How to save time for the busy manager and succeed professionally
Most executives would agree to the following propositions
- There’s never enough time.
- Interruptions and other unforeseen developments threaten or destroy executive schedules.
It is precisely because executive time is of such supreme importance and they are constantly thinking of how to save time. After all, whatever the executive accomplishes, he does in and with time—that it deserves your special attention. In this blog on how to save time, we have cataloged ideas that have worked time saving and effort saving wonders —and can work for you on how to save time. Remember that the successful adaptation and application of just one idea can save hours of precious time—and be worth thousands of dollars to you and to your company.
FIVE BASIC STEPS OF HOW TO SAVE TIME
- Develop an overview of your responsibilities. Your job requires that you perform a particular set of activities—for example, if you’re a line executive, you are responsible for overseeing the output of your department, division, and so on. But also, you must maintain contact with other company departments—Personnel, the treasurer’s office, Production Control, and so on—and long range, seek to improve the production capabilities of your unit. As you consider all these obligations, and the activities they suggest, you clarify the picture of your job, see it in helpful perspective, and get a line on your time requirements.
- Set priorities—pattern your work schedule according to overall organizational needs. Obviously, all elements of your job have some importance. But in developing a realistic work schedule, it’s essential that either on paper or in your mind you set the various elements in a hierarchy according to importance. By setting priorities: a. you know how much relative time to assign to an activity; b. you can reschedule; in case an item of higher priority “heats up,” an immediate low-priority task can be set aside.
- Schedule your routines. Most executives follow both a daily and a weekly schedule. Typically, correspondence is handled first thing in the morning, ongoing tasks checked, progress reports read, communications with other executives made for a variety of operating reasons, and so on, through the day. Weekly items, regular weekly conferences, for example, are fitted in on appropriate days, as required. In developing your schedule, observe two points: a. Consolidate like tasks. For example, all correspondence should be done in a single sitting, all phone calls made consecutively, as far as possible. b. Allow for the unexpected. As experienced executives know, their jobs are prone to emergencies, interruptions, even sudden changes in direction. Be prepared to juggle items on your schedule, as necessary.
- Assigning specific tasks for which you are directly responsible is a major factor in executive time saving and job accomplishment.
- Review periodically. Few executive jobs remain the same, year in, year out. That’s why, every six or twelve months, it’s desirable to assess your job for changes in responsibility and activity. When changes or trends toward change, are spotted, you can make appropriate adjustments in your work schedules.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PACE AS A TIME-SAVER
“He’s a man on the move.”
“He’s got a lot of executive drive.”
Labels like these are thought to spot the outstanding executive. Maybe. Maybe not. The inexperienced manager who says with pride, “It’s drive, drive all day,” may feel he deserves high marks for performance. But the effective manager is one who paces himself: who may be going like a jet for a while, working at a leisurely pace a bit later, and completely relaxing (yes, during working hours) after that. Athletes understand the need for pacing. The miler doesn’t knock himself out of the race by trying to burn up the track the first quarter. Similarly, the real champion has a sense of pace that is partly attuned to the competition, partly to the need for outstanding performance for its own sake. In your own case—
- Only go all out for the tasks that demand it.
- Take breaks—coffee, a walk down the corridor or another building, a feet-on-the-desk interlude—before you reach the exhaustion point.
- Add a relaxation period, when you feel either physical or mental fatigue beginning to appear. How and how much you relax—ten minutes, two hours,—depends on your preference. The rest may take the form of a prolonged lunch, or conversations with colleagues or on-the-job friends. One executive, enmeshed in a month-long grueling project, found a stimulating movie a perfect workbreak and mind refresher. The above points tie in to the matter of your daily energy cycle, the next item.
ADJUSTING YOUR SCHEDULE TO YOUR PERSONAL DAILY ENERGY CYCLE TO SAVE TIME
Undoubtedly, you’ve observed it in yourself: your energies have fairly regular peaks and valleys. There are times during the working day that you feel up to anything, at other periods you would just as soon coast along.
The well-known industrial. psychologist Norman R.F. Maier studied the working efficiency of a group of executives, and charted his findings, as illustrated below.
