While mending clothes recently, the saying, "a stitch in time saves nine" came to mind. It is something my mother would say while growing up nearly forty years ago. This proverb is meant to mean that it is better to spend a little time to deal with situations, or act right now, rather than wait. If you wait too long, things will get worse, and it will take much longer to deal with them. If you have ever had a hole in a sock, shirt or other clothing item, you know what happens if you 'wait' for repair. It grows and becomes larger to a point of diminishing return. Sometimes it ends up not being worth a repair so one might end up buying a new item.
This saying, touching on our use of time, seems rather ancient in our world of fast moving technology and changing systems and processes....but is it? Or, is it actually quite the opposite?
Similar to other natural resources, time is limited. We are getting up earlier, staying up later, and filling our days with increasing commitments so we can 'fit it all in'. There are practical sense tips to help us manage our time in our personal, as well as professional, life. A few are provided below. Choose those that might work best for you with the 'stitch in time' mentality.
At Tero, we are often asked for workshops around helping people to be effective with "time". While there are no magic bullets, there are some practical points I have learned through practical experience.
T - TAKE TIME
Schedules are typically set days or weeks in advance. Take time early or late in the day to plan what needs to be done with that upcoming project or assignment. What PowerPoint slides might be appropriate? Should anyone else be in attendance? What handouts will be appropriate? Reviewing needs early on will eliminate last minute panic. A great time to "take time" and think creatively is while driving or riding in the car. Even 20 minutes of intentional thought around what you might want to include with an upcoming project or event will jump start your ability to move forward once you return to the busy office. Dictate those thoughts in your iPhone, or jot them down once you stop the car. Research shows some of your best creativity occurs when you leave the office. Do not procrastinate. While unexpected things may come up, control what you know is on the calendar.
I - INITIATE AND INSTIGATE (BE PROACTIVE)
Rather than naively 'wait' until pending issues are near the deadline, initiate first steps for the group to think about in getting the discussion started. Communicate the agenda in advance and lay out key talking points a few days in advance for the group to think about before the discussion. Once discussion has taken place, ask next steps around what needs to be done to finish the discussion or initiative. Encourage the same from customers or outside parties you may work with. Workplace issues left unresolved eventually can turn into growing time wasters, or can lead to customer frustration. Handle things early before they escalate. Research shows one unhappy person can share that experience with as many as 12 others. In today's social world, no organization can afford to wait to handle issues that may need attention. Plan for issues and learn to respond quickly. If issues do not arise, consider it a gift. Leave open time on your calendar for return phone calls or employee issues. Delegate to others if there are items that can be taken care of in a more efficient manner. Do you have an assistant? If so, spend time with them regularly reviewing how they can plan, or initiate. Strong communication skills are key. Communication around expectations in holding an effective meeting, communication to others around your upcoming schedule or communication around what you may need for that report. Lunch can be a challenge with a busy schedules. A personal time saving tip I have found is to order lunch "to go" early in the day for a set time. That five minute email or call allows me time to 'get away', while saving those extra 30-45 minutes in line ordering and picking something up during a hectic lunch hour.
M - MANAGE YOUR SCHEDULE
It is easy to spend time discussing with team members what they did over the weekend. Set a limit of how much time you will take doing that. Allow a designated amount of time daily for these natural interactions, then be a commander of your day and politely excuse yourself. Once at your desk, focus on the "A" list or high priority needs of the day. Be in command of your time and respond respectfully if you are interrupted and unable to discuss impending issues at that time. Can they come back at another designated 10-15 minute opening? If you do make time for the interruption, ask or set an expectation in your office for others to present key issues. This allows you to have control around what needs to take place in a focused period of time. Managing your schedule is not easy. When goals are set each morning, recognize if those interruptions you receive are "critical" or "low priority". Low priority items can be put on the agenda for a future time. Those "less important" interruptions can derail and prevent leaders in moving organizations forward in a successful way.
E - EXPECTATIONS
Why are expectations critical? Without them, we have no direction. What time would people start work if there was no expectation around working an eight hour day? Without expectations, meetings may not have an agenda, quotas would not be met, students would not turn in assignments...the list is endless. Expectations around time are more important than ever. Set expectations in your work environment around time...time that will be spent on a project, on discussion of a topic, on time taken for lunch, time taken for breaks, etc. Stick to those expectations and use "if" statements if those expectations are not met. "If" this deadline is not met, what are the consequences? Set expectations that everyone can respect and understand. As with parenting, lack of expectation can lead to frustrating and unpleasant results that can take significant time to address. When expectations are communicated clearly and "if" statements are used in talking about "what" happens when those expectations are not met, less time is later spent discussing "why" and "where" the issue went astray. Through the use of "if" statements, the consequences were already determined and discussed. When expectations are clearly communicated and understood, less time is needed later to handle the potential conflict that may have resulted from the situation.
In getting control of your time, think of what needs to be done to put a "stitch in time" in your day, in your week, in your month. These actions can help in your ability to better handle not only the work balance, but the "life" balance as well that is key in maintaining a healthy mind and heart in our fast paced world. Little "stitches" or actions, while only saving a few minutes here and there, eventually provide you time, that precious resource only you can ultimately control.
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