Yep, its 11pm and your still working on the stuff you brought home. The kids are in bed and so is the spouse. By the way, the spouse is not happy about this either.

This is not an isolated situation, rather it is happening more often than not to more people. With company downsizing and the need for getting more from less the pressure is on. The forty-hour week now is stretched to 50-60-70 hours. If you’re an owner, you already know about the 60 hours, but 90 plus hour weeks!

The sad thing about all this is how it affects our quality of life, family and personal esteem. When these areas of life become negative, work performance is also declining!

So how do you stop this runaway train that consumes our time!

Here are five simple, yet challenging keys that can change your life!

Either these core issues put people in control of their lives or lack of these put them out of control!

1. Focus: It has been proven time and again that we are most efficient when we focus on one task or item at a time. I do not care what they say about "multi-tasking", its BS! Our brain works like a car. If all four wheels are turning in the same direction, we reach our destination in the most efficient way and on time.

Now consider that same car with each of its four wheels going in different directions! Is this going to be a fun drive? A productive drive? How about efficient?

In the second example we use up a tremendous amount of energy and time with very little results! Thus, more hours and exhaustion are the real results.

Dave Lakhani in his book "Power of an Hour" talks about power hours. We can apply "fearsome focus" on a given project for an hour and accomplish more than multi-tasking all day!

2. Priorities: This ties into Focus but many will say, "I have so many priorities and demands!" Yes, we all do, the difference is not all are top priorities, they only seem to be.

Gene was a mentor of mine in the 80's and had a unique way of prioritizing things. He had three locations in his office where he put things.

a. A do it today place for those items he needed to do today and they had importance and impact on the outcomes he needed.

b. A do it this week place for those items he needed to do but had time or needed to get information or input on. Again, these had an impact on his required outcomes.

c. A drawer that was very large where he put things that were interesting or he thought might have value but did not have an immediate impact on his outcomes.

Each day he first grabbed the A location and put them in order of importance and then went to work. When he was done with that pile, he went to the B group, prioritized them, and got to work until the day ended or he completed all the tasks. As to the large drawer, on the 30th of the month he pulled the drawer out and dumped it in the garbage without looking through it. Whatever was in the drawer had not become important and had no immediate value.

The results of Gene's system, he had time to be creative, always seem to have time for his employees and friends and attended most of his children's activities. By the way, he was running six companies at this same time.

Can you set up some type of system to help you prioritize what is the most important in accomplishing your outcomes! Of course, you have to define those outcomes or goals and give them focus.

3. Clutter: This is one of the deadliest of time management sins. It is distracting, overwhelming and self-defeating!

An old saying goes; "If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, then what does a clean desk indicate? An empty mind? NO a clear mind!"

Test; if you have stuff on your desk or your brief case or car is cluttered up, simply remove everything. I don't care what you do with it; just get it out of the way! Now take the most important priority and have only that in front of you! Work on it for 55 minutes. How did it feel? How productive were you? What about distractions?

I'll bet it felt different and once you got past the different feeling, your productivity went up.

My friend Vince Harris has a unique way of approaching this. He walks in to a client's office with a large garbage bag and anything that is not of immediate importance is put in the bag. The client now is never allowed to have anything that is not a priority visible at any time. As they gain time, they take one item out of the bag in the closet and complete it. Vince gets nothing but very positive feedback on this approach!

4. Do It Now: in the Time Management field, these are the most powerful three words. Yes, you and I are tired, have others demands right now and just do not feel like it.

The ability to focus for that extra 30 minutes and get it dealt with now is the single biggest factor between people who control their time and those that have no time.

This includes those nasty things we all have to do. Deal with that negative person or situation, that issue or task you just hate to do. By doing it now you have eliminated an internal distraction and cleared your mind to focus on the next priority.

The old saying of "Start everyday by swallowing a frog" is really about the do it now aspect. When those challenges come up, take a deep breath, smile broadly and go after it. You are now in control rather than the fear being in control.

5. Schedule Dates: If there is one thing I hear from almost everyone, it is more time for family or self. The guilt associated with not being with family or having self-time is a strong internal distraction. So how do you combat this distraction and guilt?

A psychologist I knew took a calendar and put all the family activities on including dates with her spouse and friends. Then she put in all the projects and business appointments she had to do in the open spaces. There were some compromises and yes, she did some evening and weekend work.

What she found out is she easily got her 40-50 hours of work in and the majority of her family events as well. She also found she was far more productive during her work time and far more relaxed during family events. When asked what changed, the response was "no guilt"! She had eliminated the internal guilt and distraction.

Now you may not have the flexibility the psychologist has, but setting "dates" with those important to you can go a long way to eliminating the guilt feelings that can occur and distract us.

There you are, five key areas that can help you take control of your time and effectiveness. Be creative and apply them to your work and life. See what happens!

Harlan Goerger

© Harlan Goerger 4-09
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Author's Bio: 

Harlan is an International Leadership and Sales Trainer with a focus on applying Ethical Persuasion and Influence in Leadership and sales roles. His book, The Selling Gap provides new ideas and thinking about selling in todays markets.