Jan Yager, Ph.D.
The Five Essential Steps To Becoming More Productive
By Jan Yager, Ph.D.
Poor time management may mean the difference between getting, or missing out on, a new client... a new account...a promotion...a job. Lateness ... phone calls not returned... misplaced files ... failure to make short or long-term goals...falling behind on professional reading and failure to network are just some of the dire consequences of mismanaged time.

TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE--NOW

  • Find out just how productive you are by taking this self-study quiz...
    1. Do you take the time to do enough research so you can make the best possible decisions? Yes___ No___ Sometimes ___
    2. Do you allocate at least one hour each day for uninterrupted time for planning, thinking, reading or creative work? Yes___ No___ Sometimes ___
    3. Do you aim to do your best--rather than aiming at unattainable perfection? Yes___ No___ Sometimes ___
    4. Do you make a conscientious effort to separate urgent matters from other demands? Yes___ No___ Sometimes ___
    5. Do you spend adequate time developing and maintaining relationships? Yes___ No___ Sometimes ___
  • Your time management skills are excellent if you answered yes to all five questions. You have good skills, but there's room for improvement if you answer yes to three questions, and sometimes to the remaining two. If you answered no to two or more questions, you need to improve your time management skills. You may already suspect that your time management needs improvement, since you probably are more stressed than you would like to be and busier than use, though getting less done.
  • Follow the "ABC" approach to time management...
    1. Know what you've got---your inventory of skills and personality traits.
    2. Know what you want.
    3. Use A so you can achieve B.
  • Apply the ABC approach to your current career or business goals. What Is your strategic plan for the next month? Year. Five years? Do you assess each month how close you came to achieving your goals?
  • The phone - time saver or time waster? If the phone helps you gain information and conduct business, it can be a time saver, especially if a visit would be costly or time-consuming. But you may still need an occasional face-to-face meeting to build a relationship. Manage the phone and don't let it manage you. Phones are intrusive. You're sitting at your desk working well and it demands to be picked up. To the rescue: Voice mail, phone answering machines (or a secretary or assistant who answers the phone). However, keep in mind that they generate callbacks.
  • Overcome procrastination. Procrastination is the inability to begin work. It is generally caused by a fear of failure-which may be covering up a more deep-seated fear of success. But by procrastinating, failure may actually become more likely because of the dangers that usually accompanying putting something off too long; it is harder to do an excellent job in a state of anxiety. There is also the increased possibility of sloppiness, errors, doing "less than" if you had only had more time, and planned better. Procrastination also makes it difficult (and, for some, impossible) to enjoy whatever else you are doing-instead of what you should be doing. To overcome procrastination, look at its causes. Procrastination is sometimes an expression of burnout. It's a form of stress response. It is common among managers - as well as executives, administrative assistants, writers, researchers, teachers, and entrepreneurs -- who are overburdened with too many projects (that all seem to be due at the same time).
  • Prioritize. Learning to prioritize is the key to successful time management. (It will also help you overcome procrastination; once you know the number one project or activity that should be occupying your time, you will be more likely to tackle that task, and stick with it till it is completed.) How do you learn the essential skill of prioritizing? By training yourself to distinguish between what must get done and what must get done now. List what you have to accomplish... the reason ... and the deadlines. If something has an urgent deadline, that probably becomes your most important priority. Then, order your list with the number two priority, etc. When determining priorities, consider what you must accomplish-reactively- because someone with authority tells you to...and what you actively decide to do on your own.
Example: After you return from a meeting, you play back your voice mail and decide your priority is to return urgent phone calls you missed. This reactive priority may be followed by another important reactive task -- writing up a memo as a direct result of the meeting you just attended -- followed by the active tasks of calling several prospective new clients and then writing an article for your industry's trade publication to advance your reputation as an expert in your field.

Important: Accomplishing all of your reactive and active priorities, starting with number one and continuing in order through the end of the list--will increase your productivity by enabling you to get much more done in less time.

This is a revised version of an article that was originally published in Boardroom Reports, October 15, 1993. It may be reproduced and distributed for educational purposes only as long as this copyright notice and contact information is included on this article. Copyright 1998 Jan Yager, Ph.D., a Stamford, Connecticut-based sociologist who helps individuals and companies to improve how they handle their time as well as more effectively dealing with business protocol and business friendship issues. Contact Dr. YagerOn the web: www.janyager.com Jan Yager, Ph.D., 1127 High Ridge Road, #110, Stamford, CT 06905 (203) 968-8098 e-mail: jyager@aol.com
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