The Clock Keeps Ticking

April 2, 2004
Find the time with time management tools
Phones that don’t stop ringing. Piles of unfinished paperwork that threaten to bury you under an avalanche of guilt. Facility emergencies. Employee bickering. Your spouse on the phone reminding you that your son’s play is this evening. Sound familiar?In the facilities industry, there’s no such thing as a quiet day. But, there can be such a thing as one that is well-managed so you can enjoy a sense of order in both your professional and personal lives.“I think everyone’s life gets unmanageable,” says Ed Buonaccorsi, General Services administrator for the city of Santa Rosa, CA. “You have to accept it and realize you can’t do everything. Sometimes you just have to pick one or two things that you hope to accomplish in a day, if you can. There are months when that doesn’t happen, but there always are little pieces that you can do.”The basic rules of time management translate quite easily to the facilities management arena. Here are some ways to get started on your own time management endeavor – that is, if you can find the time.Organize Your WorkspaceOne of the most important facets of time management in today’s fast-paced work world focuses on your desk – the center of your daily operations.“Information comes at us so quickly that if we don’t keep our desk and other workspaces clear, the feeling of overwhelm takes over,” says time management guru Jeff Davidson, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing Your Time, The Joy of Simple Living, and The 60-Second Procrastinator.Buonaccorsi, who presented a seminar on time management for the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA’s) World Workplace conference in October, agrees. One of his cardinal rules: “Don’t leave it on your desk.” Instead, he uses files and binders organized by subject to keep his office and workday organized.“I can pull that binder, and everything I need is there,” he explains. For example, when he takes notes at a meeting, he files them in the appropriate binder. If he gets an important e-mail, he prints it out, punches holes in it, and into the binder it goes. He also creates category files for literature and other things that he might not be able to read immediately, labeling them by topic, such as indoor air quality, green issues, and so on.Davidson relies on a system of file bins right behind his desk. He suggests keeping reports, forms, and other paperwork used regularly in these bins. That way, when you need one, you can simply turn around in your swivel chair and reach for it. You don’t even have to leave your seat. “Everyone needs to have those bins, especially facility managers who use forms on a repeat basis,” he explains. “It’s foolish to have forms you use every day buried in a file cabinet or file folder unless you are so organized that they are right there, labeled, organized, easy as pie.”You also want to end the day with a clean desk, Davidson says. Before you leave, clear off most of your desk except the one thing you’re going to start the next day. Put the rest of the things back in their appropriate places.“Clear your desk physically and spiritually, and when you come back in the next day, you have aided your ability to start with a clear focus,” he says.Ritual behaviors are perhaps one of the biggest time wasters in a workday, Davidson says, and chances are, you’re probably not even aware that you’re doing them or that you’re wasting time.Take a moment and look around the office. You may notice that everyone you work with has certain ritual behaviors, such as routine trips to the water cooler or frequent, perfectly timed cigarette breaks.Okay. Those are obvious ones. But what about other, more insidious ones, such as constantly checking your e-mail, constantly checking your voice-mail, frequent pencil sharpening, and – yes, believe it or not – even adjusting your blinds? They’re all common time vacuums, Davidson says.“No one needs six cups of coffee, and if the sun is shining in your eyes, adjust your blinds – but you don’t need to do it several times throughout the course of the day,” he says. “If you’re doing this as part of a ritual to avoid getting started – consciously or subconsciously  – then you’re wasting time.”Even blatant procrastination can become a ritual behavior.“There are some people who say, ‘It’s 8:46 a.m.; I’ll get on this at 9:00 a.m.’ You know what? You just lost 14 minutes,” Davidson says.Slow the Informational FlowUnlike workers of other eras, today’s workforce is saturated by information and communications, so much so that it is quite possible to be buried underneath a pile of virtual messages and demands – not to mention phone calls, publications, and mail – by 10:00 a.m.Too many people today manage their affairs by their e-mail in-basket, Davidson says. “We all get hooked on the next e-mail that arrives, the next instant message, the next beeper notification, the next cell phone call,” he says. “Another key to being organized is not letting e-mail and other message systems rule your day.”The traditional phone call continues to be a time trap. If possible, follow the age-old advice of leaving a voice-mail message that tells callers when you can best be reached and have people call at a set time of day. If part of your job responsibility is to field calls as they come in, you need to practice what Davidson calls “the art of completion” and avoid falling into an interruption trap.According to Davidson, completions are a method of segmenting what you do into complete units. For example, when you finish eating, sleeping, or commuting, you have made a completion. “The typical phone call might be only three to six minutes – a small interruption in your day – but the overall time to get back to what you were originally working on could be 13, 14, or even 18 minutes. Studies show we allow an interruption to be a springboard to even greater dawdling. The phone call isn’t dawdling, but thereafter what happens is,” Davidson says.So, save your work, take the call, give the caller your complete attention, take notes, end the call, and then turn back to exactly what you were doing. It should take you about five seconds to get back to exactly where you were,” he says.Also, in dealing with any kind of communications thrown at you during the day, Davidson suggests using the triage tactic common in the medical profession, which brings to mind the old television program M*A*S*H. “When the choppers came in, the wounded soldiers were put into three groups: The ones about to die, the ones that can be handled in a little while, and the ones that have to be handled now,” he recalls. “The ones about to die get the chaplain, the ones that can be attended to in a little while get wheeled off, and the ones that need attention now or they will die get worked on right now.