MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
BY EDWARD R. DAYTON
The following collection of time tips is like a box of tools. You won’t need some of these ideas; others will be very important to you. That is why the booklet has been arranged alphabetically; you can plunge in any place you want and select those topics that seem useful, or you can start at the beginning and read through.
As you reexamine your use of time, it is helpful to remember a word from Scripture: “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men (and women) who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the evils of these days” (Ephesians 5:15-16, Phillips).
What do I do next? How do I set my priorities straight? Sometimes it’s trying to sort out our goals. Sometimes it’s trying just to decide which is most important.
When faced with a long list of things to do, most people have difficulty deciding which ones come first, second, third, and fourth. Many times the trouble is trying to decide which is number one. By the time we get to number two, we’re exhausted. One way around this problem is the ABC approach to determining priorities.
When you have a long list of things to do or goals to accomplish, don’t try to decide which is best or which is second best. Instead, categorize them. Category “A” may be very important, “B” may be less important, and “C” may be least important. Or again “A” may be must do (or must be!), “B” may be should do (or should be), and “C” may be can do (or can be).
First, go through your list and note all of the A items, the ones that seem very important to you. Then, go through the list and note all the least important items, the Cs. What you have left are Bs!
A major advantage of this approach is that you are not forced to end up with a one, two, three ranking. Many times a number of items will be of equal value. Why insist that one be top dog?
ANALYZING YOUR TIME
The first step to effective time management is to analyze the way you are presently spending your time. Time is life! Analyzing how you spend your time is analyzing how you spend your life–all of it! There are two ways of doing this. The first is to compare your time investments with the goals you have set for yourself, and then discover things to be added or subtracted. The second is to analyze your time by categories or types of things you are doing. Where are you using your time? Could you be more effective?
Analyzing your time against your goals. First, write down each one of your personal goals. Make sure it really is a goal. (See GOALS) Give each one of your goals an identifying number for easy reference.
Second, make a list of all tasks which require your time and all the people (including yourself) with whom you are presently spending time. This will give you some idea of your present commitments to yourself and to others. Write down next to each one of these commitments the number of the goal (if any!) involved.
Third, for one week, using 30-minute increments, keep track of everything you do. Again, note against each block of time the goal for which this time was spent.
Last, take a look at your monthly calendar and your weekly or daily calendar (or whatever system you use to plan your life), and note for each one of your appointments which one of your goals was met by this appointment.
This can be an alarming and disturbing exercise. You’ll probably discover there are large blocks of time which are not related to your goals as you now perceive them. Consider if they are related to any goals, and if so, which ones. Don’t be discouraged too quickly. If 50 percent of your time (not counting your sleep time) was spent on your goals, you’re probably doing marvelously well.
Categorizing Into Groups. If it’s not your style to compare your weekly time analysis and your calendars and your commitments against your goals, another way to get at it is to break down how you’re spending your time into categories, either on an hourly or percentage basis.
These categories might indicate people relationships: time spent with friends, family, work associates, yourself.
They might indicate types of assignments: professional, home, volunteer.
They might indicate types of work: physical, mental, emotional.
Regardless of which way you went at it, ask yourself why you did the things you did–why did you do some things you didn’t want to do? In some cases you will discover that someone asked you to do it. In other cases you may have been interrupted and trapped into doing it. Maybe there was an unexpected change in plans, or perhaps you’ve forgotten the original reason.
Analyze which of these activities were just time wasters. What can you do about them? Which could you have delegated? Don’t put a guilt trip on yourself. We all have a different style, a different way of going about things. What you’re trying to do here is to come to some understanding of what you are doing as opposed to what you believe you would like to do in life.
Once you have a picture of where you are, make plans to clean up some of the time wasters and concentrate on the most important things. (See GOALS)
Remember, this is a continuous process. You keep changing. Times keep changing. New situations arise. You have to keep examining your goals and your values. How you’re spending your time is a reflection of their relative priority for you. Are you satisfied with what you see?
Avoiding decision making is one of the biggest time wasters around. In a good percentage of the cases, any decision is better than none. To go to the left or to the right or to conscientiously stand still is better than standing at the intersection in indecision. A 50 percent batting average in making good decisions is an excellent record. There are many people who may not be excellent problem solvers, but they’re good decision makers. They have the courage to analyze the facts quickly, make a decision, and then learn from and live with the results. Many times such decision makers will out-perform the problem solvers just because the decision makers keep things moving.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having told the Continental Congress, “If we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately.” He recognized that the easiest way to overcome opposition is one by one.
