Creative Success, LLC

Setting and Executing Priorities

Gail McMeekin

Learning to maximize your time allows you to accomplish what you want. The battle cry of this era is "I don't have time." Before you can make decisions about the best use of your time, you must be clear about your goals. Good planning and a focus on your priorities will help you to feel in charge of your life.

Banishing Time-Wasters

Keep a list of people, events, and processes that regularly waste your time. You will then have the facts to make decisions about them. Derek realized that never being able to find anything in his office was his biggest time waster. The $250.00 he paid a professional organizer to set up a filing system for him was a true stress reducer.

Find a quiet place to work. This is often a challenge with today's modular offices. Try some of these solutions: request an office with a door, share an office with someone who's out a lot (like a sales person), sign up for time in the conference room, play classical music softly at your desk to block noise, ask to work at home, come in early or stay late when the office is empty, don’t answer your calls so you can concentrate, or sit in your car or a nearby cafe for a while. Depending on your level of responsibility and your support staff situation, you will have different options. Every hour of focused time is worth it!

Are there chatty people who interrupt you too often? Schedule drop-in hours, close your door, put books or papers on the chair in your office so there's no place to sit, or be assertive and tell them you only have five minutes and stick to it. You could also tell them you'll drop by their office later; then you can leave when you want.If you need to collaborate regularly with certain people schedule meetings with them. Sometimes a fifteen minute meeting over coffee every morning prevents interruptions for the rest of the day.

Protect your productive work time. Do you get the most work done early in the day or does your engine fire up at mid-afternoon? Determine in which block of time you're most productive and try to schedule appointments and meetings at other times of the day. Suzanne knows that if she can work straight for two hours each morning, she gets an amazing amount of work done.

The telephone has the potential to be a great time-saver; it can eliminate the need for a trip or a meeting. Have you learned to take advantage of the phone features available to you? Are you using conference calls and the speaker option? Are you faxing people instead of calling or using E-mail and voice mail so you can respond when you have time rather than at that very second? Set aside specific call in or call back times.With talkative people, tell them up front how much time you have for them.

Whenever you or someone else begins to schedule a meeting, ask yourself if there's an easier method. There are numerous new software packages that allow teams of people to communicate with each other and share documents and graphics right from their own work stations. Check with your operations department or software store for information.

I keep waiting for our paperless workplace; it's certainly not here yet. Do you have a ruthless paper routing system? If not, try some of these suggestions:

  • Sort your mail into three piles. The first pile goes in the Wastebasket. Throw out everything you can. Don't even open it if you know it's junk mail. The second pile is your Action pile and the third pile is your To Read pile. Have a To Read folder and keep it by the phone, in front of the television, or in the car and read it when you're waiting in line or talking to a long-winded person or have a few minutes.
  • Use standard form letters for routine correspondence. You can buy books of forms at your office supply store.
  • Use an agenda for meetings with a tear-off sheet for tasks that need to be researched or completed before the next meeting.
  • Learn to say "No" to unrealistic timelines, committees you're not interested in, or people you don't want to socialize with. A firm "No" in the first place is much easier than trying to undo your commitment later.

Managing Priorities

Now that you've tackled your key time wasters, it's time to focus on setting your top priorities. Spend an hour or two writing down what you really want.

Long Term Goal Exercise

List your goals for the time periods of six months, one year, three years, and five years. Be sure to include both personal and professional goals. Keep your goals in view and review them regularly.

Plans for the Month Exercise

List your monthly professional and personal goals and visualize achieving them. Then, identify the specific action steps you plan to accomplish this month. Review this list each week. Next to each action step, rate it in terms of importance. John's professional goals for the month were to complete project X at work, have three network lunches, and sign up for a class in team-building. His personal goals were to paint his basement and take the kids to the circus. John's top priorities were project X and painting his basement. But because he promised he would take his kids to the circus, this agreement also put that goal into his top priority category. By tracking your agreements with others, you learn to become very careful about when you say "Yes". It turned out that John got a bonus check and decided to hire his neighbor's son to paint his basement on circus day. Keep twelve monthly pages going continuously and designate when you will tackle a particular task. The beauty of this system is that you don't need to sort through a million pieces of paper to decide what you could do with a free moment. You're already organized and know your priorities.

