively. Let’s examine three basic steps to manage your inventory of tasks.

Establish S.M.A.R.T. Goals

A goal is a specific result you are working toward achieving. We constantly live in the present—focused on the here and now. Unless we find a way to visualize the future, we are easily distracted and sidetracked from achieving our goals. Clear, specific goals help us keep that picture of the future in our minds, so we know why we are making the right choices today.

What qualifies as a S.M.A.R.T. goal?

A S.M.A.R.T. goal requires and meets the following criteria.

  • Specific—Exact, not general
  • Measurable—Able to quantify
  • Achievable—Is it doable?
  • Realistic/relevant—Is there a need? Importance?
  • Time-bound—Must have a set time limit

For example, instead of saying “Call Joe this week,” try a clearly defined task such as “Contact Joe regarding absenteeism policy by Tuesday at 1:00.” This list item now defines the who, what, why and when. Your next step is to examine your overall to-do list and break down tasks by day by asking, “When should I do this?’ This daily to-do list should be organized it by degree of importance. When confronted with an enormous amount of opportunities and things to do, the most successful people set reasonable objectives for what they want to accomplish in a given week. With only 119 hours of workable time, we have to decide what is critical and what is not. All things are not of equal importance.

Ask yourself, “What is absolutely essential to accomplish this week?” Then, establish those items as top priorities. These required items will become your A items. Next, ask, “If I complete the A items, what are my less important, but still value-added items?” These essential items will become your B items. The A and B items become needs that are important and essential to get complete. If there are other tasks you would like to accomplish, but that may not require the same level of urgency as the A and B items, then these will become C items.

This categorization allows you to prioritize all things you would ideally like to get done, with the most urgent ranked higher than theother activities.

Remove Barriers

What challenges will affect attainment of your goals? Examine your level of organization and order, or lack thereof. If you are wasting precious minutes searching for missing pieces, it could be valuable to organize your work area to make search and retrieval faster. Looking for a file in your disorganized computer directory can consume considerable time.

It’s easy to see when your desk is too messy, but sometimes, you have to step back and ask yourself if you are taking an organized approach to completing every task.

Apply the 4D rule to handle daily items not on your list.

  • Do it—Go ahead and get it done.
  • Dump it—Choose not to do it because it is a low-value task.
  • Delegate it—Let someone else do it.
  • Defer it—If it’s not as pressing as other work, put it off until later.

Some additional pointers to remove the barriers to your progress can include marking items off your list as you perform them, giving yourself a sense of progress. Also, consider syncing your Microsoft Outlook to-do tasks with your smartphone to keep them in front of you when you aren’t at your computer. Modify your to-do list at the end of each day to allow flexibility in your schedule. Nothing was etched in granite—try to accommodate but keep the end state and results in mind.
Determine when you are the most energetic (morning, afternoon, late afternoon) and schedule your most demanding or creative tasks for that period. At the end of the week, evaluate your performance by measuring the percentage of accomplished tasks versus those planned—it shows if you are hitting or missing the mark. Strive for 80 percent in the beginning and bump that up as you get your processes working.

Learn to Say No

It is best to do a few things extremely well instead of some things fairly and
some poorly.

As we become inundated with additional tasks, the quality or timeliness of work begins to drop as we try to balance too much. We sometimes over-obligate ourselves in an effort to please others. This can lead to a state of frustration and stress when we are unable to perform well. Saying no doesn’t have to be a career decision. It can sound like, “Dave, I would love to help, but I am swamped with project A, project B and project C. So, which project can I put on hold to get to this done?” If you take it on without expressing concern or asking for assistance, you are agreeing to do it well.

Remember: It is okay to say no when you are faced with performing a job poorly due to the lack of time. Decide when you are in a “yes” position or a “no” position and respond accordingly. Use words like “I want to do that, but we will have to shift my other priorities so that I can do a good job.”

William Penn said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” To gain value from these techniques, you must apply and execute them consistently for at least three weeks before they become habit. With proper execution, these tips can help you gain back the time you might currently lose to poor activity management.

This article is the first of a two-part series in which Preston Ingalls will share his advice on the habits of effective leaders.