There’s a basic principle at work here that can be used over and over. Almost any problem may seem too big for us to handle, but when we break it down into its parts, it doesn’t appear so formidable.
Projects and problems can be divided and conquered in a number of ways:
–In time we can break them down to each step needed to reach the goal, steps that are small enough to take. Take that first step.
–Functionally we can break them down by the different types of tasks to be done. Perhaps we can do one of those.
–Strategically we can break them down until we identify the person or one action that is the key to further unlocking the problem.
–In terms of goals we can break them down into subgoals and decide which are obtainable now. (See GOALS)
–Geographically we may divide them so we can cover each part systematically.
Next time you are stopped in your tracks by a mountain of a problem, try dividing it and conquering it, molehill by molehill. It works.
DREAMS AND VISIONS
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).
Dreams and visions are the stuff that the future is made of. We need time to dream. We need that looking forward to the future.
Don’t get so wrapped up in the present that there is no time for dreaming . . . what ought to be, what should be, what can be.
People have varying amounts of energy at varying times. Most women recognize they have periods of the blahs, but few men realize they have similar cycles which they go through on a regular basis.
Some people have more energy output in the morning; others have higher energy output in the afternoon. Some people are ”day people.” Some are ”night people.”
Recognize when your ups and your downs occur, when you have high amounts of energy available, and when you have low amounts. Use the high energy times for creative tasks and important problem solving for which energy requirements are high. Use the times when your energy is low for simpler tasks. Design your day and week to take these energy patterns into account.
Work at building up your energy. Figure out how and when you operate best and work at exploiting your energy potentials.
If “a miss is as good as a mile,” then most of life is ”failure.” Seldom do we achieve 100 percent of what we set out to do.
The best hitter in American baseball, Ted Williams, hit over .400 twice in his career. To put it another way, he “failed” six times out of 10! In many ways, it is amazing that we succeed in as many things as we do. Most of us are familiar with Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it probably will. (O’Toole’s comment on Murphy’s Law is equally discouraging: “Murphy was an optimist.”)
God’s standard of “Be perfect as I am perfect” should not be used as a measurement of success or failure but rather one of progress. Are we moving toward the goal of excellence?
As we try to make more effective use of our time, we should not be discouraged by failure to reach our goals. Rather, we should analyze the reasons for our failure, set new goals, and move ahead. Personal goal setting is a process. We change, our needs change, others change.
Failure has a great deal to teach us, as long as we don’t fall into the “we tried it once and it didn’t work” syndrome. Practically every heading in this booklet names a reason for failure; failure to analyze your time, or communicate, for example, can cause a project or dream to fall flat. By analyzing why we experienced failure we can learn valuable lessons that can be applied to similar ventures in the future.
Failure is a valuable experience. Use it.
If managing your time is managing your life, and if our calendars reflect who and what we truly value, most of us would have to admit we’re not doing a very good job with our families. This is especially true, of course, of the family ”breadwinner,” be that husband, wife or both.
Few of us realize how complex are the inter-relationships which exist within a family. The child born into a family in which there are already two other children faces a vastly different situation than that encountered by the first child. The total environment-physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual-within which each member of the family moves has a great deal to do with how effective each is as a person.
This makes it doubly important to keep our priorities straight. In a world which is continually changing and continually placing new demands upon us, it is important that we schedule and plan time for our spouses, our children, and our parents. Residual time is hardly the way to express the value to you of this most important and vital portion of the body and its divinely ordained relationship.
For those who may object that such a calculated setting aside of time for the family seems mechanistic and cold, we can only respond that if a loving and free-flowing situation already exists, the addition of planned family time can do nothing more than enhance it. If, on the other hand, the family is not finding time for each member to build himself or herself into the lives of the others, it had better start planning that time, and the sooner the better!
Family relationships are second to none in priority–except God!
Everyone has goals, though not everyone is able to state what they are. In one sense, to have no goal is a goal in itself.
Managing your time has to begin with goals. How you use time must always be allotted and appraised in relation to goals, and if managing your time is managing your life, then the place to begin is with your life goals.
