Are you tired of scrambling frantically on the hamster wheel of life? Maybe it's time you learned how to manage your time so that you are in control of your own destiny. After all, life is about time - how you use it, whether it controls you, and whether you get what you want from it.
When you're starting a new project, no matter what your job is, you may feel like you're trapped in the classic Abbott and Costello routine: "Who's on first? What? Who's what?" Funny for them, but not so funny for you. You can free yourself by asking the most important first question: "Why?" The second question is then, "What's the desired outcome or result we want from this?"
The answers to these questions will apply to all of your tasks. They will help you answer the classic time management question, "Is this the best use of my time right now?" Sometimes, you may simply ask the question of yourself to anchor your thoughts. But most of the time, it is your right and responsibility to ask it of those to whom you report and those on your team. We've found that younger generations take more initiative with the "Why?" question than the rest of us. Perhaps it's because they've been brought up problem solving on the computer and are able to solicit answers on the Internet so quickly. "Why?" is an effective time management question because it prevents misunderstandings, backtracking, and confusion.
Think like a consultant
Getting on top of time and your projects means thinking like a consultant, especially at the beginning of a project. For consultants, the "Why?" and "Results" questions are a natural part of their selling process. They know they can't write a proposal or charge money for a project without a goal. They know they will not be awarded the business if they don't have goal clarity right from the beginning.
Once you've answered the "Why?" and "Results" questions, you can move to the more operational and practical ones, which, depending on your project, may include
- When is it due?
- With whom should I speak first?
- How many people are involved?
- What is the rollout process?
- What is our timeframe?
- What is the budget?
- Will a team be working on this?
- Where is this project priority-wise this quarter?
Maintain sanity with multiple projects
Rarely do you have only one initiative going on at a time. For example, if you are a trainer and you're managing a corporate university or internal training calendar, you're probably developing a program for next month's release, meeting with vendors and suppliers, and working with your team on next year's budget.
Be sure to prioritize tasks. Start with the task that is closest to the bottom line. For example, if you are in charge of RSVPs for a training function, and especially if there is a high cost per capita for the program, checking RSVPs may be the closest task to the bottom line (or financial health) of your goal. Another example may be securing the right facility for an event. If it's important to book the cheapest facility early, then that task is closest to your bottom line.
Once you're satisfied that the most financially crucial tasks are completed, or at least at a stopping point, consider next the administrative tasks you dislike but are necessary to the smooth rollout of the project. Do difficult jobs first, when you are at your best and least stressed. Do lesser or redundant work when you're tired.
Note: This article is excerpted from 10 Steps to Successful Time Management by Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O' Connor.
Cyndi Maxey, CSP, is president of Maxey Creative, a communication consulting firm, and the author of five books on communication and presentation skills. She is a graduate of Northwestern University in Communication Studies and an award-winning volunteer for both National Speakers Association-Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of ASTD. Check out Maxey's blog to get tips on speaking and connecting with people.
Kevin E. O'Connor, CSP, is a corporate consultant, professional speaker, trainer, and author specializing in professional skill building for success. O'Connor holds three master's degrees and teaches graduate and undergraduate students at Chicago's Loyola University and Columbia College. He is also a faculty member for the American College of Physician Executives and the American College of Healthcare Executives.
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