Tips for better time management
Business consultant and author John J. Murphy chooses words thoughtfully. Ask him how harried professionals can make more time in their schedules, and he’s quick to clarify that time is not created but managed.
“There are 24 hours in a day. That’s true for all of us,” says Murphy, founder of Venture Management Consultants in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Yet the way people talk about time suggests that it’s scarce and allotted unequally. “I don’t have enough time,” they say.
Making better use of time starts by acknowledging its abundance, Murphy argues in his latest book, “Zentrepreneur” (Career Press, 2013), which applies Zen principles to business and entrepreneurship.
“There is plenty of time to do what matters most,” he writes.
None of us “lacks” time and perhaps we don’t even “waste” it so much as we allow bad habits and busywork to hold it hostage. Though Murphy, with his positivity, might not put it in these terms, imagining a hostage situation allows us to endow ourselves with the ability to free up time, negotiating with the hostage takers if necessary. By contrast, a “scarcity consciousness,” as Murphy describes it, breeds a sense of futility.
To free up time, we must first determine who or what is taking it up. Using a journal, a spreadsheet, or an online time tracker or task manager such as SlimTimer, document how each day is spent, hour-by-hour. Compare the data to a ranked list of priorities. We may find that we spend a disproportionate amount of time with a customer or client from whom we collect the least amount of money. Does this make good business sense? Is it fair to those who are more heavily invested?
Once we figure out who or what takes up most of our time, we should ask ourselves what it is they require from us. Are there more efficient ways to meet these needs? Are there misguided protocols in place that lead to a bottleneck or duplication? Can we delegate responsibility? Would it pay to invest some time putting systems and resources in place so people can “serve themselves,” as Murphy puts it?
Identify time wasters or low-priority activities to subtract from the schedule. Then, exercise the “power of now,” Murphy advises. Make the most of any given moment by asking questions and assessing the worth of an activity or task. Is it productive? Does it add value? Is it enriching?
Though Murphy laments that “we live in a world and in a paradigm where we have a tendency to add instead of subtract,” he acknowledges that time-management efforts are often brought about by a desire to do more and accomplish more. Perhaps we want to start exercising. Taking the Zen approach, we don’t “make time” for it — remember, time cannot be created — or work it into our schedules. Again with his empowering diction, Murphy bids us to “design it into each day until it becomes a habit.”
“When?” is the title of the chapter in Murphy’s book that deals with time management. “The question ‘when?’ is simply a reminder that time matters,” he writes. “It is a form of discipline. It sharpens our focus. It is specific, measurable and relevant. It helps establish accountability.”
For each task on a to-do list, specify the whens. When will work commence? When will it be finished?
In fact, each chapter title takes the form of a question: What if? Why? Why not? How? When? Now what?
We are at our best, Murphy maintains, when we question ourselves and the status quo. “The questions are relatively simple,” he writes. “The answers can be quite profound.”
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