Plans for Today Exercise

To make your daily agenda, use the following guidelines. Write down your number one personal and professional goals and visualize achieving them. Then list all the meetings, appointments, or time commitments you have today, with their starting and ending times and purpose. Note what times you have left to work on other projects and assign a project to a particular time block. Indicate if the task is top priority as it pertains to a goal, or medium priority as it just needs to be done, or low priority so it could be delegated or postponed. This exercise helps you to visually experience your planning process. If your day is filled with time commitments, it is unrealistic to expect that you will complete many other tasks on your to do list.

If your goal is to change jobs and you never find the time to redo your resume and research companies and entrepreneurial options, your goal will never happen. If you over commit yourself by taking on activities that are non-goal related, you will feel stressed and frustrated. Subtract all those activities that don't support your goals. Have meetings with your colleagues and family and brainstorm about how to take turns with responsibilities so you can capture some free time to achieve what you want.

For those to do list items that you don't know exactly when you'll get to them, keep a list of ongoing plans. This way you won't lose track of good ideas.

Time Management Tips for Job Hunters/Career Changers

  1. Get a career assessment with a professional counselor or take the testing inventories available in many career books and determine what work best utilizes your strengths and expertise. Design a job search or business plan for your own business to help you stay focused.
  2. Set monthly and daily goals for yourself.
  3. Maximize your face-to-face and telephone contacts with people. About ninety per cent of all jobs are found through your contacts, not the newspaper.
  4. Practice selling yourself and prepare answers to tough interview questions in advance.
  5. Don't spend too long preparing your resume; it is a working document and you may change it numerous times. Many people stay at home perfecting their resume while the good jobs are being filled.
  6. Join every job hunting group, professional association, or leads group that expands your network. Follow-up with people and create a new circle of contacts. Remember, good networkers give as well as receive.
  7. If you don't have an office to go to, clear a space for yourself at home or use someone's office part-time so you have a workplace with a phone, equipment, and privacy. If you are working at home, have a conference with the people you live with and outline the support you need from them. For example, Maureen, a home-based architect, asked that no one touch anything on her desk so she would know that everything was where she left it. If you work at home be careful that your friends know you are working, not lounging. Be careful not to get too distracted by household tasks so that you never get down to business. If you choose to spend more time with your kids or cooking dinner or mowing the lawn, that's great. Just be sure that you're on track with your work goals for the month.
  8. Recognize that finding a job or clients for your business is a full-time job. Set firm limits so you don't end up picking people up at the airport or standing in line at the post office instead of meeting your goals.
  9. Set up a resource team for yourself. Don't write handwritten cover letters because you don't have a computer. It's a waste of time. You need to present yourself as a professional at all times. If you don't have a computer, join a community center, use your library, rent one, or barter with a friend. Use your imagination and be assertive about getting the help you need to accomplish what you need to. High school kids can stuff envelopes, copy shops have an array of services, and an information broker can save you hours of searching by compiling a list of companies or contacts for you. Invest in your goal.
  10. Develop a script for cold calling possible contacts. Write out the purpose of your call, your agenda for discussion, and the time frame. Be well prepared to reel off your list of skills and accomplishments and what you are looking for. This will save you time and win you points with the person on the other end of the phone.
  11. Do the tasks you dread the most during your best time of day. Sonya makes her cold calls at 11 A.M. when she feels confident, prepared, and on top of her day.
  12. Every Friday, evaluate your results. What's working and what isn't? Do you need more information or support? Have your goals changed? Keep a journal of your ups and downs so you know what issues you need to change.

Time is a gift. Protect it and make positive goal-directed choices for each day. Your results will be your reward.