Remember that the curve represents the rise and fall in efficiency of the “average.” Your own personal energies may closely resemble those charted, or deviate somewhat. In any event, the same factors apply:
Warm-up period. Note the rise from the morning start. Physiologists explain the warm-up on a partially physical basis. Muscles must be limbered; changes in blood pressure and circulation take place.
Fatigue drop. Fatigue is the usual explanation given for the lowering of efficiency in the course of the working period. In some cases, this tends to be cumulative.
End spurt. Although not shown on the chart, there is a tendency for efficiency to increase as the end of the work period is approached. In some cases, a similar increase may occur before breaks in general—lunch periods, completion of a task, and so on.
Your own peaks and valleys. To chart your own ups and downs of daily efficiency, keep a brief record, noting:
- The hours you feel the peppiest
- The times fatigue catches up with you
- The periods you feel most at ease mentally
- The times you find it difficult to work Tabulate the results over several days to pinpoint your strong and weak periods. Then, the final payoff step:
Tailor your daily working schedule to your personal -chart. For instance, save tough, demanding jobs for high-energy periods. Fit routine tasks into low-energy periods. Fill in mental doldrums with the tasks that almost “do themselves.” Tackle new projects, or mentally taxing ones, when your energy peaks are highest.
ONE EXECUTIVE’S TIME TEASER
“May sound like kidding yourself,” says James R. Kray, president of a Los Angeles department store, “but when I have a rush project for my office staff, I set the wall clock an hour ahead. Then, if the job has to be done by four o’clock, say, we’ve got an hour’s cushion. Very psychological, but it works.”
HOW TO MAKE ROOM FOR A RUSH PROJECT
Every once in a while, an executive is asked by his superior to “drop everything and push through the X Project.” The executive has an immediate problem of responding immediately to the request. Here are the three possible ways he can answer his boss: O.K. This admittedly is boss-pleasing. But if it’s done off the top of the head, the executive may not be able to deliver. A flat no. If you have the status and the judgment to tell your superior you are not in the position to perform as requested, this may let you off the hook.
However, it may also suggest that you don’t understand certain business considerations or that you haven’t recognized the exceptional case calling for special effort. Maybe. That’s the third possibility. It’s safer all-around, but it can be too cautious in some instances and too promising in others. Any one of the three reactions may be correct, but the executive must choose the best one. There are no hard and fast rules, but the following checklists suggest guides.
Consider okay if
- The boss is willing to accept delays in other work.
- All facts and information are readily available.
- Key employees are on the job or can be called in.
- All necessary supplies and materials are on hand.
- All necessary equipment is available and in good working order.
- You can depend on the group to “give a little extra.”
- Your boss will go along with your decisions on overtime, additional expenses, etc.
- You have checked service departments—everything from Engineering to Safety—to make sure you’ll get any service you need.
- You have checked other units that may be involved in helping process the work, to make sure they’ll work with you on the emergency schedule.
- The company (and you) have a lot to gain by an affirmative answer—and delivering on your promise.
Consider no if you’re sure that the priority of the rush job is less than work currently in the department. You know it isn’t humanly possible to do the job in the allotted time. (This usually means the person making the request doesn’t understand as well as you do what’s involved.)
There’s a modified no answer that really amounts to no, but. Here, if someone up the line can help eliminate an obstacle or qualify the request, you may be able to deliver some effective no, but answers that can make everybody happy, and you look good: “No, I can’t finish by five tomorrow, but I could give you X at that time, and Y by noon, next day.” “If you’d be willing to take the report as a rough draft and finish it….” Or, “If they’d be willing to take them packed in bulk instead of individually. . . .”
Or, “If they could use the order done with regular materials instead of the special formula on the specifications. .. .” “No, we can’t do it unless you can get Fred Bishop and his crew to assist me. .. .”
Consider maybe if .. . In this situation, it’s wise to use maybe only if you’re pretty sure you can deliver as requested.
The executive who says “maybe,” and then comes through on schedule, rates a gold star. The one who falls down, hasn’t added to his reputation for dependability or capability. The fact is, almost every job can be done if—if your boss or the front office is willing to go along with the extra costs, delays, or other inconveniences of making unexpected shifts in work schedules. The other part of the problem rests with the manager and the degree to which he has been able to build flexibility into his department. Essentially, this means making the entire work force understand that emergency jobs or rush orders aren’t a headache, but a challenging part of the unit’s responsibility that must be tackled when the heat’s on.
