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The art of time management

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With the start of a new year, you're probably ready to start fresh. You've gotten through the hectic schedule of the holidays, and perhaps even used some of your time off to reflect on your procrastinating ways. Now, armed with fresh New Year's resolutions and 2013 goals you are determined to achieve, you reason that this year will be different. This is the year you will change your bad habits and will better manage your work-life balance. You're going to get to the gym, while not sacrificing your work load. When you're in the office, you resolve to more wisely allocate your time spent between dreaming and doing, so you don't miss a chance to look at the big picture. You will have a better plan to prioritize and achieve. Sounds good. Now how do you do it?

Time management is the key to getting those things that are truly important done, while allowing you to still have a life outside of the office. Especially in our fast-paced, technologically advanced world where the expectation is to be available 24/7, time management is a hot topic relevant year round.

There have been numerous books and articles written about this subject suggesting techniques for becoming the master of your own time. While making lists and power-blocking time are all important behavioral skills — I suggest that the most essential time-management strategy is a better understanding of yourself and your priorities.

Clearly, when we are dedicated to a person, issue or project there is no limit to what we will do to accomplish a necessary task. Conversely, when we are not fully present or committed, the outcome can have potential negative consequences.

Consider how many times you reluctantly agree to attend a meeting with co-workers or are on the phone with a client or employee and find yourself multi-tasking, perhaps simultaneously emailing or texting? As a result, not only are you unfocused and unproductive, but chances are the other person is aware you are not fully present and you are inadvertently doing damage to that relationship.

Now imagine that you are just as busy at work, but you are being audited by the IRS or you are involved in a potential lawsuit. If your C.P.A. or your attorney wanted to meet with you to discuss the situation, how many of you would make it a priority to meet with these advisers or be unfocused in your conversations with them?

And on a personal level, I imagine if your tooth broke or a dear friend was terminally ill you would “find” the time for a dentist appointment or to visit a dying friend, regardless of the demands you were experiencing. In these situations the critical elements that determine how we will manage and prioritize our time are our values, needs and motivation.

What is a value?
According to the researchers Raths, Harmin and Simon, for a belief to be considered a full value it must meet three criteria: choosing, prizing and acting.

Choosing — It must be chosen freely from other alternatives after thoughtful consideration is given to the consequences of each alternative.

Prizing — The value must be cherished and made known to other people. You must be comfortable affirming it publicly.

Acting — The value must be translated into behaviors that are consistent with the chosen value and integrated into the lifestyle.

Take a moment and make a list of your top 10 values. Be sure that they meet the aforementioned criteria. Now eliminate five of them and rank them in order of importance. In all likelihood you are currently prioritizing tasks and making decisions about how you manage time in alignment with these values. Keep in mind that values not only shape our behavior, but they change over time in response to life changing experiences.

Needs and motivation
Just as significant as understanding your values and behaviors, is acknowledging your needs or what motivates you. David McClelland, a pioneer in motivational research suggested that an individual's specific needs are also acquired over time and are shaped by our life experiences. He felt there were three basic needs:

Need for achievement. This person exhibits a strong desire to succeed and excel in their endeavors.

Need for power. This person has a high need to be influential and make an impact on others.

Need for affiliation. This person seeks to have friendly relationships and wants to be regarded well.

It is important to note that we all possess varying degrees of each of these needs and they are not mutually exclusive of one another.

Getting it done
Motivation is much more complicated than a single need compelling us to do something. For us to prioritize an activity either the anticipated outcome needs to be appealing or we must believe it will result in avoiding something unpleasant. For example, if by preparing documents or meeting with my attorney can potentially avoid a costly lawsuit, in all likelihood it will move up on my “to do” list.

Clearly defined priorities combined with a sense of urgency will translate into “finding the time” to get it done every time. Once you have completed your lists, you can use them as a guidepost to sort out what needs to be done right now, based on your needs, not always others. Sticking to your own values, needs and motivation will help you achieve all the other things that are important and crucial to your well-being, not just the things that are most urgent right now.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]


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