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Time management tips for busy professionals

Strike better work-life balance by setting goals and identifying and overcoming obstacles
Monday, January 19, 2015
By Michelle Ervin

Nine years ago, Susan Richardson was working as an executive with a heavy travel schedule and on the verge of burnout. Richardson decided something had to give, and she didn’t want it to be her. So she left that job and pursued her passion of helping people grow and lead through the start-up of her own company.

This is but one personal story the co-founder of and principal coach at Leadership That Matters shared in a seminar on time management hosted Thursday night by the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) Toronto chapter. In the seminar, she discussed how to identify obstacles, overcome those obstacles and set smart goals to perpetuate success with small wins.

Though there is nothing novel about time management, it takes on increasing importance in light of statistics such as that which Richardson cited in her seminar: the Canadian Mental Health Association finding that 58 per cent of Canadians report experiencing “overload” from their various roles, including work and home, family and friends. In this respect, time management is inextricably linked to work-life balance.

The subject is especially relevant to facility managers (FMs), she noted, due to the nature of their role (often reactive) and the personality typically attracted to the role (someone with the desire to help people, and who consequently may have a harder time setting boundaries).

Time management can be tricky to define, Richardson said. It requires individuals to consider what successful time management looks like to them. For one person, it might be leaving the office by 5 p.m. three nights per week; for another person, it might be going to the gym three nights per week.

“It doesn’t mean that you cannot adjust along the way, but … you have to know where you’re heading,” she said.

Identify obstacles

Unclear objectives is one of several common obstacles to successful time management. Other obstacles include disorganization, the inability to say “no,” interruptions, periods of inactivity, stress and fatigue, trying to do too many things at once, and all work and no play.

As an example, Richardson talked about how strategies for de-stressing, such as going to the gym, are often the first thing to be dropped off a person’s calendar during times of stress.

“When you’re under stress and pressure, it’s the time to make time for the gym, and this sounds counter intuitive, but this is about managing your stress,” she said. “The reality is yes, it may take an hour out of your day, but it means you might be more effective the next day.”

Individuals need to recognize which obstacles are most affecting them personally. Richardson recommended that individuals focus on one or two of them and strategize how to make small, and therefore sustainable, changes.

Overcome obstacles

One of the key strategies for overcoming these obstacles is prioritization, which Richardson broke into four options: do, delegate, delay, delete. Personally, she likes to devote 30 minutes on Sundays to mapping out her week ahead, which covers off “do.”

As for “delegate,” Richardson spoke of the need for individuals to reflect on whether they are good at doing this, and if not, whether they might be creating their own workload. As for “delay,” she spoke of the unexpected requests that inevitably come up and the polite alternatives to saying “no,” such as “yes, but.” “Yes, but” can include not immediately dropping everything to tend to the unexpected request or asking what other work can be delayed in order to accommodate the unexpected request.

“Address the urgent, accomplish what you can early, and attach deadlines to things that you delay,” said Richardson.

“Delete” comes in when an item keeps getting delayed. The question individuals need to ask themselves, she said, is: Do those items actually require action or can they be crossed off the list?

Another key strategy for overcoming obstacles to time management is learning when to say “no,” said Richardson. Individuals need to recognize that it’s impossible to do everything, turn down things that they can’t complete and remain consistent with their goals.

Set smart goals

In establishing what’s important, Richardson encouraged individuals to evaluate various areas of their lives to determine how much attention each is getting and what is missing that they want to add. From there, participants can set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals. She also recommended finding an accountability partner — a co-worker, a spouse, etc. — to check in with from time to time.

It’s better to select fewer goals, measured in small actions, Richardson said, and then celebrate success. As individuals achieve goals, they can build on that success with new goals.

She offered the example of a client who had set the goal of going to the gym one night a week. She compared that to the person who resolves to go to the gym five nights a week in the new year (after not having gone to the gym in six months), and then gives up after failing to meet that goal in the first week.

Richardson’s client realized she felt better going to the gym and gradually worked up to two nights a week. Four months later, her client is going to the gym three nights a week. That was her original goal, but she might not have achieved it had she started out with that aim, said Richardson.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.