The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

The Management of Your Time

March 30, 2012

By Gary Berman, ECC Board Member

Imagine my disappointment after 35 years in engineering and construction to learn that there is still only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Imagine also believing that all those devices we did not have in the 1970’s would be saving me time so that I could do more in a day (or enjoy more time off). I am convinced that, on certain occasions, my cell phones, computers, and PDAs are making me less efficient. From my mentors, friends and co-workers, I have observed and been taught techniques that can help anyone manage their time more efficiently and accomplish more in a day. I call it PFT.

Lesson One – PLAN your work, work your PLAN

For more years than I can remember, I have created a daily “To Do” list. I start it at the end of each day for the next. It is the first thing I read in the morning; yes, before emails. Then based on emails, voice mails and texts, I adjust the written plan for the day. I prioritize the list and do my best to estimate how long each task will take (uninterrupted). I write the minutes next to the tasks. Invariably, I have more on my list than I can accomplish in a typical day, every day.

My trick for prioritizing is credited to the author Stephen Covey. I do first only those items that are both “urgent and important”. I next tackle those that are urgent. My list is a rolling list so tasks change priority with time. I have had things stay on the list for a month, so do not be surprised if that happens to you. The “To Do” list is easy and, after awhile, it will become religion.

Lesson Two – FOCUS

In time management, distraction is the root of all evil – someone calling, texting, emailing, or simply the unexpected visitor to your office. You are the only one that can control distraction. We all know about start-stop-start inefficiency. Well, that is what our new world of instant communication has caused. As uncomfortable as it may seem (and it will get easier over time), when you begin a task, shut off your cell phone, power down your PDA, shut off the ring tone on your email notification and power down your computer screen, put your phone on DND and close your office door. These emotionally difficult actions will enhance your focus, leading you to complete tasks faster and probably better. Turn on all your devices once the task is done, catch up with the electronic communications and add tasks to your prioritized To Do list. Remember, your list is a living document.

Lesson Three – THINK

We all know how costly rework in the field is, but it also takes time. Same is true for the work on our desk. Our lengthy and sometimes overwhelming To Do list creates a behavior of reacting to a task without first thinking about it. It should not come as a surprise that our first inclination on how to proceed is not always right. I work hard at the beginning of every task to think about what I am about to do by reviewing a few questions in my head; it takes less than a minute. What is the reason for the task and what is my goal? Who is the audience? What should the deliverable look like? If my work is one part of many, do I need to tailor what I am about to do? And lastly, how will I know when I am done? Getting it the right the first time is rewarding, efficient and allows more tasks to be crossed-off your daily To Do list. Maybe the first item on your list should be THINK.

So while there are many more lessons to be learned, these three – PLAN, FOCUS and THINK (PFT) may be all you need to get more done in a day.