Time is the most fleeting resource at our disposal. We each have the same 24 hours in a day, yet some people perform meaningful work and fulfill their goals more than others. One reason for their success is because they've learned how to manage their time wisely and proactively. As one of the leading authorities on time management, Ken Glickman has given over 1,200 presentations and training seminars across the country for companies such as General Electric, FedEx, Rubbermaid, and others. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke to him about some of the core skills and techniques for taking control of your time, your business, and your life.
RL: How would you define time management?
KG: You don't really manage time. You can't really save time like you save dollars. Time is more like a seat on an airline. Once the plane takes off, it's gone. So you're really managing the things you want to accomplish in life and accomplish for the day. You're managing your activities.
RL: What are three common mistakes that people in general and small business owners in particular make with their time?
KG: One is lack of clarity in goals. A goal is knowing where you want to go. I find a lot of business owners get lost in where they want to go. You can have a really productive day—it seems—get a lot done, check off a lot of to-dos, and yet you're not moving closer to the most important things. So you need very, very clear goals. You have to have a clear vision of where you want to go. Now, you can always change that goal. You're not locked into it. But if you are going to change, make sure it's for the right reasons—not because it just got too tough.
RL: A second mistake?
KG: Not establishing boundaries. Setting boundaries is absolutely critical. They need to be clearly stated, they need to be fair, and then they must be consistently followed. If you set good boundaries, people will most often respect them. For instance, my mentor would set aside each morning and say to people: "If you have to see me, stop by then. My office doors are always open. In the afternoon, they're closed, unless it's an emergency." What happened was, he would train people to see him in the morning if they needed to talk with him.
KG: Not organizing clutter. I don't mean so much the clutter on your desk, but your mind becomes very cluttered. And when your mind is cluttered, it creates tremendous tension. When you're tense, you can't be as productive.
RL: After setting goals, what's the next step?
KG: You have to have a plan. Ask yourself: Where are you right now and where would you like to be? That's the vision. Then, how are you going to get there? What are you going to do—each day, each week, each month—to take you from where you are to where you want to go? That's the overall plan. Then you fill in the yearly goals, the six-month goals, and the weekly goals. It gets down to basically your daily to-dos. Then you have to prioritize. Prioritizing is knowing what's most important and taking care of what's most important first. I didn't say important. I said most important. There's a big difference.
RL: Tell me about that big difference.
KG: Let's say you have the list of things you want to accomplish today—your to-dos for today. Take a little time and prioritize them. There's two ways to prioritize. One is by payoff. Go through that list and assign each to-do an A, B, or C. An 'A' is something that has a very high payoff in taking you from where you are to where you want to go. A 'B' has a payoff, but less of a payoff, and a 'C' has little or no payoff at all. Many times, people [focus] on the Cs during the day.
RL: And the second way to prioritize?
KG: Now, look at urgency. A '1' is something that must be done right away—in the next hour, the next day, whatever. A '2' is something that needs to be done, but not necessarily right away, and a '3' is something that has virtually no urgency at all. [Combining them], A-1s get done first at the beginning of the day. Once you've done your A-1s, go to your B-1s. If you have time, then do you’re A-2s. And schedule these. This is very important. Anything you want to get done during the day, you must schedule it or chances are it won't get done.
RL: You're saying to put it on your schedule with a specific day and time?
KG: Absolutely. Whatever you've got to do, you make an appointment, and you shouldn't break that appointment as you wouldn't break an appointment you made for an important business meeting, unless something comes up that you really need to do first. But that's a decision you make.
RL: Small business owners have demands made on their time constantly. How do they say "No" to a request without feeling guilty or causing hurt feelings?
KG: When someone asks them do something, most people will [comply] to make this person happy. But the proper questions to ask yourself are: "If I say yes to this, what specifically am I saying no to? And do I want to say no to that?" If you ask yourself this, you're probably going to come up with the right answer for that time. You can't make everyone happy. When people have requests for you as a business owner, you want to make sure it's very to-the-point, that it's very relevant, because people can take forever to say something. During World War II, Winston Churchill insisted that every memo he got had to be on one side of a piece of paper.
RL: Managing email and social media can burn through time at warp speed. What's your advice for handling them?
KG: Let people know that you look at your emails and text messages [at a certain time of the day], so they shouldn't expect to hear from you at any other time. You can also have several emails or even several phone numbers. Give one to the people you want to respond to right away—say, your biggest clients—and maybe a different email to your family.
RL: How can you tame mental clutter?
KG: You can really only handle one thing well on the conscious level [at one time]. I carry around several index cards stapled together. When anything comes up that I want to deal with sometime in the future, I write it down and forget about it. When I get back to the office, I take the things I want to keep and I put them on their proper shelf. Then, when I'm planning what I'm going to do next, I simply look at all the shelves and take things down that I want to use that day. So I've organized my mind to get rid of the clutter.
RL: Final tip?
KG: If you get up early and give yourself an hour to work straight with no distractions—you don't check your email or your texts—and you literally spend that time focusing on the most important things, that hour will probably be the most productive hour of your day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.