a story of time management gone horribly wrong
It was six in the morning when the phone rang. It was a call of desperation, of exasperation. It was a call from a childhood friend, Jimmy T. “Jimmy T-Ball” we used to call him.
“I’m gonna shave my head,” he blurted.
This was trouble.
Jimmy has a great head of hair, a follicle forest even. So whenever he threatens to shave it I know to wait for the bad news that follows: “And, I’m gonna grow dandelions, learn to chant and eat nothing but organic rice.” This was as bad as it’s ever been. “Maybe then,” he said, “I’ll align my energies with the good-karma-gods of the universe.”
I asked if he wanted to talk about it.
“No,” he cried. “The last thing I want to do is relive this hell. I swear,” he continued, clearly wanting to talk about it, “. . . it’s as if Beelzebub himself is pulling my strings.”
In times of stress, Jim leans towards the dramatic.
“This past month alone I had to have my car towed,” he continued, “the final repair bill was over $800 and I had to write a check for it which bounced due to insufficient funds. Funds I actually had, just in another account, and so I incurred needless overdraft charges the total of which I’ve still not figured out, plus my investment portfolio dropped 20% while the market has risen 9% and I arrived late to a new, and very important, client meeting virtually destroying any chance I had of securing that account.”
Through the phone I could hear the strike of a match and subsequent inflaming of a candle wick. “The worst part of it is,” he said, voice wavering, “. . . when I glimpse Beelzebub he looks familiar.”
I asked if he meant familiar as in someone famous or if he meant familiar as in someone he knows personally. “You know,” he whispered, “. . . he looks like me. And I get the symbolism—I’m sabotaging myself, but what can I do?”
Mind you, he asks me not because I’ve always been the embodiment of calm and collected, but because I was once like him—a lunatic. But I’ve since learned an effective technique to keep all my ducks in a row. And I don’t mind telling you that my ducks are a pretty fidgety group.
The solution to Jim’s problem is simple, but not thoughtless. It requires he not only take charge of his life . . . but to also battle the Beelzebub within.
The facts were:
1) Jim’s car had been banging out an S.O.S. long before it finally expired
2) Had he kept track of his spending he could’ve simply transferred the needed funds to his checking account, or better yet signed-up for overdraft protection
3) The client meeting had been set weeks in advance so there was absolutely no reason to arrive late other than it escaped his attention
The simple answer is scheduling. The tool, anything that works: Daytimer®, Smart Phone, heck . . . even sticky notes if that’s what works for you. Weapons like these are used to not only organize your time, but to create time. Studies have shown that 20-30% of a typical workday is spent between projects just figuring out what to do next; trying to remember the thing that couldn’t possibly be forgotten, looking for lost phone numbers, misplaced files, etc.
Twenty percent works out to one day per week of downtime.
One day per week—Gone—Think about it.
Missing meetings, falling behind on projects, arriving late to client meetings are all easily avoided by those who weather the discipline of scheduling. This is the difficult part of the solution. People want scheduling to be fun, which it’s not. People would prefer it to be mindless, which is the antithesis of what it is.
But it is effective.
It allows for the management of task details, including: priority; start, end and progress dates, follow ups, timelines, resources needed, phone numbers and contact information. All the critical elements are right there. No more wondering, no more guessing.
Imagine the benefits that an extra day of free-time each week would afford you.
For people like Jim who are prone to flashes of inspiration, or as he calls them: “painfully short moments of sanity,” the Daytimer provides for the immediate recording of such lucid moments. For those able to think through their week and who can schedule from behind the wheel of a computer, using a Smart Phone, tablet, Outlook, or Google Calendar may be a better and certainly more high-tech, option. Even sticky-notes can work in a pinch. But please, if you find yourself using them to remind yourself of kids’ birthdays and spousal anniversaries, promise me that you’ll seek licensed professional help.
By planning his day and tracking and revising his planned activities and tasks, Jim will grow better at allocating his time. He’ll acquire written benchmarks of resources used on each activity and he can refer back to these benchmarks to schedule his tasks more accurately in the future. He’ll also become aware of the huge time-wasters that attack us all: email, department meetings, presentations, etc. And he can take steps to minimize them, subvert them, or delegate them.
I suggested that Jim schedule at least one hour (two is better) a week for unforeseeable events which haunt us all, so he’ll be in a better position to manage them should they arise. Best case scenario is that the time is not needed, thereby providing Jim with an extra hour or so to visit with his valued clients, to follow up on a proposal to a new prospect, to network, train staff, take an extended lunch or check the stock market. He might even decide to leave an hour early to take his car to the shop for preventative maintenance.
Since Jim is a longtime friend, and a lot smaller than me, I can beat this message into him. But for those of you not within my reach . . . your karma is in your own hands.
Or the hands of Beelzebub.
Which will you choose?
Want to Battle your own Beelzebub but you’re too hip for a Daytimer and too cost-conscious for electronic alternatives? Try these Free Online Resources:
1) RememberTheMilk A to-do list seemingly powered by rocket fuel, this nifty application can send reminders to you via email, skype, SMS, and IM. It even works with Google Calendar.
2) Evernote, one of the web’s favorite productivity apps allows you the ease of recording, storing, even organizing your thoughts, photos and webpage clips in one handy location.
3) Aceproject helps you manage and complete your most important projects and is one of the more full-featured and generous options providing 250Mb of storage, plus Gantt charts, time tracking, email notification, calendars and assignable access-levels for your team.
4) FreeMind allows you to access your frantic mind and map your way to a brilliant solution. This highly rated mind-mapping tool works with Windows, Mac and Linux.
5) ManageMyIdeas is a completely free idea management program that allows you to manage and even share your ideas, should the mood strike.
6) Kukoo trains your email account so you can enjoy the benefits that “singletasking” affords: namely, getting you back into productivity mode.
7) TeamWorkPM is a free (for basic) online app that helps you manage your people, time, activities, milestones and client deliverables.
8) Dreaminder encourages you to dream big and keep that dream alive. Simply type your dream, set the date to be reminded and get to work creating the life you always imagined for yourself, secure in knowing, should you stumble off track, you’ll be reminded in the near future.
9) reQall is a voice-enabled memory aid that integrates your mobile phone, email, text messaging and IM into a organizer, reminder system and productivity assistant.
10) NowDoThis is uniquely funky and unabashedly single-minded. Once you build your to-do list, you must complete your first task in order to view the next.