The first step to good time management is to think through and write down what you want to be or do in your lifetime. Pretend that you died fifteen years from now, and write your own obituary. What would you like it to say? For what would you like to have been remembered at the end of the next 15 years? When your biography is written, what would you like to find? Allen Lakein suggests that we ask, “How would you like to spend the next five years?” Not how will you or should you but how would you like to? If one of your lifetime goals is to manage or lead a large enterprise, and you discover you would like to spend the next five years painting, there is an obvious discrepancy. We need to distinguish those things that others may have (perhaps falsely) taught us should be our goals from those which God has in mind and teaches us really to want for ourselves.
For a goal to be useful in time management, however, we have to know when we have reached it or accomplished it (or failed to!). A goal has to be accomplishable and measurable. When we say accomplishable, we mean realistic, something which we have the faith to believe we can accomplish. When we say measurable, we mean be specific: when will it happen, and how will we know that it did? Can we summarize it in terms of a past event? The goal “to have a large crowd at the Saturday evening meeting” is no goal at all. One person’s multitude is another person’s handful of people.
It’s important to see that all goals are interrelated. Each event must take its place in the larger stream of things. If one of your purposes is to be an effective executive in your organization or an effective mother to your family, then there are certain steps which need to be taken to accomplish these things. (See DIVIDE AND CONQUER.) These ”steps” have become subgoals toward your higher goal or purpose. Expressed as “events” specific as to time and content, measurable and accomplishable, they may become the markers of the way to our life goals.
Goals must not be thought of as swords which dangle over our heads, nor need we be afraid to set goals for fear of failure. None of us can accurately know what the future holds, but images of what the future should and could be like are powerful motivations.
The Christian’s goals are faith’s response to God’s imperative, and thus reflect an additional dimension: our part in God’s purposes. Years ago, when writing a letter that included a declarative statement such as, “I will see you at 3:00 next week,” the writer would put in the margin D. V. –Deo Volente, God willing. We need to understand that all statements about the future are statements of faith. This understanding can relieve some of the worry we may have about “trying to do the will of God” when we set goals.
Goals come in all types and sizes. It’s useful to see that some goals reflect what we want to be, and others reflect what we want to do.
The be goals relate to our attributes such as loving kindness, righteousness and honesty. They also reflect our position, such as mother, businessman, worker. In one sense these goals are only measurable by our own standards. Objectively, they are measured by what we do about them. Therefore, they are worked out by do goals.
Do goals are the things we want to accomplish or the actions we want to take.
Our many personal goals should never be seen as separated from one another. There is a great tendency in Western society to put life in compartments. We talk about public life, private life, business life and so on. Such a view can be demoralizing. Life must be viewed as a whole. One’s goals for one’s business, one’s Christian service, one’s family, one’s friends must all be taken together. It is impossible to divide life (and time) into neat packages. What life is all about is people, and people’s needs and people’s problems are all intertwined.
Make a short list of your lifetime goals and another one of your one-year goals. Put them on three-by-five cards and carry them with you. Regularly pull them out and review them. Can you account for your stewardship and time based on the list before you? If you can’t–revise the list or revise your calendar!
Finally, remember that goal setting is a process. The world changes. Situations change. Our families change. We change. The primary purpose of setting goals is to set direction and to keep testing that direction against God’s good will for us.
During the many years that Ted Engstrom and I taught Managing Your Time Seminars, one question that came up often goes something like this: “I am a homemaker with three small children. How can I possibly use all of the time management tools that you are suggesting? I don’t have any control over my time!” And of course, this person is right. On the other end of the spectrum is the person who retired five years ago and now feels he or she has nothing but time to fill.
During the 1970s, Gail Sheehy popularized the concept of life “passages.” We were taught a whole new jargon, including such new and frightening ideas as the male mid-life crisis. All of this is helpful. It’s helpful to know that we are different kinds of persons at different stages in our lives.
What we need to do is apply this to how we think about managing our time. God puts us in different places at different times. We need to understand both the problems and the potential of these different stages of life, to enjoy each stage to the fullest, even as we look forward to other times when we will have a different amount of control over our time.
How many unwanted things have you ended up doing because you didn’t say “No”? Most of the time we say yes because we can’t think of any reason for not cooperating. The basic reasons for saying no should be that what we have been asked to do does not fit into our goals. At first this may seem like a selfish response. Yet if our priorities are straight, then we will have already taken into account the needs and goals of others, at least those goals to which we are able to respond in a reasonably appropriate and effective manner.
