Make time management count

January 1, 2000
Jean (Mowrey) Male

Pharmaceutical Representative

How to avoid a legacy of 'to-do' lists.

People say that time is money, but in fact, time is much more precious than money.

You can always find ways to make more money, but time is the great equalizer – both you and Donald Trump have the same amount to use each day. It's how you use it that counts. No matter how smart, talented or lucky you are, you cannot get more than 24 hours out of a day. And, unlike money, you cannot save or manage it. It falls away moment by moment and is gone forever.

The first and most important step in managing time is to prioritize what you want. Then, allocate your time to make it happen. Although the focus of this article isn't goal setting, setting a goal is really the first step. When your goals are clear, you can prioritize your time for productive payoffs.

Once you've established your goals, find what works for you. Most of us have firsthand experience with Murphy's law: "If it can go wrong, it will." So whether you're running a dinner program or your appointment schedule, plan and troubleshoot for contingencies and alternates.

Murphy also has a lesser-known second law: "Everything takes longer than you think it will." Plan on adding 20% to 50% more to the amount of time that you think you will need to accomplish a task or project so you can adjust for the things that will go wrong.

Effort does not equal results

You've probably never heard about a person whose legacy was a very full "to do" list. Legacies are made of accomplishments, not good intentions. To begin making the most of your time, you need to start with where you are and what you have to do. What you have to do can be categorized into three lists: the "must dos," the "need tos" and the "nice tos."

Must dos:


• Keep your division and territory goals in mind at all times and ask yourself if what you are doing will yield the best productivity payoff. Identify and eliminate time-wasting or low payoff tasks.


• Remember that e-mail is just like regular mail. Make sure you have a filing system that works for you. Scan your mail by name and subject.

Only open and scan messages from management or those that you are expecting. Move any requiring action to an "action" file or respond immediately.


• Anything that doesn't require any action for a week, if at all, should be moved to a "hold" or "pending" file. Make a point to schedule time to respond to, file or pitch every item in the pending file at least twice weekly.


• Use a succinct voice mail message instead of e-mail to relay basic information. It's faster.


• Use e-mail to relay detailed messages, deep thoughts or deadlines.


• Don't use e-mail to respond to hard copy communication that isn't urgent. Save time by responding without having to re-key each point. Instead, write your answer in the margin of each original thought or question. If there's no room, number the points in the body of the original memo and number your answers on the reverse side. Then pop it into the mail.


• Assert yourself to get needed information or request clear direction.


• Re-examine your driving. Get a good map and look for alternate routes from each call to the next. Ask customers to tip you off to local shortcuts. File directions for future use. If you work medical centers, be ruthless about maximizing the time it takes you to find parking, walking and signing in. Leaving for another appointment and returning is a huge waste of time. Good call cycle planning and advance scheduling can help.


• Re-examine your itinerary. Do you have too much down time, or are you scheduled too tightly for optimum effectiveness?


•Â Make a habit to wrap up your day by capturing call notes and planning for follow-up action items every day.

Need tos:


• Carry a working copy of highlights and expense reports and jot notes as you go.


• Create a "to read" file of newsletters and articles that you've torn from the journals that you receive each month. Keep it in your portfolio bag or car.


• Procrastinate only about procrastinating. Do the unsavory stuff first to get it out of the way.


• Call ahead to confirm appointments and items to bring along. Although this can backfire by allowing them to tell you that they are too busy, you'll learn which offices this works best in.


• Make time to plan and update your master plan. Allocate time to the high payoff priorities.


• Learn to say "no."

Nice tos:


• If you travel, keep your travel kit, toiletries, batteries, chargers and all standard travel items packed and ready to go at all times.


• Make appointments whenever possible.


• Resist unscheduled activities that don't meet your life balance goals.


• Eliminate and delegate. What can you stop doing, pay outside help to do or delegate to family members that will free up some time?


• Avoid living and working beyond your means.


• Whenever possible, tackle brain tasks when you are at your peak time of day.

Getting started

Select only one major and one minor time organization change at a time. You may want to review the tips listed here again and carefully select one or two. Once you have decided what to start with, dedicate yourself to practicing the new productivity habit for at least one month.

Write a contract to yourself on several index cards. Put the cards on your bathroom mirror, on your dashboard or visor, in your day planner or anywhere that you will benefit from the reminder. Create the contract with yourself by using positive words. Write, "Is what I am doing right now helping me to meet my goals?" instead of "I should not just follow my 'to do' list without reordering priorities." Be gentle with yourself, but don't give up. It may take up to three months to establish a new habit.

Finally, once you have successfully formed one good self-management habit, identify and begin to implement the next one. After a month, revisit the list and select a new goal.

There are so many things that you can control, but time is not one of them. Focus on what you can control – yourself. How you use the time that you are given helps you gain some control over your life. Decide what you want out of life, and then spend your time staying focused on making it happen. PR

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