4/1/2000 | 7 MINUTE READ

Kill Those Time Killers

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People waste time. What else is new?


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People waste time. What else is new?

Possibly, how we waste it. Because you cannot correct a fault without first pinpointing it, here are four common time killers, along with suggestions for dealing with them.

1. Procrastination. It is far more pleasant to do the things we like to do than the things we have to do or find difficult to do. Action on 80 percent of the items in the typical in-basket could probably be completed without further delay upon first examination. Yet there is usually a backlog of action items in the pending basket because of this tendency to postpone the unpleasant. It’s much easier to read the paper, take a coffee break, or socialize with a colleague.

Solution: Bite the bullet and dive right in. Do it, whatever it is. Don’t put it off for any reason. Dive in, and do it. Do it now.

2. Waiting for others. Most of us spend entirely too much time waiting for other people: the boss, co-workers, a secretary, a customer. We wait for the boss to ask what to do rather than taking the initiative ourselves. We make periodic trips to others’ offices to coordinate a decision, only to find them unavailable for one reason or another. We wait for a secretary to find a file, place a call, address an envelope. It seems we are the prisoners of others’ schedules.

Solution: Organize your week so that you always know what you will be doing tomorrow. Then you can make sure to have all necessary instructions, information and files ahead of time.

3. Fire fighting. We engage in fighting fires rather than in preventing them. Optimizing time requires that we distinguish between the urgent and the important. Urgent tasks, although not significant, call for instant action and tend to make us forget the important ones. We respond unwittingly to the endless pressures of the moment, the procedural requirements of the system, and the administrative details, never getting around to what really counts.

Solution: Productivity requires a focus on results rather than activity. We need to think of doing the right thing rather than doing things right. To do otherwise is to permit fire fighting to become the objective. The conclusion is that unless the urgent task is also important, delegate it or put it on a back burner in favor of the important job.

4. The stacked deck. The cluttered desk is a very common sight. Unfortunately, many misguided people let their desks get piled high with papers because they believe it gives the impression that they are busy and gainfully occupied. Others justify the clutter by arguing that it represents a method of organizing their work. While there may be some justification for this particular filing method, consider the disadvantages of a stacked deck:

  • It allows you to delay action indefinitely by building up a backlog of pending items.
  • It’s hard to find the specific material required at any given moment.
  • You lose control of your priorities and action items.
  • The discouraging sight of the desk each morning is anything but conducive to getting down to work.

The take-home briefcase is really a portable cluttered desk. For many it becomes a security blanket. Yet, while four out of five people take briefcases home at night, only 15 percent of them open them. These people need time management, not more time.

Solution: Don’t let your desk control you. Use it to control your work flow. Put material for future use in files. Arrange work to be done in chronological order. Tackle one job at a time, complete it, and put away all material relating to it before turning to the next job.

How to Break Bad News

Sometimes, you have to give someone bad news by letter. This is never easy, or welcome. It may be the denial of a request . . . a negative reaction to an idea or project . . . anything contrary to what the reader had hoped for. One effective way to reduce the sting is to build your letter on the following principles:

Open with a neutral statement: “I’ve read your proposal for a new machine to replace the 5780 and have discussed it with several of my colleagues.” “I appreciate your kind invitation to address the Junior Chamber of Commerce.”

Explain the reasons for the bad news as positively and as tactfully as possible. “As you may know, our budget for capital investment is under study.” “My visit to Toledo will be rather short. I arrive Wednesday evening and will be attending meetings all day Thursday.”

Tell the bad news. “Consequently, we cannot commit any new funds at this time.” “Unfortunately, therefore, it will not be possible to participate in your Thursday luncheon at the Gramercy Hotel.”

If possible, suggest alternatives. “If you have any ideas on how we might maximize our use of present equipment, we will be delighted to hear from you.” “I will be visiting Toledo again next month and would welcome another invitation at the time.”

Close with a statement of good will. “Thank you very much for your suggestions. Please keep them coming.” “Meanwhile, please accept my warmest wishes for the success of your meeting.”

Conquering Worry

If you put your mind to it, there is no end to what you can worry about: your ability as a manager . . . what others think of you . . . your health . . . money matters . . . the future. But if you allow those worries to dominate your thinking, you will never be able to do your best either on the job or off.

And consider this truism: There is not a single recorded instance in all of human history when worry did anyone any good.

Worry if you must, but place a “stop-loss” on every anxiety. Decide how far, how long or to what degree you will allow your worries to interfere with living your life. Once you reach that point, refuse to let them bother you any further.

How can you make this attitude a part of your working philosophy?

Here is a simple exercise that will help put every worry you will ever have into its proper perspective: The very next time you find yourself fearing something, ask yourself, “What is the very worst thing that can possibly happen to me if this fear materializes?” In nine cases out of ten, your answer will relieve—and amaze—you.

How To Sell A Change

If you think you have a good idea for improving the efficiency or morale of your department, you may need a green light from higher management before you can implement the change. Your job then becomes one of selling the idea to your boss who, in turn, may have to sell it to his boss. Whatever it is that you are recommending, here are some tips on getting action:

Emphasize the benefits. Show how the proposed change will pay for itself or improve productivity. State your case in quantitative, specific terms if possible. Use figures. Cite precedents if you can find them. Your boss may be favorably impressed, for example, to learn that the idea you are suggesting has been used successfully by another company in your field.

Don’t overstate your case. There is one temptation to be avoided in trying to sell an idea. That’s overestimating the benefits and underestimating the costs and obstacles. The moment you say something that your boss recognizes as stretching the facts, he or she may be inclined to discount the rest of your story.

On the other hand, don’t be timid. If you know it will take $10,000 to implement your idea, ask for that amount confidently; don’t whisper the figure. Maybe you won’t get it all, but your chances are better if you ask for what you really need to do the job properly.

Watch your timing. Don’t tackle your boss when he is in the middle of some crisis. Wait until he can give you his undivided attention before you present your idea.

Be prepared to put your idea into effect. Know how soon you can implement it, what preliminary actions must be taken, what resources it will require, and so on. Someone is bound to ask.

Dealing with Job Pressures

Job pressures getting you down? To minimize both physical and mental strain (and increase your efficiency to boot), try these:

  • Begin with the toughest job facing you. It’s easier to do when you’re fresh—and you’ll get if off your mind.
  • Alternate difficult and easy tasks. You lose efficiency when you do one hard thing after another. Result: fatigue builds up.
  • Change tasks every two hours or so. Long stretches at the same job become monotonous and induce carelessness.
  • If you can’t change the task, try changing the pace. It will give you a chance to relax and relieve the boredom of a tedious job.
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