An executive of a large association called to invite me to be the featured speaker at an annual meeting. When I asked what was the purpose of the meeting, his reply was, “It’s our annual meeting.”
From this I think I was supposed to get the idea it was important, and therefore, I should be honored by the invitation.
“What is it that you want me to communicate? How can I help you?” I asked.
‘Well, let us know what you think would be the most useful for us,” he responded. The conversation ended when I asked him to go back to his committee to find out what the purpose was of my coming. If they had then come back and told me why they wanted me there, I would have been happy to accept or recommend someone whom I thought could do a better job if what they wanted did not lie in the area of my expertise. I didn’t hear from them again!
Learning to say no also involves accepting your own capabilities. The apostle Paul in the 12th chapter of Romans tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgment. A healthy self-evaluation many times keeps us from accepting the task that someone else could do better, someone whose priorities and gifts are more relevant to the need at hand. Having this self-awareness makes it much easier to respond to people by saying something like, “I really don’t think that’s something I am gifted to do.”
We all need relief valves. They can save a lot of time that we would normally take cleaning up the mess caused by personal explosions.
When we installed a new hot water heater, I discovered a local ordinance which says that there has to be a relief valve hooked up somewhere in the water system. If for some reason the thermostat doesn’t turn off the gas under the boiler, and the boiler is so hot it is ready to explode, the valve will pop off, and pressure will be relieved. Things may stay just as hot under the boiler, but at least it won’t blow up all over the house.
One of the most effective, long-range relief valves is to recognize what causes the build-up of pressure. If you see by your calendar that you are in for a few heavy weeks or too many late nights, block out some relief-valve time. This might be a half-day, whole day or extended weekend. Take yourself out of your normal situation. Place yourself in a situation in which past experience has shown you can forget what is going on. This may mean a day alone at the beach or the mountains, a day with your family, or a weekend away with your husband or wife. It’s a big help if couples will discuss their future schedules together to identify where the overload problems are and schedule in breaks in the routine.
In addition to the count-to- 10 pressure reliever with which most of us are familiar, there are some others:
–Staying ahead of your work is a good way to relieve the pressure of schedules. By scheduling a completion time 10-20 percent ahead, you have the peace of knowing there’s time to recover if thing go wrong.
–Doing the hard things first, particularly if they have a great deal of emotional content, will relieve the subterranean emotions which tend to plague us in difficult situations.
–Getting enough sleep is a must. Know how long you can get along with a reduced amount.
–Do the difficult tasks in phases. Often a ”first draft” will get you 80 percent of the way along. Time for “topping off” the finished product can be better foreseen, and meeting the deadline seems less of a task.
–Have planned recreation and hobbies. I am a wood carver and a carpenter of sorts. Setting aside time for this activity helps me relax. Other people enjoy different methods of unwinding. One of my close friends has a way of announcing to his secretary when he will be finding some relief. If he says, “I’m going to inspect some real estate at 3 o’clock,” you can be sure that you’ll find him on the first tee at the golf course.
–Admitting and verbalizing the causes for your own irritations (be they lack of sleep, overworking, too much stress, or what have you) helps others from getting emotional with you and triggering unexpected explosions.
–Facing up to the fact you really can’t do all the things you scheduled and that some of them need to be postponed is probably the best relief valve of all. This can be a humbling experience, but the rewards in personal well-being are great.
I never cease to be amazed at the wonder of sleep. I am one of those people who needs seven and one-half hours of sleep every day to work at an optimum effectiveness. I wish I could get along on five or even six hours of sleep a day, but I can’t. The moment I forget that, I am in trouble.
There are evidently different qualities of sleep (have you ever heard yourself say, “I really had a good sleep last night”?). Learn what contributes to your getting a good night’s sleep. Keep such contributions to your wellbeing planted into your schedule. When you see that you are falling behind, figure out what you need to do to catch up, and put that on the schedule too. Or reschedule.
STAY AHEAD OF YOUR WORK
Have you ever noticed that it is the busy people who seem to have time to take on more tasks? One of the keys to their success is that they finish their tasks (or the major portion of them) ahead of time and thus leave themselves slack time in which they can either find relief (See RELIEF VALVES) or help out other people.
