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The ABC's of Time Management

By Jacqueline McLaughlin Hale

Time Management. This seems to be the focus of the 90's and probably the new millennium as well. We have more time saving devices available to us yet we seem to have less time. We spend millions of dollars annually on time management books and seminars but we still seem to have too much to do in too little time.

I have made a career of time management. No, I'm not a time management consultant. Just a busy executive longing to find more time in every day. And over the years I have discovered that there seems to be four key elements to effective time management skills:

1. An accurate understanding of how long tasks really take to complete.

2. A single focus on the goal or task at hand.

3. Efficient uses of small amounts of time you don't even realize you have.

4. More efficient ways of completing the more mundane, but necessary tasks in your life.

An accurate understanding of how long tasks really take to complete

I've been managing people for over 15 years and I have found that those who share poor time management skills have one thing in common: they have NO idea how long activities really take them to complete. For example, I once managed a woman who was going to go to Starbucks on her 15-minute break to get a café mocha. Starbucks was a 20-minute drive from the office, one way!! She insisted it was a five-minute drive. It wasn't. Many who are habitually late underestimate how long they spend getting ready to leave the house or how much time their drive will take.

So the first key to time management is to obtain a REALISTIC estimate of the time it takes you to accomplish most of the tasks you perform every day. The only way to do this is to time them! Next time you leave for work in the morning, look at your watch the minute you get into the car. When you arrive at work, look at your watch again. How much time lapsed? If you are "time challenged" I bet you will be surprised at how long it really took. When you get out of bed in the morning, look at the clock. When you're ready to leave the house, look at the clock again. How much time lapsed? When you begin to clean the house, look at the clock. When you're through, look at the clock again. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The objective is to take a typical day in your life and clock everything you do. It's probably a good idea to jot your findings down. Keep a log of the time it took you to get to work, to leave the house or to do your weekly cleaning, etc. etc. Once you have a REALISTIC perspective of your actual time requirements, then you can begin to plan your day in accordance with the priorities you created using the Conscious Prioritization method discussed above. Remember NOT to underestimate your time when you plan. Refer to your time log and learn how to say "no" so that you do not over commit yourself.

A single focus on the goal or task at hand.

This is a BIG ONE! So many "time challenged" individuals do not even realize that when they get little accomplished it's because they have been easily distracted from their goals. An example of this is when you say you're going to clean out the closet. In the course of doing so you find some old photo albums which you spend a significant amount of time looking through (although you'll swear you only spent an hour looking at the albums!). At the end of the day you discover that the contents of the closet are all over the floor around you and that you are no farther along in your efforts to clean it out. So you put everything back and sincerely wonder why you made no progress at all!

If you're going to clean out the closet, clean out the closet! Do NOT allow yourself to become distracted by the contents within it. If you were going to drive from your house to the grocery store, would you turn down streets that wouldn't get you there? Would you deter along the way? Probably not. So why do it with any project you're going to undertake. This principle can be applied equally to your work environment and your home environment. Choose a task and stayed focused on only that task until it is completed or until your allotted time has run out.

Efficient uses of small amounts of time you don't even realize you have.

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This is my favorite strategy of all. It has become somewhat of a game to me. I'm constantly trying to find ways to be productive with the few minutes here and there that I'd normally waste. For instance, I purchased a cordless phone. It turned out to be (as I'd hoped it would) the BEST investment I've ever made with respect to accomplishing more with the time I have. Whenever I talk to anyone on the phone and ESPECIALLY when I've been left on hold, I wipe down the kitchen sink, the kitchen counters, the microwave oven, the stove top, the refrigerator shelves, the bathroom sinks or the bathroom mirrors. Or, I may do the dishes or throw in a load of laundry or two.

I don't know about you but I find I am constantly struggling with clutter and things that are out of place. So, whenever I walk from one room to another I take something with me to put away.

