When Rodney asked me to consider an article on time management, my first reaction was, “What the heck do I know about time management?” I had visions of real experts, consultants, people we pay $2,500 per day who had Power Point presentations and knew all the latest management techniques.
But as usual I have a big enough ego that I quickly snapped out of it and said to myself, “Why not me, I can do that!” After all, I enjoy a challenge as much as the next person, and I have a super-secret weapon working in my favor, “The Colonel.”
The Colonel’s Rules
In a previous article I mentioned being raised an Army brat, recruit second-class (middle child), to the distinguished Lt Col. Felix Bessler. The Colonel could really bring it when it came to time management, and he expected all of his recruits (kids) to understand the importance of time. He often used terms with us like, “Fall In,” “Stand at Attention,” “At Ease,” “Assume the Front Leaning Rest Position” (commonly known as the pushup position), and his often-used favorite was, “I want you to be home by 2202 hours (10:02 p.m.), not one minute before, not one minute after.”
At the time it sounded okay–the Colonel liked structure and we were used to it. We never bothered to try to figure out the logic, we were more focused on the exactness of it, like all good recruits should do. As we got older, the Colonel explained that when he was one of President Kennedy’s and President Johnson’s helicopter pilots, Johnson used to sit up front sometimes and tell them, “I want to land at the White House at a specific time, like 0722, not one minute before, not one minute after.” To oblige, they would have to fly Army 1 around and then swoop in at the exact minute.
As we got on in years and the Colonel, now a gentleman farmer settled into retirement and starting to soften, changed his strategy and the “standing orders” for us. His revised philosophy was, “Stay out as long as you like but know the later you come in, the earlier you’re getting up.” So anything after midnight, (2400 hours), usually had us up around 0600 with the Colonel’s barking order, “Drop your ____ and grab your socks, it’s time to get up.” That meant farm work and that, my friends, really is, in my opinion, the character-building tradition this great land of ours was built on. I really like saying that because in some ways, we are a version of the modern-day farmer, growing turf, urban forests and open space.
Time Management Challenges
I know all of this is funny, but I think it drives home the point that our entire lives are about time management in some form or another. As a parent I am constantly struggling with time management–especially with my kids. In the summer, my teenage daughter Hannah thinks every night is Friday night and that my wife Mary and I can wait up till midnight seven days a week (we can’t). Ten-year-old Sawyer believes that when he’s told to do something, “in a minute” is a reasonable response. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a full understanding of what a minute really is. And then there’s my personal favorite, the old “Peace Out!” which means see you later, much later.
My hypothesis is that, at a very early age, we either learn the value of the exact, irreversible and limiting nature of time, or we think of time as more of a suggestion to react to at our own pace. This is fine when we’re children, but then we grow up and discover that few things in the working world are really a suggestion; projects, processes, products, commitments and deadlines are all around us, and they all carry the associated stresses of the exactness of time.
How do we get out in front of it all?
There are as many answers as there are questions, and I believe there is no right way. The first place most people look is to technology. As we all know, this is a tricky proposition. Technology alone is outpacing our desire to change personal habits. For example, if it takes 30 consecutive days to form a new habit, but new “time saving” technology comes out just as fast, what are we to do?
It’s becoming increasingly obvious this technology is crushing us under the invisible weight of its sheer volume. It is a BEAST! The days of the pink phone message note we pressed onto the spikey thing on the desk are long gone. Phone mail and e-mail are typically abused and over-used, and consume vast amounts of time, hard drive and our living, inner drive. We have to figure out boundaries with that stuff and try to impress upon our sometimes over-zealous but committed staffs how to recognize the invisible line of what we do need and don’t need to know. My oldest son Dylan has figured it out; he calls it “Strategic Release of Information.” Clearly, it’s an art, not a science.
I suggest you develop a system that works for you, and then stick to it. Any system will work if the underlying value associated with it is that you need to be accountable for delivering your product in an efficient way and that you honor and respect the time of those with whom you interact. If you place those simple values into your schedule, meetings will start on time, they won’t last an hour when they only need 30 minutes, and there will be a strange, accompanying satisfaction of real progress. By the way, I challenge you to schedule meetings in 30-minute blocks instead of the customary one-hour ones and see what happens. If going to 30 minutes is too cold turkey, try 45 and ease the pain. Here are a few more tips that may help:
Delegate and empower subordinates
Establish short-term, mid-term and long-term priorities.
Don’t waste other people’s time; you’re just wasting yours
Ensure all meetings include only needed people
Do not commit yourself to unimportant activities, no matter how far away they are
Keep things simple
Manage your important decision-making processes
Throw unneeded things away
Read Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks, Pickle Jar Theory; it’s a one pager, not a book
Most importantly, set boundaries for yourself. You have to be able to come to work with energy and enthusiasm. I used to be able to do three night meetings in a week. I just can’t do that anymore; two is my limit. It took too much out of me, destroyed my enthusiasm reserves and left my life way out of balance. I also book one day a week that I won’t schedule any formal meetings so I can play catch up. I call it, “Thursday, the new Friday”!
Figure out if you’re a person who needs structure or you can keep it loose, but above all, do a check-in with your values and develop a system that is in alignment. Hopefully, your values are in agreement with your organization.
Donald Bessler is the Director of Parks, Open Space & Public Facilities for Longmont, Colo. He can be reached via e-mail at Don_Bessler@ci.longmont.co.us.