There are several immutable laws of business and the
• Everyone has exactly the same amount of time as everyone else... no more and no
people accomplish vastly more than others and have time to spare.
given task will eventually expand to fill and then exceed the time available to
Business and personal tasks are plagued by insidious
time-eaters... paperwork, meetings, reports, telephone calls, and changing
priorities. The principles and tips in this viewpoint are simple to understand
but they take conscious effort to actually do. If you have the self-awareness
and self-discipline to use these techniques, you will be amazed at the results.
ACTION TNT (Today, Not Tomorrow)
The shortest path between two points is a straight line.
Action Today, Not Tomorrow is a key underlying concept to techniques that save
enormous amounts of time. Consider for a moment, the way you handle the lowly
memo. Most people scan/read memos, letters, and reports five or six times
before actually taking action. They scan the mail for important letters and
then set them aside. Then they review/read the stack again, selecting a few
more to take action on. The process is repeated again and again, and with each
cycle the same pieces of paper are handled. The minutes tick away, add up to
hours, and disappear.
You can conquer one of the most insidious time wasters by
setting a hard-and-fast rule to HANDLE A PIECE OF PAPER ONCE... OR AT MOST,
TWICE. Here’s how:
aside a time each day for answering letters. Then don’t even touch the pile
until you’re ready to take action and answer immediate-response letters as you
read them. And get rid of them.
letters that don’t require immediate action into a folder labelled: Answer This
Week. Don’t touch the folder again until you block out a time period to answer
the letters in that folder. Then take the first piece of mail from the stack
and answer it. And get rid of it.
The same rule applies to REPORTS. If a report requires
action, then ACT on it, file it, and get rid of it. If you can discipline
yourself to handling paper ONCE, the time saving can be enormous.
PRIORITY AND POSTERIORITY LIST
The same principle of organization carries over into
planning your work priorities. There’s a natural human tendency to work on the
lowest priority tasks first, because they’re easier to do. Ironically, most
people then defer action on more important priorities, because they’re more
complex and difficult. The solution is to objectively, write down, maintain,
and live by a LIST of:
Priorities that must be done immediately, within twenty-four hours.
Priorities that must be done by a specified date.
Posteriorities that will be nice to do when time becomes available.
Organized, effective professionals use lists as a way of
life. When you look objectively at the A-list, it becomes a written unavoidable
conscience that forces you to face up to doing the most important things
first. When a priority goes on the immediate list, it is accompanied by a
commitment that the task will be done even it means staying late or taking it
home. It WILL be done. And when it is done, it is removed from the list.
Some people will argue that they don’t need to write down
the immediate priorities, because they KNOW what needs to be done. Well that’s
a trap. Every new priority conflicts with, and must mesh with, all the others.
The written list is the only effective way to put organization, objectivity, and
self-discipline into the process.
For date-scheduled tasks, plan and schedule a block of time
when the B-list priority jumps up to the immediate, A priority list, i.e. when
the time comes, the task must be completed within twenty-four hours. Then make
sure that the block of immediate time is scheduled well in advance of the due
date. When it is finished, it is removed from the list.
The most interesting aspect of this approach is to observe
the third C-list of posteriorities. These are called posteriorities since they
are of lesser importance and should come behind everything else. In the absence
of an A,B,C list, most people spend time doing these lesser, C priorities
FIRST. After a while, you’ll discover that many of the nice-to-do, C-list
items never get done. You can begin removing posteriorities from the bottom of
the list with the realization that they’re nice to do, but they’re not
WRITE IT DOWN
Speech is imperfect. Listening is even more imperfect.
Most people are reluctant to write things down because they believe it wastes
time. Others operate with the illusion that they can mentally keep track of all
their priority lists, decisions, tasks, and requests. Still others claim they
know what to do and when to do it intuitively and that it’s hard to put
everything into words. These are common and dangerous misconceptions. There is
NO substitute for the written word.
If you can’t express your priorities, decisions, or
requests clearly and in writing, then no amount of verbal communication will
make them clear. There are three things that define verbal communication and
work against it:
A. What you
think you said.
others think you said.
C. What you
actually did say.
There are often wide variances among these three things.
By contrast, the written word forces you to be specific and to capture the
thought in a form that serves as:
A. A common
medium for understanding.
unavoidable reminder of the request, or decision, or action.
reference point for reconstructing the understanding at a later date.
Think for a moment of the last time that:
forgotten a request made to you by someone else.
missed a target date for an important task.
C. You have
misinterpreted a verbal request, agreement, or decision.
These things happen, unless you say it in writing. While
it does take time to write things down (that you’ve been carrying around in your
head), it actually winds up saving a LOT of time. When you put it in writing,
you reduce the chance for misinterpretation, confusion, and time spent going
down the wrong action path.
When you put requests, decisions, and agreements in
writing, you can say precisely what you want to say, with the chance to change
your words and make them more clear. You establish a reference that you can use
again and again to reestablish the original understanding. And you save time by
not having to remember, rehash, and rebuild the verbal understanding every time
the question, issue, or request comes up again.
CLEAR THE DECKS
A key part of using these principles is to clean up, clean
out, and organize your office. If you leave stacks of papers, reports, and
books all over the place, it means that you’ll have to handle those papers again
and again to find and use what you want. If you don’t have your files
organized, then when you finally do handle a report or letter, you won’t have a
place to put it away... and get it out of sight. And if you don’t put things
away, they pile higher and higher and give you the feeling that you’re drowning
Another law of business is that paper will eventually
cover, and then pile up on, every available empty horizontal surface (desks,
tables, bookcases, etc.) The solution is to periodically clear the decks. It
helps to pretend that you’re moving and to:
A. Set an
objective of getting rid of 50% of the stuff in your office.
B. Pack and
store boxes with the papers, books, etc. that you don’t need immediately.
out everything that you haven’t used in the last several months and probably
won’t use again.
and label basic files in your desk where you can put paper that has been
You’ll be amazed at the emotional lift you’ll get by
periodically clearing the decks in this way. It’s a great way to kick off the
new approaches to managing your time. It helps to try to end each week with a
clean desk and an empty In-basket. If and when the paper grows to again fill
the horizontal space, then stop and clear the decks again.
All of these principles and practices are shared by
organized, effective high-producers. They all depend on establishing and
maintaining an organized discipline in managing your time. There’s an old axiom
that: If you want to be organized, then do the same things that organized
Maintain a daily, written TO-DO list of priorities..
with the A-list priorities... not the C-list.
Action TNT (today, not tomorrow).
each piece of paper ONCE.
the decks... and keep them cleared at least weekly.
These principles are time-tested, and they work. They’re
hard to do at first, because they challenge ingrained habits. They require
conscious, sustained effort. But once you’ve come through the learning curve
and made these principles into new habits, the payoff is amazing.