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Time Management: Analysis is the Key to Mastery

If you're like most people, you want to get better at managing your time, whether at work or at home. The question is, do you know where to start?

Unless you have a clear idea of where you are right now, no road map is going to help you get to your destination. That's why, before you can think about managing your time well, you need to analyze how you're using your time today.

Let's backtrack a bit. Have you ever made statements like these?

"I'll come over in a minute."
"Just give me a couple of minutes to get dressed and finish breakfast."
"I'm on my way; I'll be there in two minutes."

If you think about it, all the above statements are probably false. There's no way most folks will get dressed and finish breakfast in two minutes. And arriving at your destination in a minute or two is usually quite unlikely.

Yet we make such statements regularly. That's because we often do not realize the amount of time we actually take to finish certain tasks.

To get a better grip on your time usage patterns, try and estimate the time you take for the following activities.

* Draft a letter to a customer
* Look through a file and sign it
* Have a cup of coffee
* Hold a meeting to brief your team
* Confer with your boss
* Prepare a presentation to senior management
* Lead a seminar
* Chat with colleagues
* Read emails
* Respond to emails
* Read through a one page letter

Feel free to add to the list above. Include activities you do regularly.

Have your time estimates ready? Here's what to do next.

Pick out the three fairly time consuming activities you do repeatedly. Get a stopwatch and time yourself when you do those activities. Take care not to try to speed up those tasks while you're timing them. Just work as usual.

Now compare the results with your estimates. Surprised? Most people are, when they discover that doing certain tasks takes much longer than they imagined.

The previous exercise had one goal -- to convince you that you need to take some effort and find out how you actually use your time.

Your next step is to maintain a running log of all your activities and the start and end times of each. Do this for a full week. Don't stop and analyze your performance in between.

You can get your secretary to help you do this. But it works just as well if you keep the records yourself.

It's not important to get your timing down to the microsecond! Just note down the approximate start and end-times of each activity, in serial order as you do them. The objective is to get a snapshot of what you do and how long it takes you to do them.

At the end of one full working week, sit down with your logs. Make a list of each of the tasks you do. Jot down the amounts of time you took to do them, for each day of the week.

Which are the repetitive activities? Which ones consume the most time? Are the tasks that consume the maximum time also the tasks that contribute the most to your performance? If not, is there any way you can eliminate those tasks -- perhaps by delegating them?

Are you taking on work that is not yours to being with? If so, perhaps you need to say no more often.

Take the time to think through what your log reveals about your work habits -- and about you. By doing so, you've taken a big step towards managing your time excellently. Repeat this process every few months and you'll get far better results that others whose notion of time management is limited to writing a to-do list.

Burt Carlson is a top corporate executive whose passion is helping people get more out of life by managing their time better. He has written on time management and work, motivation, getting organized for better results and many other topics.

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