Control Your Time: Become a more efficient manager

As we all know, time waits for no one. No matter how well we use our time, there just doesn't seem to ever be enough of it. Rarely do I experience the day when at the end of it I can say to myself that I got everything done that I had planned. Often I find myself longing for the days when I was younger, much younger unfortunately, when at the completion of every school day, I would find myself going to bed with a clear mind. The tasks associated with each day seemed to have a finite beginning and end and everything that needed to be accomplished got accomplished. Time did not seem to be an issue.

Unfortunately those days of satisfaction seem to have passed long ago. To make matters worse, as the years pass, time seems to be moving faster. Perhaps that perception is inaccurate, but, as we all know, perceptions can be more relevant than reality. Currently I find myself wishing for more hours in the day, more days in the week, and more weeks in the year to accomplish not only personal tasks but also the all-important tasks associated with work. It's easy to fall into the trap of working more hours in an attempt to get everything done. But how long can you keep that up and is it good for your long-term health or fair to those in your personal life?

Let's assume that you find yourself in a similar situation. There just isn't enough time to get everything accomplished. The following suggestions should help you make better use of this precious resource. The suggestions are not all-encompassing. However, they represent what has worked for me when I take the time to practice them.

Recognize that time is a limited resource

The hours in the workday are not unlimited, which is a somewhat obvious statement. As it is with any resource, when you acknowledge its limits or scarcity, you tend to use the resource more wisely. If you were a farmer and lived in an arid or desert region, you would be more likely to develop irrigation techniques that would use water more efficiently than if you lived in a location with abundant amounts of water. The same analogy is true with time. Given the same amount of work, the person with the least time will develop systems that use the available time more efficiently than the person that has more time. Acknowledging that time is limited is an essential first step toward using it more efficiently.

Recognize the distinction between different types of tasks

I like to view tasks as falling into two major categories, those that are due in the current day and those that are not. Our days are filled both with tasks that occur more on a day-to-day basis and other tasks that are more project oriented and may occur less frequently over a longer period of time. Your day-to-day tasks tend to keep the maintenance organization running as it is currently intended to do. Examples might include assigning maintenance technicians to specific aircraft for inspections, approving purchase orders, fielding calls from flight schedulers to discuss aircraft availability, and discussing issues with vendors. Unfortunately due to their nature day-to-day tasks need to be addressed as they arise and can disrupt your planned schedule for the day or week.

Project tasks are normally associated with an effort to improve a process or system in your organization, and because they may occur over a longer period of time, you should have more flexibility as to when you accomplish the specific tasks. For example, if you are implementing a new inventory system, you know the hoped-for date of completion. With the proper planning, you can begin to control the pressure associated with accomplishing the specific tasks.

The point of recognizing the different types of tasks is that the nature of day-to-day tasks can make you less efficient with your time and therefore can lead to more frustration. Project tasks, on the other hand, offer the opportunity for more efficient use of time if planned properly.

Delegate as much as is practical

Actually there are two points about delegating. First, as a manager one of your responsibilities is to work through others. In essence, you direct others to accomplish the work. The second, but more subtle point, is what you accomplish when you delegate. You are leveraging your knowledge by working through others. And by leveraging, you are making better use of that scarce resource, your time.

When you delegate, you should be able to accomplish more of the day-to-day tasks that need your attention, while your organization accomplishes more of the day-to-day tasks that don't require your attention. Additionally, if your typical day is spent less on day-to-day tasks, then your attention and effort can turn to the tasks associated with projects. Therefore, your time is spent on the tasks that should lead to a more efficient organization, which should mean the consumption of fewer of the resources for your organization.

Create a "To Do" list before the day begins

I find that creating a "To Do" list is very helpful prior to days that are busier than the average day. If I can sense that many deadlines are coming due on the same day, then sitting down prior to the beginning of the day allows me to organize and prioritize in an undisturbed environment. In other words, it's quiet and I'm not getting interrupted, which gives me time to plan with a clear mind. By creating the "To Do" list, I remain focused on the important tasks that need to be accomplished and become less likely to be distracted by the less important interruptions.

When to create a "To Do" list will vary from manager to manager. Some managers will do a similar list every day regardless of the workload. Some may only do it when they have reached the point of crisis. The important point to remember if you choose to use a "To Do" list is do what works best for you.