DEVELOP A SENSE OF TIME to SAVE TIME
We’re notoriously subjective in our time estimates. To the man sitting on a hot stove, a second is an eternity. The amorous swain out with his girl will tell you an evening passes in a moment. Yet, it’s important for us to be more objective about time, because the way we view it will affect what we do with it. These guides can help us develop a realistic and useful view of time:
Be a clock watcher. Check for the correct time in the course of your daily routines. The more you do so, the better you will become at estimating time passage and expenditures. Remember that people tend to underestimate the time involved in what they like to do; overestimate, what they don’t.
Watch out when time drags. This may be a signal of time waste and may call for your tackling another task that puts you under the pressure of immediate activity.
Come up for a breather. Absorption in a task may be fine. But when you’re “lost in work,” take time to ascertain that it’s a job that deserves the time and concentration it’s getting.
Avoid being “rushed to death.” Being caught up in a sequence of tasks may mean you’re very much with it, and swinging along at peak efficiency. But it may also mean that you’re being pushed along by a series of “demand” tasks that have low priority—in which case, you may be wasting time.
Keep the end of the day in view. Knowing that you have “just one more hour to go” may suggest a rearrangement of tasks, so the essential ones that can’t wait for tomorrow, get taken care of.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FLEXIBILITY IN EXECUTIVE TIME SCHEDULING
Whether you use a highly systematic method of scheduling your workday—such as a self-time study—or develop a schedule on a practical, “demand” basis, there are overall considerations about executive time that suggest the need for flexibility. That is, you must be prepared to set aside one task for a more important one, or to drop everything for an emergency situation.
- The executive job is essentially non-routine. While every executive knows he has recurring tasks—he must cope with the in-box every day, for example—the crucial elements of the job generally do not fit into neat time compartments. A discussion with a group of key subordinates to plan a new project, a consultation with one’s superior, may cut deeply into planned time expenditures.
- Trouble shooting and fire fighting is a standard part of your job. Any difficulty that develops in the echelons below you tends to be kicked upstairs. It may be a personnel problem, or what to do about a plan gone awry. But you, as the court of last resort, are expected to take over if those below you are unable to cope.
- Single time expenditures tend to be short. A time study of executive activity showed that few executives can spend more than twenty minutes on a single task. This fact probably accounts for executive “homework,” at least as much as executive overload. The items tucked into executive briefcases for home attention are usually those that need hours of undivided attention. The proper response to such considerations is to build time latitude into your time allotments. Be prepared to do a half-hour task in two fifteen minute takes. Be prepared to do a Monday task on Tuesday, if an unexpected conference with top priority completely shreds your Monday plans.
HABITS CAN SAVE TIME
Some of your daily habits waste time, others save it. Psychologists make the point that habits are of two kinds:
Adaptive. These are useful. For example: you develop the habit of checking the mail first thing in the morning, because it often contains orders or requests that influence the day’s sequence of business. Non-adaptive. These are illogical, time-wasting. For example: an executive has developed the habit of going through his mail each morning. But since the correspondence only bears on routine matters that have to be taken up later in the day, he will have to reread it all. Non-adaptive habits are usually adaptive habits that no longer have a useful purpose. For example, an executive reaches for a pencil in his vest pocket, only to recall he no longer wears a vest. Getting habits to save instead of waste time means eliminating non-adaptive habits, developing adaptive ones. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Here are two ways to proceed:
Will power and won’t power. Take yourself in hand; be tough with yourself. Let’s say, for instance, there’s a tendency to bog down, become enmeshed in the unimportant. Force, persuade, teach your-self to pull out, get back onto a more productive track. The executive mentioned above, who needlessly goes through his mail, can force himself to give up the practice, with the realization that he’ll be doing it later at a more propitious time.
The systematic approach. Look at the problem in the way a time-study man approaches a work procedure: (a) size up what’s to be done; (b) work out a series of movements that do the job; (c) whittle away at the procedure till it’s efficient. Accordingly, here’s how you can substitute a time-saving for a time-wasting habit:
- Spot the habits that have outlived their usefulness.
