I just read one of the currently popular books on time management, "How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life," by Alan Lakein. While doing so I violated one of its suggestions, which is to skim most books and only read the portions which seem most relevant to your situation.
Instead I read it word for word.
At the same time, I also managed to procrastinate on the real objective behind my reading, which was to write a column on the same subject.
So far, I'm not one of the distinguished graduates of Lakein U.
I certainly recognize, however, that Lakein makes many valid points. One is that we tend to avoid the hardest jobs that face us. And to help prove this, I'll tackle (at last) a much easier aspect of time management than I had intended to.
New, narrower subject: How not to make the best use of your time.
From personal, frustrating experience as well as Lakein's book, I've formulated seven simple precepts. Follow these, and you're sure to go wrong.
Consider every assignment to be of equal importance.
Simply set your priorities on the basis of due dates.
Concentrate today on what has been requested for today or tomorrow. Before you know it, it will be next week, when that really important project is due. What you finally produce on it may be inadequate, but at least you'll be martyred, tying and collating all alone in the middle of the night.
Be a perfectionist in all things.
This is an easy way to take the pitfalls of precept No. 1 and dig them deeper. Writing and rewriting a memo to your sales manager until it is perfectly phrased, for example, is a dandy way to avoid an extra sales call or two. And if you strive hard enough to create the ideal sales presentation, you may never finish it at all, let alone use it.
Encourage people to drop in on you at all times.
This isn't even a problem after hours, when you'll be doing much of your work.
Try to do more than one person's worth of work.
Almost anyone will come through in a short-term crunch. But if you're willing to go beyond this, you can turn your whole life into a crisis. You can prevent your management from realizing that you need an assistant. And the quality of your work can deteriorate through exhaustion.
Never risk antagonizing anyone by turning down an assignment or a request for help.
This will ensure you of a long list of minor chores to do . . . or a reputation for not accomplishing what you say you will . . . or both.
Don't set objectives of your own or offer counterproposals for action.
Don't sit back and figure out that some of your assignments are not the best means to their real ends. Go ahead and write that letter when a telegram may be more appropriate. Or shop for the new computer that has been requested, instead of devising the system that can utilize your old one for a new task. Or improve your sales approach--to the wrong market. Who can blame you for following orders? Or even pick you out of the crowd?
Worry about your personal life on office time and your office problems when you're home.
This will show you're a well-balanced person. Work isn't everything to you. Neither is your family. And they'll suffer about equally.
These are precepts that you can master in no time, almost without thinking.
The trouble with good time management is . . . who's got the time for it . . . for the daily planning and thoughtful setting of priorities that might make the rest of one's time more effective?