Find a time in the day when you will be undisturbed

On a daily basis, I seek out a time in the day, whether it's the morning or the evening, when no one else is around. This allows me to again have a quiet time to reflect on the upcoming or just completed events of the day. This time of reflection gives me time to plan, which in turn allows me to reach more objective rather than emotional decisions. The length of this time can vary depending upon the complexity of an issue or the day but typically averages about one-half hour. Also, this undisturbed time does not have to occur at the workplace. It can occur in the car or, more frequently, at home.

Find a time in the week when you will be undisturbed

The reason for seeking out this time is normally associated with the fact that I have not met or am in danger of not meeting certain deadlines or objectives. Because the normal workday schedule is not cooperating, I am forced to seek additional but alternative times for getting the work accomplished. Unfortunately for me, the best time to find the undisturbed catch-up time is on weekends. However, each individual will differ and this time could occur in the mornings or evenings during the week. Undisturbed time is important because your productivity level will increase significantly, and if you have to work extra, then you want to use your time efficiently. I have typically observed that working on something undisturbed takes about half the time as when trying to accomplish the same work during a normal workday.

Track your time

Your time is limited. If you want to make the best use of your time or identify ways to use your time more efficiently, then you need to know how you currently spend your time. As a manager you have learned that it is difficult to manage that which you don't measure. Tracking your time is a system of measurement. If you know how and where you are spending your time then you can take steps to improve its use.

A few points you should remember when you implement your time tracking system.

  • You must use a computer to capture the data. Without the use of a computer and related software such as a database or spreadsheet, analysis of the data will not be practical.

  • Do not track your time in small increments. Capturing time in 15- or 30-minute increments is small enough. Do not track in six-minute intervals, or your system begins to use more time than it is worth.

  • Start with only a few categories of interest. Too many categories will overwhelm you just as tracking your time in too much detail will. You can always expand your categories after your initial analysis.

Limit your interruptions during the day

Certainly this is easier said than done but how many times have you caught yourself saying, if I could get an hour of uninterrupted time I could finish this job. Interruptions cause an inefficient use of your time. They cause you to shift your attention from one subject to another both at the beginning and end of the interruption. Each interruption takes time, causing you to drift further from your plan for the day.

Three common types of interruptions, often overlooked as such, can lay waste to the best-laid plans: phone calls, e-mails, and drop-in visits by fellow workers. Interruptions of this type can be sneaky because they come disguised as work related. However, there are occasions in the day when a potential interruption of this type does not warrant the attention. Listed below are a couple of thoughts about these types of interruptions.

  • Phone calls - Without a doubt, there are phone calls that you must respond to when received, but there are many others that you can delay responding to. There is nothing wrong with voice mail if you return the calls that you receive. If you are in an important meeting and the phone rings, there is nothing wrong with not answering the phone. The person with which you are meeting has taken more time to speak with you and therefore should receive the priority.

  • E-mails - This form of communication is very similar to phone calls but can create more disruptions than the phone if it starts to control your day. If I have a busy day with tight deadlines, I will access my e-mails only periodically during the day. I do this rather than having my e-mail active throughout the day. If you are like me, if I hear or see the notification that I have received an email, I cannot resist the urge to look. Thus I have an interruption. Control your e-mail rather than letting it control you.

  • Drop-in visits - This type of interruption is more invasive than the phone call or e-mail. For some types of individuals this type of interruption is more difficult to control because it involves a face-to-face exchange. Unfortunately, even if you are successful in shortening the interruption, the damage has been done. The interrupter has caused you to lose your focus and it will take time to refocus. Closing your door (if you have one), announcing your intention to work uninterrupted, using a physical sign that indicates your desire not to be interrupted, and addressing needs with others before you sequester yourself are all methods that you might employ to prevent an interruption.

There are many other potential time wasters that confront you every day such as meetings, an endless number of reports, and procrastination. Regardless of the type, recognize the sources of conflict that can consume one of your most precious and limited resources, time. Once you have recognized the potential time wasters, take the steps to control them so that you can become a more efficient manager for your organization and give yourself more time devoted to interests outside of the organization. AMT