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The 7 Maxims of Time Management

Author: Bill Wilson
I've been a time management disciple since my sophomore year in college when I realized that, if I didn't become more organized and develop sounder study habits, my educational environment would move from Southside Chicago to Southeast Asia. This article is based on my seminar by the same name and I have a book in the works on the subject...anybody insure a book publisher?  :-). 

Why time management is critical to your agency.

"Remember that time is money." -- Ben Franklin

According to a composite of several time management studies, the average worker “wastes” about 1-1/2 hours per day...47 days (over 1-1/2 months) per year. The annual "opportunity" cost (just in salary and benefits) to the employer is equal to 20% of payroll.

On the expense side, if that lost time could be recovered, it would take only five employees to do the same amount of productive work that six do other words, a 50-person staff could produce the same results as a 60-person staff.

On the revenue side, if that lost time were to be recovered and converted into commissions from new business and/or account development of existing business, the increase in revenue would be even more dramatic than the reduction in expenses since employees (should) generate revenue in a greater proportion than their salary expense.

As a rule of thumb, assuming that employees are operating at just 80% of their productive capacity, for each $500,000 in premium volume, the agency is spending about $10,000 too much or losing perhaps $20,000 in revenue. If you have a $50,000,000 agency, wouldn't it be nice to have an additional $1-2 million in pure profit annually?

A recent agency management study indicated that a motivated producer can produce 50% to 100% more than an unmotivated producer and that clerical productivity can almost always be improved by at least 15%. According to several national studies, employees CAN increase their productivity by 15% to 105% simply through the development of effective personal management skills such as goal setting, planning, prioritizing, scheduling, and eliminating “time wasters.”

From the agency’s standpoint, improving productivity by 20% can TRIPLE before-tax profits (assuming that payroll is just 50% of commissions and return on sales is just 5%). By employing the principles outlined in this program and putting the techniques into practice, you can dramatically impact your bottom line while reducing the stress and anxiety of your staff. To accomplish this mission, here are Seven Simple Steps to gaining control of your time....


Step 1:  Simplify
A prescription for "time indigestion."

"Own less, do less, and say no." -- Geoffrey Beane

Own Less. George Carlin refers to it as our "stuff" and most people have too much of it. Take a look around your agency. Take a look around your home. Is there clutter and disorganization? Are papers, boxes, supplies, and other things piled everywhere? Think about the time spent looking for things, moving things around, even cleaning around all the clutter (look in your desk drawer right now...I'll bet you have at least 20 pens and only about half of them work).

Get rid of it! Get rid of all of the unessential things you need to effectively do your job and live your life. Keep your agency, work area, and living spaces Spartan and uncluttered. Not only will it make you more efficient, but it will also reduce the subconscious mental stress that complexity creates.

Do Less.  Many people today suffer from what someone called "time indigestion"...eating too fast from a plate piled too high. From frazzled soccer moms to harried business executives, we too often try to do too much. Time is limited; time is a nonrenewable resource. We can't save it, we can't accumulate it...we can only spend it wisely.

There are too many choices today and too many decisions to make. We too willingly water down our time into too many activities while procrastinating on important, but non-urgent, matters. Remember the words of Gandi: "There is more to life than increasing its speed." Decide on the things that are most important to you, your business, your family, etc. and try to enjoy the things that give you the most value.

Say No.  Sometimes we do too much because we can't say no. As Carl Sandburg said, "Time is the coin of your life. it is the only coin you can have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you." The next time you're asked to do something, head up a project, participate in a civic event or whatever, ask yourself, "What are the consequences for me if I don't do this?" If you're compelled to do something because it's urgent, ask yourself "Urgent for whom?"

In that past, I've had to make many such decisions such as choosing between serving on an advisory board for a local university or being a Den Leader for my son's Cub Scout den. Guess which one I chose? To put these kinds of decisions in their proper perspective, see Steps 3 and 4 below.


Step 2:  Organize
Out of sight, out of mind (and out of the way).

"Have a time and a place for everything and do everything in its time and place, and you will not only accomplish more, but have far more leisure time." -- Tryon Edwards

Once you have simplified things, particularly by "owning less," the next step is to organize what's left. According to one study, the average office worker spends one year of his/her career searching through clutter. Therefore, it's essential that you organize what you don't get rid of. At work, start with your personal work space. At home start with closets and drawers.

At your workstation, remove anything from your desk that you're not working on that day. That will help you stay focused and reduce stress (out of sight, out of mind). According to the study cited above, two-thirds of papers on desks no longer have any value or productive meaning. When dealing with paperwork, practice the Four D's: (1) Destroy, (2) Delegate, (3) Delay, or (4) Do. Set up a personal filing system with To Do folders, To File folders, Suspense folders (by date), and so forth. Do it electronically if you can.

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius observed almost 2000 years ago that, "The universal order and the personal order are nothing but different expressions and manifestations of a common underlying principle." Just as the universe and nature work together, following common laws, your organization will function much more efficiently if you keep your environment and systems simple, structured and organized.


Step 3:  Balance
Make sure the ladder of success is on the right wall.

"To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top." -- Robert Pirsig

A key to being productive is to keep things harmonious and balanced. Everyone knows or has heard of the successful businessman with a miserable personal life. At the other end of the spectrum is the person who focuses only on personal gratification and spends his or her life living from paycheck to paycheck. The answer lies somewhere between.

So, it's important to prioritize and allocate your attention and time to the various roles you play in business and life: (1) family, (2) friends, (3) career, (4) community, (5) health, (6) self, and (7) spiritual. Sometimes it's helpful to take a sheet of paper and divide it into seven columns. In each column, write down what you'd like to accomplish, on an ongoing basis and in the long term, in each category, then prioritize them and schedule the time to accomplish them. An unhealthy imbalance in one area will lead to problems in other areas. This is discussed in the following steps.


