Are you wasting your time? Here's help

Time is a precious and perishable resource.

It is, perhaps, the most perishable resource on the planet. Each second that passes is the destruction of an asset – the asset of time. We can’t save it to use later, we can’t recycle it, and we can’t reclaim it once it has passed.

Time is also one of the fairest resources. We all get the same amount to use each day. Twenty-four hours – that’s it. How we use that time determines its value.

The more efficient you are with the use of your time, the more time you’ll have available to help those who look to your organization for assistance. By maximizing your time, it gives you a headstart to accomplishing all that you want to professionally and personally.

Here are a few tips to help you evaluate how well you use your time and some suggestions to help you use it more wisely.

Wasting timeTry a time log

Time slips away in bits and pieces. To better understand where our time goes, it is helpful to keep a time log.

For a specific time period – a day, week or month – record your time as you go through the day in reasonably small increments, such as 15 minutes.

Don’t wait until the end of the day or it will result in too many guesses and estimates. Record your activities on your calendar, or set up a simple spreadsheet that lists time down the left side and categories of activities across the top.

Your categories should be specific to the tasks you perform most often.

If you’re honest in your reporting, you’ll begin to see where your time is being misused. Your columns may include some items you get caught up in that you shouldn’t.

For example, maybe reviewing grants isn’t your responsibility, but you get pulled into that area on a frequent basis. Knowing how much of your time is spent in that activity can help you negotiate with your boss and co-workers to better align duties and minimize disruptions.

Handle items less often

Managers and directors have many responsibilities, and sometimes it is necessary to move quickly from one thing to another. But we tend to allow ourselves to get distracted and use that as an excuse.

Establishing blocks of time to work on specific issues is a good way to maximize the use of that time. The book from many decades ago, Taming the Paper Tiger, admonished us to handle those pieces of paper only once – read it and dispose of it, as opposed to stacking it for attention later.

The same holds true in today’s electronic market. When we can “touch” the item fewer times, we minimize wasted time and maximize our efficiency.

Avoid electronic distractions

Today’s gadgets have put us in an “immediate response” mode. Email, instant messaging, BlackBerries, iPhones, while useful tools, can be extremely distracting and can cause us to be inefficient.

We allow ourselves to be interrupted throughout the day instead of using these devices to capture information for our use when we’re ready. Experts tell us that we’ve become so accustomed to the constant flow of information that we have a visceral reaction –we crave the interruptions, so we distract ourselves with these gadgets.

A more efficient approach would be to turn off the alert noises at times throughout the day to concentrate on the task or person at hand. We accomplish more in less time if we forgo the interruptions.

Experts also suggest that we not check our emails first thing in the morning because they tend to destroy our plan for the day and start us on the path of inefficiency. A better plan is to spend the first hour doing what we had planned to do and then take a break to check messages and respond to them.

Learn your energy cycles

Most people know whether they are morning people, afternoon people or night people. Each of us has an energy cycle that works for us, and we should pay attention to it.

When possible, tackle your most arduous projects during your high energy cycle. You’ll be able to stay more focused and attentive, and you’ll accomplish more in the time allotted.

Your time is yours to use as you see fit. Use it well, and you’ll have time for those activities you enjoy but put off.

Life is short – spend it well.

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