Today's economy is forcing most of us to try to do more with less. One resource that managers definitely do not have more of is time. Your work week — whatever it is — sometimes 60 hours or more — is a finite resource. Time is kind of like land: "They're not making any more of it!" So how do you utilize this precious commodity more efficiently?
In this issue we delve into effective time management. While we know there have been many books, seminars, websites and studies devoted to time management, we also feel it's an important topic to keep top of mind.
Working with college students, we find time management is one of the areas that many young people need help with. Some success in this area comes with maturity and the need to juggle more tasks as we get older or take on more responsibilities at work, home or in other organizations. However, there are always things that all of us can do to improve time management — even those of us mature folks!
Managing your time is something that takes constant attention. Some approaches — like avoiding procrastination, which we will discuss in more detail below — can tend to become good habits if practiced and reinforced. However, there are nefarious time wasters such as not being able to say "no" to things (we'll discuss this too) you are asked to do. So we invite you to take the time to read this month's column — and hope that you find it isn't a "waste of time!"
In our focus on time management, let's start with a discussion of planning. Good planning is perhaps one of the most important techniques for effective time and project management. In discussion of management, experts point to strategic planning as a key step. Strategic planning is the broader, more general overview that you should perform every couple of years. The planning we discuss here is the specific operational planning done on a quarterly or monthly basis to achieve shorter-term objectives — and it is critical to time management.
Planning can be defined as preparing a sequence of action steps to achieve a goal. If done effectively, planning can help reduce the time and effort of achieving your goal. Some business management gurus argue that the 80/20 "rule" applies to some aspects of management in that for unstructured activities, 80% of the effort gives less than 20% of the valuable outcome. The reason for this is that much time is spent deciding what to do next or that perhaps your company is taking many unnecessary, unfocused inefficient steps. Planning helps to avoid this problem.
However, planning is just the first step in the process where planning is the discussing of objectives and laying things down on paper. Putting these plans into action is the important next step.
Broken down into its basic steps, action planning involves:
1.) Setting or picking your objective and clarifying your goal. For example: selling an additional 2,000 tons of hog feed in the coming year.
2.) Determining the approach and methods of achieving your objective. This involves writing a list of all of the actions your feed and grain firm will need to achieve your goal. Look at this step as a mini "brainstorming" process — come up with as many options and ideas as possible — don't be analytical or judgmental.
Continuing with our example, the strategy for an increase of 2,000 tons of hog feed might include: promoting a specific hog supplement at a reduced margin to encourage trial and use; utilization of feeding trials/split tests to develop proof of performance; targeting a list of "Top Prospect" hog producers with regular sales calls and/or promotions; hosting a BBQ lunch or dinner at your feed mill to include a tour of your facilities and brief presentations by your key personnel (such a step invites personal contact and interaction of your employees with prospective customers and this almost always has good results); and finally perhaps hosting a series of management workshops targeted at your best customers and prospects.