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October 2, 2003 8:24 AM CDT

Time Management Horse Sense


Every horse race has a first place winner and a runner-up, second place contender. It is not uncommon for the first place horse to earn twice the prize as the second place finisher. Curiously, the number one horse did not have to run twice as fast or go twice as far as the competition to get twice the money. It only had to be a nose ahead of the competition to reap twice the rewards.

Time management, personal productivity, and success in life are a lot like this horse race metaphor. To get twice as much in life, in any of our many dimensions ? health, family, financial, intellectual, professional, social and spiritual ? you do not have to double your effort and input. You only need to get a nose ahead of where you are now to realize significant increases in your results.

When applied, five suggestions can help you to get a "nose ahead."

Plan Ahead
First, plan your day ? every day ? the night before. Then, when arriving at work, there is a plan of action to direct you forward. Without a plan, temptations may draw you into unproductive avenues where you may serve the loudest voice that demands our time rather than dealing with the most productive opportunity.

A simple plan consists of a list of all the items you ideally might want to accomplish during the next day. Prioritize those items in order of their importance. Begin the most important item first, then go to the next most important item, etc. Typically, it is unlikely that all of the items on the list will be completed, but that is fine. Success has little to do with how much was left undone at the end of the day, but rather what was actually accomplished. You will always leave undone more than you get done simply because we all have more to do than time permits. This says a lot of good things about how good we really are, to have so much entrusted to us by so many!

Overplan Your Day
Second, "overplan" your day to take advantage of Parkinson's Law, which teaches that "a project tends to take the time allocated for it." If you give yourself one thing to do during the day, it will likely take all day to complete it. If you give yourself two things to do during the day, you will likely accomplish both. If you give yourself twelve things to do during the day, you may not get all twelve done, but you may complete seven or eight items. Having a lot to do creates a healthy sense of pressure on you to naturally become better time managers. With a lot on your plate, you will tend to be more focused, tend to suffer interruptions less, and delegate better.

Clean Work Environment
Third, work with a clean desk and work environment. There is truth in the saying "Out of sight; out of mind." Equally true is the reverse, "In sight; in mind." When items are in our field of vision, you cannot help but be distracted and pulled in the wrong direction ? busy all day long, but accomplishing little of significance.

Restrict Meetings
During any typical business day, there are reportedly 17 million meetings being conducted in the United States. A meeting is two or more people getting together to exchange common information. Simple enough, but probably one of the top institutional time wasters. Always ask "Do I contribute anything to this meeting?" and "Do I get anything of value from this meeting?" If the answer to both questions is "no," cancel the meeting or try to find a way out of attending.

Handle Paper Just Once
Get out of the "shuffling blues" when paper is looked at and re-looked at again and again while deadlines slip through the cracks and you get buried under a blizzard of paperwork. As you encounter each new piece of paper, if it can be responded to quickly, in a minute or less, respond then and there. If it will require a longer effort, schedule it for a time when you will get to it and then put it away.

Common-sense ideas. That's what horse sense is, yes? Enjoy the race.

About the Author

Dr. Donald E. Wetmore is owner of Productivity Institute - Time Management Seminars, a professional speaker and a member of the National Speakers Association. He can be reached by visiting


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