- Work out a new habit to replace the old.
- Check the time and other efficiency factors involved; make sure it’s really economical.
- Follow the sequence through.
Keep on repeating, till the new habit is established, the old one eliminated. Finally, in getting rid of non-adaptive habits, remember that it’s easier to substitute an action for a time-wasting habit than to simply try to avoid it. For example, the executive who needlessly reads his mail will stop this time waste more effectively by filling the time by a desirable activity—contacts with subordinates, for example.
SUITING TIME TO TASK
It’s easy enough to say, “Give each task the time it deserves—no more, no less.” But how to do it? These guides help:
- Take time to take stock. Stop once or twice during the day to see how you’re doing. Are you on schedule? Anything come up to throw you off the track? What can you do to get back, if you’re off (delegate a task, reshuffle your task sequence, get help from colleagues, your superior)?
- Watch out for time “hogs.” A pet project, an intriguing but low-priority problem, the persuasiveness of a subordinate, may get you involved in disproportionate time allotments. Avoid such diversions.
- Leave time for long-range elements of your job. Thomas Watson’s admonition to his IBM managers, “Think,” is not misplaced. It’s amazing how seldom thinking appears in a listing of executive activity. Yet planning, problem-solving, and applying creativity to achieving objectives are often the most important, indeed, the payoff elements in your job. If these key items are missing from your work-day, do what is necessary to include them, through delegation, etc.
- Stay out front. In the race with time, you must lead, or you’re in trouble. The executive, who chases the clock, trying to catch up, is at a disadvantage. Again, if you find you’re falling behind in meeting daily or weekly obligations, get out from under routines you can assign to others.
- Review a sizable work period for overall stock-taking. You may have to be practical, and adopt the Casey Stengel view that, “You win a few, lose a few.” Everyone has bad days, when the end of the work period finds one’s schedule a shambles. O.K. But assess your performance over a week or a month. If from a longer-range perspective you’re satisfied, forget the occasional “black rock” days. But if you’re dissatisfied on looking back, tackle the problem of self-scheduling from scratch, as recommended on page 15.
USE DEADLINES AND SUBGOALS
You can store up time just as electricity is stored in a battery. You do it by getting ahead. Unfortunately, many executives do the opposite. They dig into their supply of time by transferring items from today’s calendar to tomorrow’s—when a phone call or a short memo could eliminate the items from both. Two devices help:
Deadlines. A deadline puts you in a direct race against the clock. In many cases you find deadlines built into a task: “Let me know by three o’clock tomorrow whether we’ll be able to handle the Johnson matter,” your superior asks. When there is no deadline, you gain an advantage by creating your own. For example, you tell your secretary, “We want to get that report out by the last mail of the day.”
Subgoals. It’s easier to keep track of progress with several sub-goals, rather than one long-term goal. And you have the added psychological spur of dealing with handle able, bite-size segments of time. For example: executive Jim Smith and his staff are starting a project that requires a week for completion. At the end of each day the group meets to evaluate progress, adjust methods of operation, solve problems that have appeared. The alternative, to work with only the final, distant goal in sight, fails to provide the incentive for daily accomplishment. Lacking also is the critique that helps keep them on top of the operation.
“The moving finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on. . . .” said Omar Khayyam. We tend to agree. We can’t turn the clock back. But, the fact is, time is salvageable. Consider: when you use other people’s ideas, you’re using their time—the time they spent in developing the ideas. By checking other people’s experiences you also save time. You avoid the necessity for repeating the time-consuming moves they had to make before they found the right answers. At the top of the prospect list for time salvaging is your own past activity. Make it a practice to review your own past experience. For example: you spend time investigating the possibilities of a new office procedure, but end up in a blind alley. That time is not necessarily lost. At a later date you may get the additional information you need to round out the investigation satisfactorily. To recap:
- Check back on your own past efforts, procedures, ideas. Ask yourself whether changed circumstances make it possible to apply them successfully
- Look for the products of time spent by others that you can adapt and apply.
DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE
“You can’t do two things at once,” is an old saying that originated before carbon paper and the coaxial cable. You can do two things at once—and save considerable time in the process. Just to convince yourself: Take a pencil and do a simple problem in arithmetic, say multiplying 916, 345 by 2. At the same time, recite a poem you know by heart. A familiar illustration of multiple activity is the executive who (a) sits in his bathtub, (b) under a sunlamp, (c) reading a fistful of reports. Here are some suggestions to help you get a double payoff from your time:
- Try to design dual-purpose activities. An executive, screening resumes for a stenographer, at the same time watches for the highly-qualified applicant who might be able to start as an executive secretary.
- Link activities that can be done simultaneously. Supervising a subordinate who is preparing a highly-detailed report, an executive catches up on his mail and discusses his plans for the week with his assistant.
- Lump together tasks that can be handled in the same place. An executive, flying across the continent, takes care of several contacts for the company. And bunching telephone calls is another application of the same principle.
- Start simultaneously different tasks that can proceed alongside one another. Where the jobs are to finish at the same time, you start the longer operation earlier.
PUT TRAVEL TIME TO USE
The jet plane is a great time-saver—and a great time-consumer. More and more, executives are taking to the airways to conduct business in person, because it’s now practical to get from New York to Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Sydney, or Tokyo in a reasonably short time. But whether a business trip takes an hour or a day, on train, plane, or boat, even an hour spent commuting can be a waste if it’s spent staring at an unseen landscape, or doing a crossword puzzle (unless you’re a puzzle fan, and you put crossword puzzling under the heading of Relaxation). Fortunately, travel time can be put to productive use. Here are time-saving travel tips:
Avoid “jetophilia.” Some executives seem to get caught up in a travel, do-it-in-person routine. The result: a certain percentage of their traveling is unnecessary. Benefit from their mistake and ask, before committing yourself to a personal appearance, “Is the trip necessary?” Don’t travel if a letter or phone call will do. The personal touch may be just the factor needed to clinch a big deal. But if something less is involved, can you send a subordinate?
Schedule trips at low-pressure times. In arranging for a personal appearance in another city, try to fit the trip into a day or week when you have the most time latitude.
Use a recording machine. Many executives report successful conversion of hours spent on train and plane to productive time by dictating reports, memos, and letters. The newest recorders are small and lightweight. Mailing back the tape, sleeve, or cartridge to the office means the material can be typed and ready on your return. Double payoff: when a report is to be made on the outcome of the trip itself, executives say that dictating the report on the return trip gets it into permanent form while impressions are still fresh, and puts less of a burden on note-taking and memory.
Do brain work. Armed with a pencil and a piece of paper—or pen and notebook, if your prefer—you can tackle problems, do planning, and develop projects, without threat of the usual office interruptions.
Do your “must” reading. The normal reading load of managers has been rising steeply over the years. And some of it just can’t be shunted off on subordinates, or neglected. Trade and industry information, new management methods, business developments, books on subjects relevant and helpful to your professional activities —all these require your attention to prevent gaps in your knowledge. Travel time is often made to order for this type of professional up-dating.
Transact your business at travel terminals. A New York executive recruiter travels from city to city to interview prospects for placement. He saves himself hours of bucking downtown traffic by meeting the job applicants at air or train terminals. Sometimes lunch in a terminal restaurant gives him the “office” he needs. If more than one prospect is to be interviewed, he takes a room at an airport hotel or motel.
Bone up for a meeting. Regardless of where the meeting is held, or for what purpose, going over relevant materials during your trip keeps the details fresh in your mind. Not only can you commit facts to memory, but you can plan your approach or strategy with the advantage of the imminence of the meeting as an aid to your mental operations.
Schedule visiting time as carefully as office time. A frequent problem of efficient use of travel time is travel delay. Many an executive has experienced the frustration and time-waste of train schedule slippage, of being fogbound at an airport, or of being stacked up in an air traffic jam. But barring such efficiency destroyers, you can trim trips by some traditional means:
Travel the most efficient way. If there is a cost differential, consider whether the fastest way may not be worth more to you in dollars and sense.
Have your secretary or travel department check schedules, and put you on the most convenient runs or flights, both coming and going.
Try to schedule the actual business contact so as to permit the best travel arrangements. If squeezing a meeting into two hours instead of three will save you several hours of waiting for transportation, let the others in on the meeting know of your time situation, and streamline the meeting.
