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Entrepreneurial Tip Corner: It’s High Time for Time Management

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In this high-tech age we live in, where we are often subjected to information overload, it is crucial to learn new techniques for managing our time, which I would argue is our most scarce resource. How many of us have said to ourselves or coworkers, “there’s just not enough time in the day”, or “I wish the week had eight days”? What’s the best way to deal with all of the voicemails, e-mails, snail-mail, phone calls and endless meetings we are summoned to? During my 30-year career, I have seen many changes in technology, almost all for the better. However, one downside is that customers, clients and colleagues are all looking for faster responses, turnaround times and almost instant gratification. There are many techniques for managing your time more effectively and I would like to share some that have worked for me.

  1. You cannot know everything about everything, so find a reliable news source and browse the headlines. If your morning commute permits, read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or some other relevant business daily publication. If you prefer to be updated electronically, link via your laptop or web-enabled cell phone (i.e. Blackberry) to your favorite online news link. You don’t have to delve into each story, just understand the basics. If you believe that a particular story will directly impact your business or the business of a major customer, client or competitor, then you should definitely read all the pertinent details.
  2. Find a block of “quiet time” during the day when you can browse your e-mails without interruptions. If you have a door to your office, close your door for this brief period. If you have an administrative assistant, have this individual intercept your phone calls (other than the absolute critical ones) during this period. If not, consider allowing these calls to go into voicemail, with the understanding that you will follow up without too much delay.
  3. Get involved in meetings where you will have a direct impact, influence or are likely to be directly impacted by decisions made in the meeting. If meetings might be interesting but do not meet these criteria, consider either opting out of such meetings or delegating a responsible member of your staff to attend in your absence. Make sure that this person prepares a synopsis of the meeting and e-mails it to you shortly after the meeting.
  4. Find some quiet time (perhaps early a.m. or late p.m.) during the day to deal with the snail-mail without interruptions and use the “one-touch” rule. That is, only touch each piece of mail a single time and decide whether it should be placed into the circular file, a regular file, a file for follow-up by someone on your staff or immediately dealt with by yourself. This “one-touch” rule will help prevent paperwork from piling up on your desk and facilitate the efficient delegation of follow-up tasks, which can be handled by your staff.
  5. Turn off the audible warning of incoming e-mails so you are not constantly distracted by them in the middle of working on important assignments. Even though individuals (both inside and outside of your organization) may mark e-mails as “urgent”, learn to gauge this “urgency” by quickly viewing the source of the e-mail. Often, colleagues and business associates mark their messages as “urgent” when they might not be so urgent to you. Those individuals who “cry wolf” will become apparent to you over time.
  6. Don’t get stuck in voicemail hell. That is, if you are continually missing someone who then misses you, leaving message after message can prove frustrating and very inefficient. Consider providing them with an alternative method of contact, such as your cell phone, or ask for their alternative method of contact. If the other person balks due to privacy issues, let them know how important reaching them directly is to you, so you both can escape voicemail hell.
  7. Finally, you will always have unsolicited phone calls and even visits by salespeople who are just trying to do their job. The way to handle these interruptions really depends on the nature and size of your business. If your business is large enough to have a “gatekeeper”, don’t underestimate the value of that person. A good gatekeeper can insulate you from these interruptions without making anybody, including clients or customers feel like they have been put off. If your business does not have a “gatekeeper”, try to handle these interruptions in a professional, albeit brief manner. You should never leave the party doing the interrupting with the impression that they are a nuisance. You never know when you might actually need their service.

The bottom line is: you should be in control of your schedule—not your interruptions— so that you can maintain focus on the work at hand and what is most important to you and performing your job well. If you permit interruptions during critical parts of your day, you will be less efficient and effective in your job and in the long run, not be as valued an asset to your organization.

--Michael Herz, CPA, MBA 

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