The door slammed behind Brent as he rushed into the house in a flurry of disorganization. “I’ve got to eat quickly,” he shouted to anyone who would hear, “so I can get over to the first half of rehearsal and then to my presidency meeting before it’s too late.”
Brent’s studious brother looked up from his reading and questioned, “Are you flying at super-sonic speed again?”
“Yeah, I wish I didn’t have either of these things tonight,” he said, taking a big bite of casserole, “because I should be studying for the giant test I have tomorrow. If I don’t do well on tomorrow’s test, I’m in trouble in that class. I just can’t seem to get caught up—I always have the feeling that there is more to do than I can possibly get done and that I’m about to drown.”
Like Brent, you may often find yourself in “time binds” that give you that swamped or drowning feeling. Such feelings become so common in your active life that you may frequently long for the opportunity to ignore it all and go into hibernation. Ignoring it all is not an effective alternative and drowning has seldom proven productive, but better time management skills do bring relief and buoyancy to an otherwise sinking situation.
Learning to use skills of effective time utilization will often work small miracles in the life of a busy person; and in today’s world, everyone seems to be getting busier and busier, especially the leader. So let’s explore together some of the basic keys to using our time wisely, beginning with some misconceptions and then looking at some basic principles and helpful practices.
We normally operate under some myths concerning time. We often think that we can save time or that we can make up time. We also hear that, “Linda has more time than I do,” or, “Jim seems to stretch his time a little further.” It is a valuable exercise to step back and review the fact that each person has the same amount of time as the next person—168 hours each week. We cannot save time, in reality. There are no time banks. We cannot make up time; it goes by at a fixed rate always. Linda does not have more time than we have, and Jim is not able to stretch time—it does not have a rubberlike quality. Of course, many of these so-called myths are a simple result of the terminology of the English language. However, we often let these subtle meanings carry over into our reasoning about our time use.
There are some basic principles and fundamental concepts of time utilization that are very helpful in learning to manage our time better. The first is the concept that we don’t really manage time but rather we manage ourselves in the amount of time we have. So we are really addressing the subject of self-management. We must learn to operate most effectively in the uniform allotment of time each of us has received.
A second fundamental principle that relates to effective time management is the constant focus on results. The leader who focuses on the required results rather than on activities will find the greater results actually occurring. We often race at high speeds all day only to discover that we have been doing things rather than getting things done. We have been involved in many activities but have not accomplished the results.
These same concepts are illustrated further in the encouragement to be effective rather than only efficient. The efficient person may be operating with speed and economy of effort but may not be accomplishing the most important things. He would, therefore, be efficient without being effective. Direction is more important than speed in most areas of leadership. One man said we need to work smarter, not harder in this life. In our Church work, for example, we may be holding committee meetings and presidency meetings and planning simply because we are supposed to hold them, forgetting that they are tools that should lead to desired results. If the meeting does not foster a desired result in the building of the kingdom, why hold it? Either make the meeting a valuable tool or cancel it.
A very valuable exercise in learning better time utilization is the task of keeping a time log for a specific period of time. Try writing down every 15 minutes how you spend your time. Keep this log for a week and total up where you have spent your time in those 15-minute increments. Your summary will usually bring about a great realization that you have not been spending your time where you thought you were. With that information, sit down and think through the ideal expenditure of your time as compared to the actual. Make plans and commitments to change your behavior accordingly.
One of the most important skills in the area of time management is the skill of properly setting and pursuing priorities. A priority is a rating of importance. To set priorities in your work would be to identify those items that are of most worth or those items that carry the most importance. Very often, the simple question “What is the best use of my time right now?” is an extremely valuable priority tool. In fact, if this question can become a subconscious or habitual self-interrogation, a person would program into his mind a priceless time management tool. To set priorities, simply list what must be done and then review that list, asking yourself which items are of highest importance. When those items have been identified, use a lettering or numbering system to mark the various priorities on the list. An “A” mark would mean “must be done today”; a “B” mark could mean “must be done by tomorrow”; and a “C” mark could mean “possible to postpone.” Using numbers, “1” would mean most important, “2” next important, etc. This list, then, becomes a very simple but valuable tool because a quick glance at the letters or numbers tells you the task to approach first.
A second valuable skill in the area of time management is the skill of personal planning, and setting priorities fits hand-in-glove with personal planning. Effective leaders everywhere find that a pocket calendar or a pocket planner is invaluable in this personal planning process. Most bookstores carry various kinds of pocket calendars. Any one that fits your needs will be suitable. It is important, however, to choose one that is the right size and fits your thinking processes so that you will use it.