Step 4:  Prioritize
Put the "big rocks" in first.

"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is perhaps the most "philosophical" part of the seven-step process. While it's listed here as Step 4, it can actually take place prior to Step 1 and concurrently with all of the other steps. In a nutshell, prioritizing is "putting first things first."

There is a classic illustration of this principle. The time management expert, speaking to a group, pulls out a one-gallon, wide-mouth jar and carefully places perhaps a dozen good-sized rocks into it until they reach the top. He then asks if the jar is full and the group responds that it is. Then he begins pouring gravel and shaking the jar until the gravel fills the gaps. Now when asked if the jar is full, the group isn't so sure, so he proceeds to fill the spaces between the gravel with sand. Finally, he pours a pitcher of water until the jar is, indeed, full.

When asked the point of the illustration, one member of the group says, "No matter how full your schedule is, you can always find room to fit more things into it!" In response to this answer, the expert pulls out another identical jar and repeats the illustration in reverse order...water, sand, gravel. When he gets to the rocks, no room is left and he responds, "What this teaches us is that, if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never be able to get them in."

In other words, the illustration is about priorities. It's not about squeezing as much minutia into the days as possible, but about allocating space for the important things first, then fitting in the lesser things if necessary. What are your "big rocks" and how will you fit them into your jar?

Basically, this requires thoughtful reflection on exactly what your needs and values are. In other words, what are the most important things you or your business want to accomplish? From an organizational standpoint, this should result in: (1) a mission statement, (2) long-range objectives, (3) annual goals, and (5) a plan that allows you to prioritize and schedule activities in a systematic manner that leads to the attainment of your goals, objectives and mission. The same process can be applied to your personal life.


Step 5:  Aim
Ready, AIM, fire!

"Our plans miscarry if they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind." -- Seneca

Once you have identified your "big rocks" and established your mission and long-term objectives, the next step is to set goals that will enable you and/or your business to accomplish those objectives. Be sure to set goals in each of the seven areas outlined in Step 3. Likewise, we can't proceed to Step 6 until Step 5 is accomplished...our plans will miscarry if they have no aim.

To be effective, goals must meet six criteria. They must be:

  • Motivational...they must be positive, personal, value-anchored, and need-fulfilling.

  • Attainable...they must be realistic and consistent with abilities, but challenging.

  • Clear...they must be understandable to all parties, concrete, specific, and tangible.

  • Measurable...there must be quantifiable performance indicators and milestones.

  • Time-Constrained...there must be target (starting and ending) dates and milestones.

  • Written...they must be written down for ongoing measurement, commitment, and reinforcement.

Finally, keep in mind the words of John Salak, "Failures are divided into two classes - those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought." Now that you've thought about what you need to do, the next step is to do it.


Step 6:  Structure
Build the infrastructure for habitual action.

"Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things." -- Bill Redden

Someone once said that efficient management without effective leadership is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic. Effectiveness is illustrated by Steps 3, 4 and 5...taking the "big rocks" and putting them into place. Efficiency begins with Steps 1 and 2 and picks up again with this step. In fact, in this step, we bridge between efficiency and effectiveness by putting a plan into action. Whether business or personal, an action plan includes the following tasks:

  • Plan the end of each month, invest time in a planning session for the upcoming month. Be sure to allocate time for goal-related activities that are important but perhaps not urgent.

  • Schedule the end of each week (I do this personally on Sunday nights), spend some time scheduling appointments and "commitments." Commitments are appointments with yourself...time allocated for working on your goals (be sure to balance your activities with your roles as discussed in Step 3).

  • Prioritize the end of each day, take time to review your accomplishments for the day and determine what you'll do the next day. Follow Pareto's Principle, sometimes called "the vital few and trivial many" (i.e., the 80/20 rule), by realizing that 80% of the value comes from 20% of what you do...focus on the important 20%, the "big rocks."

For an example of how to adapt this process for your producers, check out our article, "How to Increase Commissions by 50%!" 

Also, if you don't currently use a product such as DayTimer or a PDA, you might find the following forms helpful in getting started:

Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...Goal Planning Sheet
Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...Action Planning Sheet
Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...Monthly Schedule
Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...Weekly Planning Sheet
Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...To Do List
Click here to download this Adobe Acrobat document...Year/Month/Week/Day Forms Package 

When you think about it, many (if not most) people spend more time planning a one-week vacation than they do planning the rest of their lives. This systematic approach will simplify and structure the process of accomplishing your business and personal goals if you...


Step 7:  Habituate
The key component to successful time management.

"Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it every day and soon it cannot be broken." -- Horace Mann

The reason that most people read books and attend seminars on time management, but never improve their use of time is because of their unwillingness to take proven approaches and make them habits.

Remember to put first things first and create structure and balance in your business and personal lives. Set goals and follow a proven methodology for accomplishing those goals and, ultimately, the "big rocks." Do that by habituating, on a daily basis, true time management principles...when faced with a prioritization decision, remember the words of Marcus Aurelius: "Forget not on every occasion to ask thyself, is this not one of the unnecessary things?"

Time is the coin of your life. Spend it wisely.


Successful Personal Management
by Bill Wilson

Want to learn more about personal management and goal setting, along with dozens and dozens of tips about improving your personal and organizational efficiency and effectiveness? Successful Personal Management provides a practical approach to time management that offers unique insight and perspective to the age old problem of getting enough done within a given time frame. Click the book graphic to learn more.

Copyright 1998-2007 by William C. Wilson, Jr. Used with permission.

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