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Anthony V. Fasolo

Quality Insider

Quickly, While You Have Time

A time-management lesson

Published: Monday, August 20, 2007 - 21:00

As a regional director for loss prevention for the Marriott Corp. in the 1980s, I attended an “Insight To Time Management” seminar conducted by Charles Hobbs of Salt Lake City. The ideas in this article I got from that seminar and from more than 40 years of personal experience, with Marriott and with local, state, and the federal government. Planning is the key to good time management and to understanding how all this can fit into your lifestyle.

Here are a few ideas you might want to consider:

1. Put everything in writing. Use the Day-Timer system or another monthly planner system. According to a Chinese proverb, “Even the palest ink is better than the best memory.” This is especially true the older you get.

2. Learn these three concepts:

  • Time management. What is time? It’s the occurrence of events, one after another. What is management? It’s the act of controlling. What is time management? Time management is the act of controlling events, as much as humanly possible.
  • Congruity: What we do must be in harmony with our surroundings. Our actions must be appropriate for the events in all of our lives. For instance, when I worked at the Pentagon, I used to plan my day for about 15 minutes every morning, before I read my e-mails. However, when I tried to do this at home, my wife complained. Lesson learned: I cannot do this at home on weekends, because my wife likes to be free of constraints at home.
  • Concentration of power. It is the ability to focus upon and accomplish the most vital priorities in producing optimal effects.

Many of us use checklists every day, but we need to prioritize the list if we’re going to follow the concept of concentration of power. We need to learn what is:

(A) Vital—daily projects that are vital to the organization’s well-being

(B) Important—actions that should get done today, but aren’t quite as important as vital

(C) Of limited value—projects that are OK to postpone

* Urgent—those that call for immediate action (e.g., returning your boss’s phone calls)

(D) A complete waste of time

Vital projects should be the driving force, but urgent tasks usually determine what gets done. The vital task rarely must be done today, or even this week. Urgent tasks call for instant action, their momentary appeal seems irresistible, and they devour our energy. In light of time’s perspective, their deceptive prominence fades. With a sense of loss we recall the vital tasks we pushed aside, and we realize we’ve become slaves to the “tyranny of the urgent.”

How does one prioritize? By assigning A, B, C, or D to an item. Remember that urgent tasks are marked with an *. Returning a phone call might be urgent, but not necessarily vital.

Look at all the projects you have to do and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which of my long-range and intermediate vital goals should I work on today?
  2. If I could do only three or four additional projects of value today, what would they be?
  3. Which projects will give the highest payoff?
  4. Which projects does the boss consider most vital?
  5. What will happen if I don’t do the above projects today? Who will find out? Who will suffer?
  6. Which items in my “grass catcher” list (a list of ideas that come to mind while doing something else) and previous daily action lists should I work on today?
  7. Of all tasks to be done today, which will make me feel best to get rid of?
  8. What do company policy and ethics suggest? What do my personal values suggest?

You feel at your best when you feel you’re in control.
In regard to control, there are five kinds of events:

1. There are events we think we cannot control, and we can’t. We adapt to these.

2. There are events we think we cannot control, but we can. Perhaps we can control them if we work on a solution, which requires thought or brain storming.

3. There are events we think we can control, but we don’t. “That’s the way we’ve always done it here” gets in the way.

4. There events we think we can control, but we can’t, e.g., the weather. If you think you can control events that you have no control over, you may be out of touch with reality.

5. There are events we think we can control that we do control. High performance produces high self-esteem.

Procrastination gets in the way
Here’s how to avoid procrastination:

  • Make a daily prioritized list (A1 to D1).
  • Periodically make a “grass catcher” list. I do this by keeping my day-timer handy and writing in ideas that come into my head, maybe while exercising or shaving. I write them on the blank page opposite my daily tasks. I also use this page to note what comes out of meetings that I need to follow-up on.
  • Refer to longer-range goals when preparing daily action lists.
  • Keep only the paper you’re working on in front of you. This should be your A1 project.
  • Practice the “hot ball” theory. When I was wearing an Army uniform, I worked for a chief of staff once who taught me the "hot ball" theory. He told me that when someone gives you a “hot ball project,” don’t let it sit in your hands, as it will eventually “burn” you. You need to do something with it. You have three choices:
    • Send it back to the person who gave it to you and ask for more information.
    • Send it to someone to take action on it.
    • Take action yourself.
  • If something is overwhelming, cut it into smaller chunks. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  • Chain yourself, figuratively, to your desk until you do it. I have tied one leg to my chair with a piece of string to ensure that I did my A1 project.
  • Anticipate interruptions that divert attention from your A1. Make sure you untie the string.
  • Plan time away from A1.
  • Eat the pie crust first, then the filling. In other words, do the distasteful part of a project first.
  • Do it now. Just do it.
  • Use other people to reinforce your A1. Let others know what you’re working on so that they may help or at least stay out of your way.
  • Turn difficult tasks into a game. “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
  • Organize papers into A, B, and C stacks.
  • Select a time of day for each type of work required. For example, I’m a morning person and like to plan my day, answer e-mails, and write memos then. I save afternoons for meetings (so I can take a nap during them).
  • Allow flexibility. Don’t be a slave to time. For instance, you may need to exercise, do recreational reading, listen to music, get a haircut or a massage, play an instrument, or meditate.
  • Commit to a deadline. When someone says, “We need to meet on this soon,” take out your calendar and agree on a time and place.

