Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How I Manage My Time - 3-Point Formula That Gets Results

If you search for time-management articles and books you’ll find an abundance of volumes in print and also in the Web. All of them are interesting and useful—of limited use that is.

Some of you might say, that is very bold remark and will ask, “Why are they limited?”

These self-help formulas, though well intentioned and interesting, are for the most abstractions. In the end they turn out to be of little use to the common worker, manager, executive, or even spouse or student struggling to get things done. In my forty years in business I’ve followed these abstractions hoping to get results, only to get disappointments.

Textbook Formula:
Take the most common abstractions and you’ll see what I mean:

1. Get organized
2. Prioritize – Make a ‘to do’ list
3. Be disciplined
4. Be motivated

I could make a laundry list of many more abstractions, but the above suffice to illustrate the problem.

My Formula:
My solution for getting things done is nothing new, is nothing grandiose, but it really works:

1. Choose your task
2. Determine its complexity
3. Divide and conquer

Point 1 is so obvious that it needs no commentary.

Determine the complexity
All I mean by determining the task’s complexity is to get a gut reaction as to how long it might take to get it done. Next I sketch out a few episodes, parts, or components of my task; some people call this planning. To me planning means to look ahead as to how I will get from point A to point B. Since ‘planning’ is a fancy word much laden with theory, I avoid it. I usually say to myself, “Just let me get from point A to point B.”

When you look at a whole’s parts or components you’re really making an analysis. But since ‘analysis’ is a fancy term much used by academicians and scholars, I avoid it. I usually say to myself, “Just let me look at the pieces.” As I identify the pieces I write them down inside little clouds—little clouds being what I call ‘episodes.’

What I like about my formula is that I don’t need PERT or Gantt charts. It usually takes me less than 1 or 2 minutes to have my episodes roughed out in a piece of paper; usually in my calendar. Then I act.

For example, I had to grade 40 exams for my macro-economics class—this is my task. This isn’t a very complex task, but his has some components. Since the exam consists of several sections –true and false, multiple choice, diagrams—I grade one section at a time. My quick estimate tells me that it would take one minute or per exam. “This is a one hour task,” I concluded.

Divide and conquer
From history we learn that the old adage “divide and conquer” really works. The Persians (Iran, today) were but a small nation of not more than 10,000 people, yet they conquered the entire Middle East, and came close to conquering the Greek Empire. Or, look at the British—they were all over the planet from the 16th to the 20th century, claiming that the sun never set in the British empire.

Since grading exams is a monotonous chore, I divided the chore into 2 segments of 30 minutes each. And in two sittings I had conquered my task.

Conclusion
I have written several books, more than 600 articles, translated many books, and graded countless papers and exams, all by following the above 3-point formula. That is not even counting the myriad tasks I accomplished when I was active in business.

Two books have been influential in developing my approach. The first one is Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, from which I learned that, "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." And the second one is Robinson Crusoe from which I learned that you never fall a tree to build a canoe, unless you know how to get it to the water—that is how to go from point A to point B.

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If you are interested in seeing how I achieved personal success in the United States --both materially and spiritually-- you may find my book of short stories East of Tiffany's interesting. Some of the stories are based on my life as an executive, investment banker, and college professor.
Close to half-million people have read East of Tiffany's so far. Order your copy from either Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. See the link on the right sidebar.

Since English is my second language, Mary Duffy --a master of the English language-- aided me not only with the editing, but she also contributed her own stories. I love her writing in "When You Wish Upon a Star." This is a story based on a personal friend's life.

Senada Selmani, model

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