Assess percentage of your time spent traveling. Executives occasionally find that, without their being aware of it, more and more of their time is spent “on the road.” It may, of course, be necessary, and time well spent. But it also may mean that an undesirable “travel habit” has been developed—where “I’ll hop down tomorrow,” gets to be the standard response for every minor crisis. Or an increasing travel schedule may mean that your responsibilities have been changing, and too much travel becomes a symptom of job content gotten out of hand. It’s worth your time to conduct an overall review, if you are seeing too little of your office.
TIME: QUANTITY VS QUALITY
Says an executive: “My time’s my own. I get to my office any time I like before nine, and leave when I please after six.” But the quantity of time executives spend on the job is less important than its quality—that is, how it’s spent. Hours devoted to routines better done by a subordinate may be profitless; one inspired thought developed in a few minutes may make your company rich. Recommendation: in your time allocations, favor high-level elements like planning, analyzing, problem-solving, over routines which lend themselves to delegation.
HOW TO MAKE A PERSONAL TIME STUDY
Usually, when a well-intentioned novice writes an article on executive time-saving, it usually starts by directing, “Make a self-time study. Keep a complete, accurate record of your time expenditures over a one or two month period. . . .” There’s a monumental task, tossed off in a sentence. If you at-tempted it, chances are you’d have to stop doing the very things you were trying to record, because you wouldn’t have the time.
Nevertheless, it is possible to do a brief self-study that will yield helpful information. Three steps give you the data on which to base a weekly work schedule. if possible, get your secretary to work with you, both in keeping track of your time expenditures, and writing down the observations.
Keep a record. Select a normal work week. If unexpected developments disarrange a day, restudy this day during the following week. Note the starting and stopping time of each activity. For example: “9:00 to 9:20—Reading incoming correspondence.” “9:21 to 9:40—conferring with Smith about the new display project.
” Keep your record sheets close at hand. Make your notations as soon as possible after a task is finished. Don’t overlook small items.
A number of five-minute jobs can account for a major chunk of working time.
After you’ve kept the record for a week, or its equivalent, and you feel it’s fairly representative of your schedule-
Analyze the data. The next step requires sorting out your time Here is a suggested set of headings. Add to it as your own data may indicate.
After you have distributed the items from your time record under the appropriate general headings, and indicated the time allotments, you’re in a position to evaluate the results.
First question to ask as you look at the figures: is the time desirably balanced? Are your major time allocations going for top priority activities?
- Am I devoting adequate time for communications with my staff, superior, other executives?
- Is sufficient time being allowed for planning, both short and long-range?
- Am I devoting sufficient time to the development of my staff, both as individuals and as a team?
Your analysis can help you remove some standard obstacles to executive efficiency. For example, wasted time may result from your duplicating the work of an assistant. Or, you may find that unscheduled items—that is, interruptions—consume sizable quantities of time. This may suggest possibilities for delegation or other means of shedding duties that consume disproportionate amounts of your time.
Restructure your time outlays. What you’ve learned in your analysis can be used to revise your schedule. But no radical change may be necessary. Rearranging a few key activities can make a great difference in your efficiency. Here are some possible steps:
Group similar items. You save time if you perform the same types of work in sequence. For example, handle all dictation at one time. Or, consider your contacts with a colleague: you avoid the need to walk back and forth between the same offices, and reduce starting and stopping by transacting all your business at one meeting. If routine matters of mutual interest arise, let them accumulate until you’re ready for another session with him.
Change timing of key items. You may find it advantageous to reschedule some activities from morning to afternoon, or vice versa. A daily progress check with your assistant, for example, might best take place at the end of the day, and should be rescheduled if it’s been relegated to another less logical time.
Use for the miscellaneous items. Examine the items that don’t fall neatly under any of the headings of your analysis sheet. For example, take a time expenditure like casual conversations with colleagues. If possible, shift these around so that they don’t break up items that would be better uninterrupted. Your purpose is to enlarge as much as possible the time spans you devote to a given task. And don’t overlook the possibility of shifting low-priority interruptions and so-called emergencies that can really wait to lowpressure hours of your workday.