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03 April 2009 6:39am

Always doing what’s urgent – but not necessarily important – can take hours out of your day for no result, says coach Faye Hollands.

Hollands, an experienced recruiter and director of Outshine Consulting, says effective time management can have a huge impact on the results you achieve in your professional life.

If you regularly put things off, thinking you’ll have more time tomorrow, “that delays and puts off the results you’re trying to achieve,” she says. But, if you want to get more done in less time and improve your productivity, “it’s entirely up to you to make it happen”.

Most people, Hollands says, “don’t stop long enough to think about what needs to be done. They just jump straight in and do whatever grabs their attention next, or what seems like the easiest task to get on with”.

The problem with that approach is that what gets done isn’t necessarily what’s important.

A key principle in time mastery is, “important things are not always urgent, and urgent things are not always important,” Hollands says. “Learning to distinguish between the two is essential for time management.”

In order to do what’s important, you must determine what your key goals are so you can plan your day accordingly. “What are your mission-critical tasks? I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. If you’re responsible for generating revenue, then a mission-critical task for you is business development or marketing. It’s not filing emails.”

Key result areas, she says, “are those aspects of your job that matter the most. They’re your bottom line. They are why you’re on payroll or running a business.”

Most jobs can be broken down into between five and seven key result areas, she says. These point to the most valuable use of your time, as opposed to tasks that don’t contribute to your goals. “These must be the priority in everything you do, and should be meticulously scheduled in your diary.

“Planning is absolutely key in time management, and these appointments in your diary should be given the same respect as a client meeting.”

If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by your to-do list, wondering what to tackle next, a simple way to prioritise is to ask yourself, “If I could only do one more thing today, what would leave me feeling satisfied?”

Hollands says that by asking yourself that question, “you’ll maximise your time and focus on what’s important every day. It will leave you satisfied and give you a sense of accomplishment.”

Other tasks, she says, will make you feel busy but they don’t achieve anything and don’t contribute to your goals.

Apply the 80-20 principle
Hollands recommends identifying two tasks that are mission critical each day, in line with the Pareto principle.

This principle applies across many areas, she says, for example: 20 per cent of your meeting time is spent making 80 per cent of your decisions; and 20 per cent of your activities will account for 80 per cent of your results.

To get more done in less time you must focus on doing these mission-critical activities that have the highest pay-off, she says.

“On a to-do list of 10 items, two will be more important than the other eight. Take time to redefine your to-do list. If you start with the most important tasks, you’ll accomplish more than the average person. Use the 80-20 principle and concentrate on mission-critical tasks that will help you move closer to your goals.

“These are often the ones you procrastinate over – the most complicated ones on your list, or the most time consuming. It’s much easier to find other tasks to do instead.”

Set aside time to do them at the start of the day or when you know your energy levels are highest, she advises.

“Be selective with your limited amount of time and spend it on what’s most important to you and your goals. When you start a task, you’ve automatically rejected everything else you could be doing in that time, so it’s important that you’re the one choosing the task, rather than allowing circumstances or other people to choose the task for you.”

Five steps
Hollands recommends five steps to create more time in your day:
Plan, plan, plan – “Whether you like it or not, planning is the key to running a successful day where you actually get the important stuff done!

“Spend five minutes at night writing down the key tasks that you need to do the following day and allocate time slots to complete them. This allows your subconscious mind to work on any challenges or problems you might be experiencing overnight, and also ensures maximum focus the following day because you know exactly what you need to do.”

Stop filling your time – “Filing your emails, shuffling paper, chatting on the phone and surfing the internet might make you feel busy, but I’m pretty sure they don’t help you achieve your key goals.

“Write a list now of the top five things you do to waste time or procrastinate, and then avoid them like the plague until your key tasks are done.”

Say ‘no’ – “If you’re constantly saying ‘yes’, you’re more than likely to put yourself under undue stress and pressure, with an increased workload to boot! An inability to say no can leave you over-committed and unable to achieve the best results so learn to say ‘no’ to stay in control of your day.”

Double check – “Everyone makes mistakes but with the right planning and double-checking you will catch most of them before any problems occur. Spend just a few minutes checking to save yourself hours of pain and frustration later.”

Get organised – “Working and living in general chaos does nothing other than lead to wasted time and increased stress. If you don’t know where things are you can’t be as productive and efficient as possible, so make sure you invest a few minutes every day to get organised.”

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