In using a planner, there is a simple little formula that helps in day-to-day planning. This formula is as follows: (1) list what needs to be done on a daily to-do list; (2) prioritize the list by identifying the most important items and marking them with a lettering or numbering system; (3) write down the tasks to be accomplished on a daily calendar, beginning with the highest priorities; (4) live by your calendar, revising your plan as needed. Many interruptions will arise, and you must be able to reset priorities as various interruptions change your plans. This is where the real skill of personal planning applies. We can plan our day very skillfully; but if we are not able to revise as various needs change or as new demands affect our day’s plan, then the effectiveness of our personal planning will be limited.
In one ward several years ago, the MIA workers all wondered how the young men’s president was able to be so organized and never forget any commitments or meetings or tasks that needed to be done. He was a real example of time management and personal organization. One day he disclosed to the MIA group that he was really quite poor at remembering and found a pocket calendar to be extremely helpful. His philosophy was that a dull pencil helped to maintain a sharp mind. He used his pocket planner as a planning, remembering, and organizing device, much the same as described above. His pocket calendar supplemented his memory so that he would not have to retain all of his commitments mentally and, therefore, would be free to think and evaluate.
In addition to personal planning, there are certain techniques of operating that are very helpful to the leader in making the best use of his time. One technique is learning to control interruptions. Many active people have learned the value of the technique of isolation to control interruptions. They isolate themselves somewhere in order to be free from the interruptions that normally plague them in their work. They will take a project to a different office or retire to the desk they set up in the basement or some other location in order to be able to concentrate for a period of time without being interrupted. In contrast to the student who goes to the library to study but spends his time visiting with the many friends he meets there, the time management expert knows that in order to concentrate intensely, he must go where he will not meet his many friends.
A further technique is that of segmentation or dividing into manageable parts the many responsibilities or projects we have to accomplish. We sometimes are able to accomplish one portion of a project in a 15-minute time increment; whereas, if we waited until we had the entire five hours necessary to complete that entire project, we would never be able to arrange for such a long period of time at once. Try segmenting your next project in this way.
Also useful in accomplishing projects is the process of working backwards. Start with the desired results and the accompanying deadline and plan backwards by determining what intermediate steps and deadlines are necessary to meet the final result. Schedule those intermediate steps on your calendar and consider them small projects in and of themselves. This often provides a greater sense of accomplishment as you go in addition to giving you checkpoints along the way.
Another helpful technique is to ask oneself, “Is there a simpler or quicker way to accomplish this task?” With a little concentration, almost every responsibility we have can be simplified, thereby saving some time. Our powers of creativity come alive when we concentrate carefully on how we can do a task better, or quicker, or with less cost. Every leader must use these powers of concentration and creativity to simplify and reduce whenever possible. Part of a leader’s task is to be protective of the time of his people. So to make a task easier, or to eliminate a meeting, or to shorten a discussion would help his people have more time to use in the important activities of genealogy, or welfare, or missionary work, or scripture study. These most important areas of eternal significance must not take a back seat to less important temporal, but urgent, deadlines, meetings, and obligations.
The concepts of synergy provide us with one further technique. Synergy means combining two or more tasks to produce a result that is greater than the simple sum of the individual tasks. It goes further than the concept of killing two birds with one stone. For example, a priest’s quorum group leader could multiply his effectiveness by combining the following tasks: (1) meeting with his counselors to discuss the assignment given by the bishop; (2) keeping the commitment to himself to have one more physical workout this week; and (3) meeting the need to spend some time with his younger brother this week. He could combine his tasks by arranging to play a game of tennis doubles with his counselors and the younger brother. The game of tennis would provide the physical workout. While playing, they could discuss the assignment from the bishop, and the activity would also provide some quality time with the younger brother. The additional advantage would be that the brother would get to know the group leader’s counselors. Younger brothers need a multitude of good examples and older fellows to emulate. Such a combination of these tasks into one activity would save a lot of time and would provide the extra advantage as well.
There are many additional skills not discussed above that are also valuable to the wise steward of time. For example, leaders need to learn to delegate more; active people everywhere need to learn to communicate quickly and accurately; and every person needs to learn to maintain top physical health for maximum productiveness. These important areas must also be mastered along with those discussed above because they all relate to personal effectiveness and time management.
The challenge to better utilize our time grows larger and larger as we take on more of life’s responsibilities and leadership roles. By seeking to master the separate skills that relate to our personal effectiveness, we will be able to meet this challenge. We will be able to strengthen our contribution to the Lord’s work, our impact as leaders, and our faithfulness in managing carefully one of the most important resources given to us by the Lord in this mortal life—time.