Nothing is more valuable than our time. Once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. Each day, someone or some task claims another piece of it. At the end of a very long day, you are often left wondering where the time all went. When you look closely at a typical (if there is such a thing) day, there are precious few hours to complete all your tasks. How do you manage the available time to get the best results?
It takes organization and focus. Be mindful of what you are doing – and why. Create a system that works for you. Know where you are and what you will do next. For example, as I head into my office to begin my day, I always know what my first task will be. When I was working in a school library, I did a mental review of my schedule while on the drive to work. On my way home, I would shift gears, plan my route if I needed to do an errand or recall what I had to do to get dinner started.
What do you need to do to get a handle on time management? In How to Use Your Time Effectively and Efficiently, Paul B. Thornton recommends for effective time management to “Separate the ‘vital few’ from the ‘trivial many.’ Don’t waste your time solving the wrong problems or pursuing the wrong goals.”
Effectiveness is about using your time for the right things. He lists these five effective techniques:
- Writing down priorities and making them visible – Whenever possible, tie these to your Mission and/or Vision statements. It will keep you focused on what really needs to get done.
- Periodically reviewing and revising your priorities – Change happens. Are your priorities adjusting and changing with them? And when was the last time you reviewed your Mission/Vision statements? Be sure they are current. I recently read one from a library whose mission dates from 1987.
- Learning to say “No.” -Two letters, but a very important word. If the request doesn’t fit your priorities, consider if it’s possible to say no. If it’s not, look for alternatives. (I did a blog post on this a few weeks ago).
- Checking for alignment – Again, review your list to see if there are tasks that don’t fit with your priorities. Thornton advises you to see where you can make changes. Also, look for ways to delegate to others.
- Schedule uninterrupted time – Officially scheduling this time is incredibly challenging during the school day. If you have a period of time where no one is with you in the library, I recommend shutting off the lights, so people think the doors were closed. Commuting time can also be used this way.
Efficiency means you what you can to not waste time. Thornton’s top five efficiency techniques (he lists ten) are:
- Create a “to-do” list – Connect this with your effective techniques (above) by reviewing your priorities when making this list. It’s also important to choose a listing method that works best for you. Do you number the highest ones or star them? Do you prefer a daily or weekly list?
- Periodically identify what you can stop doing – Just because something was a priority, doesn’t mean it still is or is as high a priority as it was. Thornton recommends looking for ways to eliminate what doesn’t provide value.
- Get organized – More than the “to-do” list, this is your calendar allowing you to keep track of meetings and deadlines. What works best for you – digital or paper? How do you ensure you don’t overlook what you have recorded? Do you have a reminder system in place?
- Remove the clutter – Looking for things wastes time. If you don’t need it, get rid of it.
- Deal with paper and electronic documents only once – A follow-up to the previous one. Thornton reminds you there are only three things to do with them: file it, toss (or delete), or take action. It can be hard to make an immediate decision, but doing this whenever you can will make you more efficient.
And don’t forget about your time outside of work. Be sure you are giving you and your family the time they deserve. You also need personal time to refresh and rejuvenate. It may not be every day, but if you aren’t doing something at least weekly, you are wearing yourself out. Time is your most valuable commodity. Don’t waste opportunities for joy.