This technique takes a while to learn. When I went to seminary at the ripe age of 40, I already had 17 years of experience managing myself and others. To me it seemed as though the most obvious thing in the world was to find out how much work I had to do (number of pages to be read, number of papers to be written, number of class hours to be attended) and then lay out a schedule as to when each book would be read, paper written, and class attended. Knowing that most of life is failure (See FAILURE), I then tightened up my schedule so that each day’s, week’s or month’s work was scheduled for completion 10 percent sooner than it was needed. Meanwhile, my fellow students (most of whom were considerably younger than I) were busy involving themselves with outside activities, new projects and interesting discussions. The results were predictable. When the time for final examinations arrived, they were burning the midnight oil, and I was ready (albeit with some considerable anxiety!) for finals.
Try maintaining two schedules: the first to display when the task must be done; the second when you intend to complete it. If the latter is always sometime before the former, you will discover you not only get more things done, but that there are fewer pressures on you.
In all of your efforts to do a better job of managing your time and managing your life, don’t become a Time Nut. These people are distinctly annoying to be around. They’re always checking their watches, looking at their calendars, trying to find ways to save every minute (and writing books on time management).
I have yet to see a book or article on managing your time that talks about television. When we consider the fact that the average American adult is supposed to watch more than 20 hours of television per week, this seems to be a major omission.
Some of the greatest times in our home have been when the television set has been out of repair (though I admit we did have trouble keeping the kids from sneaking next door to watch it there). But with such a large block of our time devoted to the boob tube, television viewing seems a prime candidate for time management.
On the good side, television can be entertaining, relaxing and informing. For the tired executive who needs to become engrossed in something entirely different, the Saturday afternoon football game may be just the ticket (although going to the local high school game may be healthier). For the busy homemaker a few half-hours of TV may bring the same type of emotional relief. And for children sick in bed, TV is a great babysitter.
On the negative side, television takes an exorbitant amount of time which could be invested in many other areas. It over-entertains us to the point of saturation. It dulls our senses and warps our view of life. It keeps us away from friends, books and stimulating ideas.
What should be done? Certainly we should have a schedule for each member of our families (including ourselves!) for how much TV exposure we are going to tolerate a week. This might involve a family conference to select those programs that the family or individuals would watch during the week. It might call for a frank discussion between husband and wife as to whether the Saturday afternoon football game for him is better than bike riding in the park for both of them. It might mean the searching out of educational programs or other outstanding programs so that these become events in the individual’s or family’s life.
It might mean getting rid of the TV entirely.
With the advent of video cassette recorders there is little doubt that television will offer tremendous potential for training and cultural enrichment. But for the family who has been trained to accept the average, low-vitamin fare served by TV daily, it will be a whole new way of life and one for which they may not be ready. Are you?
There are a number of situations in which we can do more than one thing at the same time. By identifying these, not only can we improve our efficiency, but we can also get rid of some of our frustrations.
If you do a great deal of automobile driving, there are a number of things you can do besides listen to the radio. Taking along a cassette recorder permits you to listen to training or inspirational tapes you might not have had the time for otherwise. It also permits you to do some dictation while you are driving. Just make sure you have a slip-on microphone so that your hands are free!
Another two-timer for automobile driving is memorizing material. This is particularly true if you are going to be doing a lot of stop-and-go driving and can refer to whatever it is you are trying to memorize.
What about prayer? Having a list of those things that you want to pray for on a 3 x 5 card can be an excellent way of spending some time with the Lord. One exercise that I have found helpful is to use different points on my way to the office as triggers to remind me to pray for specific individuals at work.
If you have a regular program of recreation or exercise such as jogging, golf or bowling, use this time for thinking or for spending time with friends (or for making new friends).
We all have values. What are yours? What your values are will be reflected in how you spend your time, and what you do with your life. I sometimes like to shock a good Christian audience by telling them, ”I don’t care what you believe. Just tell me what you do.” Of course, it is possible to believe things which we do not completely live out in our lives. But most of us would have to admit the way we live our life is a reflection of our values. This is true of how we spend our money. It’s equally true of how we spend our time.
Well, that’s a portion of the tool box for managing your life by managing your time. Some of it will be exactly what you need right now. Other tools may be needed later. Decide which ones you should put to work today, next week, next month.
It’s your ball.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1985, PAGES 3-17. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.