Time flies
Where does your time go? Every one of us has the same number of days in a week, minutes in an hour, and hours in a day, yet some of us get our work done on time and some of us don’t. Why? Probably because we’re wasting time on the wrong tasks. We need to find out what our time wasters are. A time waster is a dysfunctional event, such as planning inadequately, or perhaps:

Meetings—I was one of six regional directors of loss prevention for Marriott who spent 90 percent of our time on the road visiting hotels. We had one team meeting a month, which lasted all day and was a real grind, because our supervisor would start the meeting at 8 a.m. and then go until he was finished, usually at about 5 p.m. We didn’t take a break for anything. We were also given piles of papers to read just seconds before the meeting, and we often had guest speakers about whom we were never informed and for whom we could never prepare. Meetings are sometimes thought of as places where minutes are kept and hours are lost. This was true in this case until we had a meeting to decide on how to make the monthly meetings more productive.

Socializing—“How did the Redskins do this weekend?”

Preoccupation—“I wonder where I should go on my vacation this year.”

Ineffective delegation—“Things only get done right if I do them myself.”

Attempting too much—Massive multitasking.

Too involved in details—First you open the door to your office, and then you turn on your computer. . . .

Unable to say “No.”—An extreme can-do attitude.

Lack of self-discipline—“Let’s see, where was I?”

Wrong choice of priorities—“I know that the boss wants this now, but I can get my pet project done first and then get to hers.”

Procrastination—“Let me tell you about the last time I had to do this project. How about a cup of coffee?”

Interruptions—“Hey, Joe, would you like to get in the office football pool?”

Our own mistakes. “But I ran this through ‘spellcheque.’”

Failure to really listen—“That’s nice, now where were we?”

Overcontrol—“Once you’ve finished the introduction, please bring it to me, and then after I review it, please continue.…”

Fear of offending—“This is the fourth time she’s brought me the same incorrect data, but she’s working so hard on it, I’ll just do it myself.”

Unrealistic time estimates—“I don’t care if you were told by the balanced-scorecard instructor that it would take a month to complete our scorecard, I want it done by lunch time today!” If you want it ‘bad,’ that’s how you’ll get it.

Unable to terminate visits—“Yes, I think that would be a fascinating idea if we had the resources to do it, but reinventing the wheel isn’t high on my priority list.” We seem unable to end visits with those who have their own paradigms and can’t recognize new ways to do things.

Failure to anticipate—“Oh, I see, you want us to produce something that can be copied on a color copier?”

Goals not clearly defined—“What should we do first, get rid of the alligators or drain the swamp?”

Slow reader—Some people are slower readers than others and should be aware of it so that they can speed up their reading when possible.

Goals, goals, and goals
Charles Hobbs emphasized goals and suggested that we write them down. To have balance in our lives, we need the following types of goals:

  • Time-management goals. Throw three “golden bricks” a day and eliminate “dirty bricks.” A golden brick could be a thank-you, a compliment, or just being nice to someone. Dirty bricks are trading insult for insult or talking badly about someone behind their back. When someone throws a dirty brick at you, you should return it with a golden brick, not another dirty brick.
  • Company goals. For instance, foster better working relationships with co-workers.
  • Personal life goals. Exercise three times a week, read a book a week.

Key point
Overall, you need a unifying principle in everything you do. For example, “I will do anything to get the job done, as long as it’s legal and moral.” “If laws don’t prohibit it, do it.” “If a local policy prohibits it, consider getting the policy changed,” “It is usually easier to beg forgiveness than to get permission,” “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If the Washington Post called and asked about a recent decision you made on a no-bid contract you awarded, could you honestly say “I’m glad you called!”?

Above all, remember that Chinese proverb: “Even the palest ink is better that the best memory.”

Daily log
It would be helpful if you could keep a daily log for about three weeks to see where you waste your time. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Keep a piece of paper at your desk and write down the left-hand side the times of the day in 15-minute intervals. Across the top from left to right put in the following headings “Planning,” “Formal Meetings,” “Interruptions,” “Telephone,” “Reading,” “Travel,” “E-mail/correspondence,” “Special Projects,” or whatever you do on a regular basis, and then “Other.” Then total the time you spend each day in minutes for each column, and determine the percentage of the day spent in each activity. You should work toward increasing planning time and reducing interruptions and other time wasters so that you then actually have time to be more productive on the job.

Discuss

About The Author

Anthony V. Fasolo’s default image

Anthony V. Fasolo

Anthony V. Fasolo served 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1980. He’s a graduate of many Army schools and holds masters degrees in education and public administration. Fasolo also worked for the Marriott Corp. for four years and 15 years for the Army as a civilian. He’s currently the communications chair for the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, a member of the town of Leesburg’s Cable TV Advisory Commission, and a volunteer with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. He teaches for the University of Phoenix.