By Diane M. Calabrese / Published July 2018
It marches, fleets, flies, and runs out. One way or another, time passes.
In unique (usually dire) situations, time may seem to crawl. For the most part, though, we perceive time as moving quickly and wish we could do more in the time allotted to us.
Never in short supply, strategies for making the most of the hours in the day have now reached the level of apps that make it easier to list, track, and presumably act. It gets complicated because no one wants to spend so much time planning and monitoring that the time for doing is slashed.
“Anyone who leads a small business knows that we are routinely faced with more to do in a day than is often possible,” says Chris Apple, owner of Arkansas Pro Wash in Little Rock, AR. “We all have the same number of hours in a day, but some consistently accomplish more.”
Apple explains that when time management is the topic, he thinks immediately about priorities. “It’s obvious that we cannot do everything. That leaves us to figure out what is truly important and what just seems important.”
A good way to make the most of time is to have priorities straight, explains Apple. He finds it useful to separate priorities into two categories.
“The majority of our time should be spent on things that improve our organization or move it forward—‘A’ priorities,” says Apple. “Yes, there will always be issues that pop up—‘B’ priorities.”
And the B, or second tier, priorities must be handled. Deal with them in a way that does not distract from the primary activities, says Apple. “We have to delegate them or schedule a time to knock them out, always keeping in mind what is really important.”
Having an overarching organizational goal or goals in place makes it easier to establish priorities, says Apple. “To really have our priorities straight, we have to know what our goal is. What are we working toward? Where do we want to be tomorrow, next week, and next year?”
Mental, paper, or electronic lists help. “I like to ask myself questions daily,” says Apple. “What must be done today? Where can we get ahead today? What would I like to do today? Once we’ve made that list, we can make it happen. At the end of the day, it’s great to look back and ask ourselves how we did.”
Be realistic when setting the day’s schedule. “It’s also good to simply ask, what can I finish today?” says Apple. “If we’ll do that consistently, we’ll improve our situation and end up much further along.”
Time and tide, which are so often linked poetically, derive from the same Old English root word. For thousands of years at least, the incoming tide was related to good and life, and the outgoing tide was related to evil and death. Ebb tide may be great for beachcombers, but it does not signal happiness or prosperity in the superstitious realm.
The tempo of ebb and flow reminds us that even the best plans for using the hours of the day may require adjustment. Keeping up a highly charged pace can exhaust owners and employees. Balance is part of time management.
Doing the most but not doing more than is literally physically and mentally sustainable is the equilibrium point. How-to books, consultants, and apps aim to help identify that point.
First published 30 years ago, Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change remains a bestseller. Most of our readers are acquainted with the habits, which include prioritizing and renewal of self (balance).
Being proactive ranks as the first habit in Covey’s list of seven. It’s worth recalling because aside from sincere efforts to plan, chart, or make grids as aids, those who do the most are the opposite of passive. They take responsibility. They are the doers.
Filling time productively is what doers do. They might not think about how they actually manage time, yet they do manage it instinctively.
For those who would like assistance with time management, there is plenty of help. “Time Management for a Small Business” in the SBA [Small Business Administration] Financial Education Curriculum is an excellent and free resource. (See https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/files/PARTICIPANT_GUIDE_TIME_MANAGEMENT.pdf.)
Pareto analysis, ABC method, Eisenhower method, and POSEC method are all considered in the
SBA guide. Capsule descriptions of each follow.
The 80:20 rule is at the core of Pareto. According to the Pareto principle, 20 percent of effort yields 80 percent of the result. A contractor may garner 80 percent of income from 20 percent of customers because many customers (say 80 percent) have only very small jobs to be done and account for only 20 percent of income. Takeaway: When setting priorities, try to secure more large customers.
The ABC method ranks each task with a letter that can be further subdivided with numbers. The A priority might be to meet with people. A-1, A-2, and A-3 would be the rank order (priority) for meeting with specific people. Takeaway: The method can be combined with Pareto.
Eisenhower method gets its name from our 34th president, who distinguished between urgent and important. Based on President Eisenhower’s dichotomy, a four-cell grid can be made with the cells being filled by the not urgent and important, the urgent and important, the not urgent and not important, and the urgent and not important. (We have never fully understood why the not-urgent-and-not-important tasks are listed, but differences of opinion about priorities related to workplace politics may be the explanation.) Takeaway: It may be useful as a one-time way to identify things (would-be tasks) to jettison.
POSEC [Prioritize by organizing, streamlining, economizing, and contributing] puts the emphasis on identifying tasks that can be done more efficiently. Takeaway: If it works, there will be extra time, allowing for contributions of time outside the workplace (community, church).
Time management in a nugget? Determine what’s most important. Do it first, always.