“You do the same thing with e-mail, calls, and with all forms of information and communication. You practice triage. You have to have the mental and emotional strength to let go of messages, information, and communication that are not important.”Take Time to Think“We live in an instantaneous communications en-vironment. As a result, we don’t have reflection time,” says Stormy Friday, president of The Friday Group, a facilities management consulting firm in Annapolis, MD. “We all have limited attention spans. It’s not a good idea to physically sit and be on the phone or the computer all day long. You become a captive of your office.”Sometimes you need to get out of your office, walk around the facility, and see other people, Friday suggests. Sometimes you need to be out and about.Other times, you might need to stay in your office and be quiet, Davidson says. “You’ve heard the expression, ‘Don’t just sit there, do something?’ ” he asks. “I say, don’t just do something, sit there. Break out of this western orientation that rewards motion and activity. Sometimes the most important thing you can do in managing your facility is staring out the window thinking about how you’re going to tackle a project. While it might not look productive, it can be the most important step before you get into action.”Follow a Plan“Facility managers are famous for operating by the seat of their pants,” Friday says. “A plan is crucial. Whether it is daily or weekly or whatever, you need to make one, and it needs to be prioritized. And when things get done, cross them off.”Buonaccorsi can’t live without his good, old-fashioned “To Do” list. He keeps it with him all of the time. “It’s so long,” he says. “I write down everything I hear because I can’t remember it. Without it, I wouldn’t remember what I’ve asked so many people to do.”He admits that he could not possibly finish all that is on his list in a day, a week, or possibly even a month. However, by having it there in front of him, he knows he has a plan.Beyond a plan, you have to know what’s urgent and who requires urgent attention. As any facility manager will attest, one of the shortcomings of the business is that everything is “urgent.” Everything is critical. Too often, facility teams get overwhelmed with the firefighting aspects of the business. Oftentimes, acting before planning can set you back. And even a crisis situation has room for some planning.Urgent requests aren’t always necessarily the most important requests, Davidson says. “The most important ones can be mapped out,” he says. “Even emergencies can be mapped out by the frequency when you get calls for this and that. You might know how many calls you get for something per week or per month on the average. It’s not a surprise.”Friday advises her clients to keep diaries of their daily workday activities for several weeks. Most likely you’ll find that you spend a great deal of time responding to things instantaneously because that’s the expectation in today’s society. But, as experts point out, not all things need to be tackled instantly.“Avoid the syndrome of jumping on your horse and riding off in all directions,” Davidson advises. “A lot of people are caught up in our western proclivity to get into action,” he says. “That’s good. Action is good. But when we’re too fast for ourselves, we don’t think through how we’re going to accomplish a task or project and we’re actually creating more of a job for ourselves.”DelegateOne of the best ways to enhance your time management abilities is to make use of the dreaded “D” word: Delegate.“Facility managers often are reluctant to delegate,” Friday notes. “But the more you can delegate to staff to empower them and to make decisions, the more you have built the capability of those who are on your management team to actually solve and resolve the issues of the day.”Despite his initial hesitation of turning over facets of his work to his staff, Dave Carter says he’s slowly testing the waters of delegation, believing he needs to make better use of it as a time management tool. “It all boils down to trusting the people enough to empower them for a task, but that is hard to do. I’m working on it,” says Carter, property manager at Moses Tucker Real Estate in Little Rock, AR.He says he believes in teaching and coaching and concedes that the only way to effectively teach someone is to let them get “down and dirty in a task and mess up every once in awhile.”“I have to trust someone enough that he or she won’t totally mess up before I turn over the reins, though,” he says. “Releasing control of the situation is the hard part. I have found it easier to delegate because I have surrounded myself with people whom I know, without a doubt, will not fail.”The trick to delegation? Not only hire good people with good skills, but also hire ones whose skills might be different from your own, says Buonaccorsi, a firm believer in delegation.“We all have our strengths, and we all have our weaknesses,” he says. “Where you’re not good, hire other people who are. Hire a diverse work group that complements your abilities. If I’m good with mechanical systems and not good with PR, I want someone who is good with PR because I’ve got the mechanical covered.”Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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