Time management: how to look after the most important resource you have

Applying time management to your lifestyle can be tricky, but planning ahead can save you time in the long run. And there’s always time for a holiday, argues AAT member in practice Dawn Clarkson

If we run out of money, we can earn more. If we run out of time, there is nothing we can ever do to recoup it. Given that time is the most precious resource we have, I find it extraordinary that many people still don’t concentrate enough on how to manage it. Those who do stand out.

The most successful companies I have encountered set themselves goals and have a clear strategy to take them there. The business owners know how much they need to turn over each day to achieve their target profits.

They are clear, too, about their lifestyle: the type of house they wish to live in, the marque of car they want to drive, the hours they wish to work and the number of holidays they want to take.

Use a list to manage time management

These clients are noticeably well organised, demonstrate good time management, are self-disciplined – and expect the same from others. What are their secrets? The truth is they are remarkably simple. Never underestimate the power of the list.

They produce lists of everything they need to do to achieve their goals. Yet instead of being broad-brush schedules of overarching goals – ‘bring in £1,000 of new business this month’ – the lists are a selection of individual tasks that might contribute to those goals.

‘Call PJ Allison Butchers about doing its accounts; meet SG Smith Grocers to discuss how we might help calculate the cost of its expansion plans.’

Some tasks seem remarkably trivial – ‘sign off holiday form for Anna’ – yet they all contribute to a well-run business. (Anna is a valued employee we want to keep happy; while her holidays may not be at the forefront of your mind they are very important to her.)

Much can be achieved by breaking down the lists into small steps. This list-making is part of a wider strategy in the well-run business: plan properly. We’ve all heard the old business mantra ‘those who fail to plan, plan to fail’.

Every minute planning, saves you 10

Perhaps one reason why that hackneyed phrase is so irritating is that we know it to be true. Research suggests that every minute we spend planning saves ten minutes of the working day that would otherwise be lost through procrastination or poor time management.

One of my clients explained that he plans each day of the month at the beginning of the month, plans each week the prior weekend, and plans each day the night before.

My well-organised client allocates the most important task each day to the first position on the list, the second most important to the second place, and so on. He tries to limit each day’s list to seven tasks. My client is sure this process helps with concentration and enables him to achieve more throughout the day. Being a zealous list-maker myself, I don’t doubt it.

Getting things done is a remarkably good way to reduce stress and clear the mind. Take our leisure time – that, too, is precious, and we need to ensure we don’t sully it with the minutiae of our working lives.

Why there’s always time for a holiday

Arranging to be away from the office for a fortnight is a good way to reduce procrastination. The break helps my productivity on my return and, before I go, I’m driven to complete many of the little jobs I have been putting off.

The last thing I want is for them to pop back into my head when I’m jetting off: once there they will break the spell of my holiday. The business guru Dale Carnegie once wrote that “… the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today’s work superbly today. That is the only possible way you can prepare for the future.”

In other words, carpe diem – seize the day.

Learn the lessons of the past, plan enthusiastically for the future, but realise that we live only in the present. That time in our hands is invaluable. Yet so many of us let it slip, like hourglass sand might fall, through our fingers.

Read more on making the most of your time;

Dawn Clarkson is a licensed accountant and MAAT.

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