Successful business people

Time is something to be molded to our advantage.

Spending Time Wisely

By   Robert Half
ROBERT HALF is a founder of Robert Half International, Inc.
  • TIME MANAGEMENT is a skill thats becoming increasingly important in todays frenetic business climate. Successful people have learned to use their time wisely. CPAs know that they have only their talent, knowledge, professional skills and time to offer their clients and companies.
  • COMPARTMENTALIZING the many demands placed on us helps substantially in making time more productive. Some executives establish firm rules for meetings, giving each person a time limit. Many swear by "to-do lists" while others find it more productive to be flexible in the way they attack each day.
  • DONT ALLOW TIME to be wasted. For example, spend time waiting in line dictating thoughts into a tape recorder. Learn to appreciate the value of people who end telephone conversations and meetings quickly. They conserve their own time and ours.

T ime. Theres always so little of it and so much to do. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, " for whatever you please, except time; that is the only thing which is beyond my power." But is time really beyond our control or can we manage how we use our time? Time management is a skill thats becoming increasingly important in todays frenetic business climate, which calls on us to accomplish more—with, of course, less time.

Is there a truly successful person who hasnt learned to manage his or her time wisely? Every accountant knows that time is money. As accountants, we have only our talent, knowledge, professional skills and time to offer to our clients and companies.

Ive been trying to tame time for my entire professional career and am always on the lookout for clues to how other people make efficient use of their days. For example, an executive who established a system of replying to memos and letters decided that most correspondence didnt warrant a separate written reply, much less space in the files (every tree should thank him). His approach was to answer memos and letters on the originals themselves and then send them back. A definite time-saver.

A woman who runs her own small business reads three morning papers while riding her stationary bike. She also believes in creating physical separation for dissimilar functions. Instead of working from one large desk, she has three separate desks: one for administrative tasks, one for financial matters and the third for her marketing and sales efforts. Shes extremely organized, which I believe is a crucial characteristic for anyone seeking to maximize the use of his or her valuable time.

Also, compartmentalizing the many demands placed on us helps substantially in making our time more productive. Alan Alda, the actor, was once asked in an interview how he managed to balance his professional demands with his role as a husband and father. At the time, he was spending the week in California filming MASH and commuting home each weekend to his family on the East Coast. He responded that on the flight home he consciously forced himself to shift gears from being an actor to being father and husband. It couldnt have been easy—putting aside everything that had happened during the weeks filming. But he felt that if he didnt make this effort, one responsibility would meld with the other, and neither would be well-served.

Many successful executives establish firm rules for meetings, giving each person a time limit. Subordinates come to meetings knowing theyd better be concise and to the point—and leave the adjectives at home.

There are successful people who swear by the "to-do list." Others find it more productive to be flexible in the way they attack each day. But the salient point is clear: Making good use of the time were given each day doesnt just happen. Time is something to be molded, like putty, to our advantage. We have to decide to use our time productively. We have to be committed to this goal.

So much of our time is wasted because we allow it to be. Think of the hours we spend standing or sitting in line at banks, airport check-in counters, toll booths, doctors offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles. Too many of us accept those situations as wasted time, but they dont have to be.

Im never without a small tape recorder in my pocket so I can use the downtime spent in line to dictate thoughts. Some people look at me a little strangely, but thats no matter. My goal is to make the best use of those precious minutes.

Which brings up an observation. People who value their time—and work hard at preserving it—are sometimes perceived as rude. They end telephone conversations and meetings quickly if the reason for the call or meeting doesnt interest them. (Of course, it is hoped that theyre courteous in bringing about abrupt conclusions.)

In any case, we should be thankful for those individuals. By not extending unproductive conversations, they conserve both their own time and ours. They believe in what the great poet Carl Sandburg once said about time: "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

For more information...
To gain additional insights into time management, try reading Managing Your Time, Your Work, Yourself, by Merrill E. Douglass and Donna N. Douglass (AMACOM).

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