By Jim Sobeck
There have probably been more books written about time management than any other business-related subject. Almost everyone feels like they can do a better job at managing their time. Time is the only commodity that cannot be replaced. Once you waste 15 minutes, it is wasted forever. I hate it when people tell me, “I couldn’t find the time.” I am quick to point out that time is not found, it is made.
Here are a few time management tips that I have discovered over the years:
Take care of the important before the urgent. Many of us take care of urgent tasks while important tasks go undone. I have made a spreadsheet with four quadrants, which I use as my time planner. On the vertical axis is “important” and “not important,” and on the horizontal axis is “urgent” and “not urgent.” I spend most of my time in the top left quadrant — tasks that are both urgent and important. My second priority is tasks which are important but not urgent; my third priority is tasks which are urgent but not important; and my last priority is tasks which are neither urgent nor important. When you focus on mainly the upper left quadrant, that’s where you get the best results.
Use something like the Task function in Microsoft Outlook. You don’t have to use Outlook, but use something like it so you can put all of your tasks into it and get reminders when you need to start working on each task. Once I have put a task into Outlook, I forget about it because I know Outlook will remind me to do it so that I don’t miss the due date.
Tackle first things first. A lot of people are tempted to first knock off a bunch of easy tasks on their daily “to do” list so that they can feel good about seeing a lot of items crossed off. Resist that temptation. You will be much more productive if you attack the toughest tasks first, provided they are both urgent and important.
One bite at a time. Tackle big projects one bite at a time. If you have a project that is going to take eight hours, it won’t be quite as daunting if you do it in four two-hour increments over one week. Plus you’ll end up with a better product, as each time you work on the project you will refine the work you have previously done. It’s just like in school; if you cram the night before a test your grade is never as good as if you studied for a week instead of the night before. Plus the task doesn’t seem that tough when you break it up this way.
Under-promise and over-deliver. When you agree to take on a task, don’t be aggressive in saying when you can have it done. If you think you can have it done in a week, say it will be done in two weeks, and then if you deliver it in 10 days it looks like you delivered on the project early. Obviously, you can only do this when the deadline isn’t time sensitive.
Don’t overcommit yourself. I am constantly asked to be on boards and committees. I enjoy doing this, but I only have so many hours in the day, so I turn down most of them. You have to learn how to say no or you will end up stressed out and doing a lot of things at the last minute — and that is never when you do your best work.
Jim Sobeck is CEO of New South Construction Supply, a building products distributor based in Greenville with nine locations in the Carolinas and Georgia. He is the author of “The Real Business 101: Lessons From the Trenches.”