So begins Stuart Levine's great little book of ideas about time, Cut to the Chase: and 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time (Currency Doubleday, 2006, 207 pages). Written for all of us - anyone who realizes that time is the essence of life, that time is the only non-renewable resource, and that time deserves careful attention- Levine's book contains 100 ideas to help you take back your time.
Levine suggests scheduling some time to take back your time. Pick one of the 100 rules each day, he says, and put it into practice. Assuming you have comfortably put the first new habit into place, go for the next one tomorrow. If you are having trouble with a particular rule, stick with it until it feels natural.
Here's a list of my nine favorite ideas from the book.
The first 20 minutes - At the end (or start) of each day, choose one top priority for the new day - the one task you will sacrifice all others in order to complete it before you go home in the evening. Review your task list and allocate time for other priorities. Look at your meeting schedule and gather together whatever you will need to contribute effectively.
Master the ten-minute meeting - Start shooting to complete your meetings in ten minutes or less. Get clear on the purpose of each meeting, prepare carefully, and stay focused on the purpose throughout the meeting.
Cut down on your work related reading - Pick one and only one national news publication. Skim the headlines and read the business section. Pick one and only one trade publication. When it arrives, tear out articles of interest and toss the rest. Pick one and only one functional publication (an IT magazine, for example, if your specialty is IT). When it arrives, tear out articles of interest and toss the rest. Set aside one hour per week to read those articles you tore out of the publications.
Decide what not to do - You cannot do it all, so don't plan to. Unless a task will add value to your organization, is linked directly to a strategic goal, is critical to your job effectiveness, directly impacts customers, or is teaching you something new, drop it!
Delegate - "Effective managers delegate (p. 131)." Sorry, but it's just that simple. If you don't delegate, you are shortchanging yourself, your team and your organization. If you can't delegate because folks don't know how to do it, train them. It will take more of your time now, but it will pay back on the second, third and 99th time your employee is able to take care of that task for you.
Good enough is good enough - You are not perfect. No matter how hard and long you try, you will never be able to produce perfection on any task. Stop wasting good time redoing and perfecting that which doesn't need to be perfect. Realize at the start of any project how good the result must be, and stop as soon as you reach that level. When you are tempted to keep working on a project, ask yourself if anyone besides you cares, if you can still significantly improve the result, and if that improved result is really worth the time it will take. If it isn't, turn it in and get on to the next thing.
Take back the weekend - You owe it to yourself, and those with whom your work, and those who love you, to shut off work on Friday night and leave it off until Monday morning. Levine suggests devoting Friday afternoon to closing loops, finishing easy-to-complete tasks, clearing email and cleaning off your desk. Even if you have to stay late, Levine says, clear things out and go home with a clear conscience and an empty briefcase.
Know when you are not needed - Don't go to every meeting to which you are invited. Unless you can add value to the meeting, beg off.
Give the punchline first - Save your time and that of others. Give your conclusion first, before you launch into detailed explanations. If you are lucky, you won't need to give those details and you can all get back to work that much faster.
You'll have other favorites, so go find the book, pick the first idea you like, and make it happen!