From time to time I find myself waiting, waiting for my son, waiting for my husband, waiting for the babysitter, waiting for the phone repairperson or just waiting. So once again I use those previously wasted moments to pick up toys, put away folded laundry or clean out the refrigerator. Commercials are another great source of time. Remember that there are LOTS of chores around the house that CAN be done in 2 or 3 minutes. If you take advantage of those moments you'll find you can do more in seemingly less time.

Lastly, don't forget to make productive use of the time you spend in the dentist or doctors' waiting rooms. Be sure to take all the reading you want to catch up on or your bills to pay. You could decide to take your cookbooks or recipe cards to plan the next week's meals and your grocery list at the same time. Write those letters you've intended to write. The point is to remember to make efficient use of the small amounts of time you don't even realize you have.

More efficient ways of completing the more mundane, but necessary tasks in your life.

This strategy is really about devising better (i.e. quicker) methods to get things done. Since housecleaning is the one thing that's probably universally dreaded, I'll use it as an example again. (I've chosen this example specifically because if you're doing something you ENJOY you really don't want to rush through it, do it more efficiently or do it in the small amounts of time you don't even realize you have. The point is to FREE up time from the "have to's" so that you can give more time to the "want to's").

If you want to clean your home more quickly (to save time to do more of the things you enjoy) than you must reduce scrubbing! You'll notice that the goal of all of the housecleaning methods below is to eliminate it entirely. Scrubbing, I have decided, is the root of all evil (okay, not really but it does take up a tremendous amount of time!) Additionally, you'll discover that the majority of the following tips are focused in the bathroom and kitchen areas. This is because these areas, more so than any other part of the house, seem to be the most time consuming to clean.

Using an inexpensive shower squeegee wipe down the shower doors after every shower and save oodles of time cleaning and scrubbing. To clean white grout or caulking around the bathtub, soak paper towels in bleach and lay them directly on the affected area. Walk away, or do something else for about a half-hour or more. Remove the paper towels to find the grout and caulking clean and white. To clean the bottom of the bathtub fill it with just enough water to cover, add bleach and let it soak. A half-hour or an hour later, come back to let the water out and enjoy the sparkling clean bathtub bottom. For mildew and soap scum, there are no better products than Scrub Free. The Scrub Free SOAP SCUM product also works well on faucets. Put as much in the dishwasher as you possibly can. Load it with pots and pans, Tupperware, spatulas, you name it, just about everything except china and crystal. Some pots and pans may not be suitable for the dishwasher so be sure to use discretion. And obviously you'll have to run the dishwasher more so the cost of running that should be balanced against the benefit you gain in time saved. Use rubbing alcohol to clean stainless steel sinks, bleach to clean ceramic sinks. (I love bleach-have you noticed?)

Dust less often, unless someone in your family has allergy problems. Vacuum tile, hardwood or vinyl floors weekly. Scrub them bi weekly or monthly.

These are just a few of the household hints that have saved me hours of time throughout the years. Remember, the objective is to spend as little time as possible on those mundane yet necessary tasks in your life. I have illustrated my point using housecleaning as an example but really this can apply to any area. I'm sure if you analyze some of the less enjoyable chores you do, you too, can find more efficient methods to complete them.

As you have seen, time management is about:

1. An accurate understanding of how long tasks really take to complete.

2. A single focus on the goal or task at hand.

3. Efficient uses of small amounts of time you don't even realize you have .

4. More efficient ways of completing the more mundane, but necessary tasks in your life

But ultimately, the real goal of time management is to organize your days more effectively so that you can create more time for yourself and the things that you enjoy! I have.

© Jacqueline McLaughlin Hale
Jacqueline McLaughlin Hale is a CPA and the editor of "The Balanced Woman" a monthly ezine. It contains parenting tips, household hints, ideas for pampering yourself and more. Subscribing is easy and FREE. Just send a blank mailto:join-thebalancedwoman. She is also the author of "The Woman's Guide to Resumes and Interviewing", "Lessons From a Toddler" and "77 Ways to Pamper Yourself". All of these publications are available through AJAY Publishing at:

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