The Importance of Time Management and use of an Effective Diary
By Don Matlock
The development and running of a successful business often comes down to being in control and across all issues pertaining to the day to day operation. The need for very sound organizational and time management practices and techniques is paramount to success.
From my experience, an important part of achieving success in my business has been through the effective use of a detailed diary, allowing me to have confidence within myself that I am across every issue, not forgetting any, and have everything pegged in relation to timing.
From a time management point of view, whenever you finish a phone call for any reason, or alternatively have either received or sent an email, letter or fax, or have come out of a meeting, you should immediately diarize either what you have to do from any such circumstance.
Regarding the type of diary you should use, these days the tendency is usually to the electronic version. This is more than understandable in an office with quite a number of senior people who may need to be in either internal or external meetings with others from their same office. Whilst the “meshing” procedure in such a way with the electronic version is necessary in such situations, the procedure is still vulnerable as the person who is requested to go to the meeting has to still elect to accept (or reject) the meeting attendance before it can be automated into the diaries of the other people so involved in that same meeting.
However, after being exposed to both, I prefer the hard copy version (whole week — including the weekend — to a two page display) as I do not have the exposure to other internal office personnel as mentioned above, plus the fact that the hard copy can always be at hand and can be used immediately – no plugging in and/or turning on, no access procedure, no waiting upon processing, no hassles at the airport, no power failures or fading batteries!
However, I should add the additional point that the electronic version has the advantage of an executive’s PA being able to access the executive’s electronic version to arrange appointments whilst the executive is travelling, in meetings, etc. I have overcome this point of difference by having my PA keep a manual diary, with the proviso that she makes the appointments for me subject to my agreement (and thus, subsequent confirmation or otherwise), and emails me of any such conditional appointments whilst I am travelling (with my note book). This works very easily, and allows me the benefit of agreeing to the fact that I do want to have the meeting, or not.
It is an absolute fact of life that the better the disciplines for sound organizational and time management practices are, the better your business will be.
The fundamental formula for ensuring these are optimized every day to enhance your business can be best summarized as follows:
Before you start work on each Monday, ensure your diary (manual and/or electronic) for the week ahead is complete, which would include all work to be done for clients, all marketing calls to be made, all admin matters needing to be done and all personal matters to attend to, including family and friends. You may also wish to colour code each of these four activities. Any meetings you are having with full attendant details should also be included.
Make sure each Monday you contact all your clients and all your then most likely prospective targets (those that you may be close to closing a deal with), so that as early as possible in the week all these matters are moving ahead as soon as possible, and that they have the full week to be furthered as much as possible. The obvious exception here is if you have already agreed and diarized to contact any such parties on any day other than the Monday of the week in question, or alternatively on a later date as already agreed.
Before you start any written/computer work on each day, make all your phone calls first, marketing calls first, clients second, administration and other matters third. Always leave your direct telephone line with people for any response.
Unless there is a very compelling reason not to, take all your calls on the direct line as they come through, don’t have them all screened by your PA, unless important demands of the day dictate that you must. The simple rule here is, if you are able to speak to any person at the time of any call you receive, and then deal with it there and then, even if you very quickly and politely tell the unsolicited caller that you have no interest in their offering!
Utilize the systematic approach referred to above in relation to making a diary entry every time you either make or receive a communication of any kind, or come out of a meeting.
Utilize a simple system of notating next to each item in your diary whether you are expecting a response back from the other party (an X) or whether it is up to you to respond to them (a tick). Thus at any time you are in a position of either a tick or a cross, thus denoting whether you are to respond (a tick) or are awaiting a response (an X). Simple, but boy does it work well, and avoids the confusion as to whose move it is next amidst often busy time and fading memories!
Whilst doing all of the above, have available to you all necessary files, your Business Directory, and all standardized documents and materials needed to deal with all matters as soon as possible, but with all due care and responsibility.
In relation to the last point, your desk positioning and the access to files you are currently working on, your computer, and to any standardized materials you need should be readily accessible without moving out of your chair, either from off your desk, from a filing cabinet, from your computer or from your facsimile. In other words, you are immediately surrounded with anything you need at your fingertips without getting out of your chair – saves heaps of time!
Using your diary as your base again, make sure all the admin functions of the business are noted in your diary on a timely basis, thus ensuring all matters are attended to at least on time or shortly in advance of when any deadlines occur.
Regarding time management as to external meetings, attempt to have your meetings either as early a.m. as possible on the way in to the office, or alternatively as late as possible p.m. on the way home from the office, thus eliminating wasting time going to and from the office for any meetings during the day. Also during your travel time, and if you have a hands free mobile, carefully make some of your easier business, social and family calls whilst in transit, but without having an accident please!
As to whether you should have a conference call (audio or web) at any stage instead of a meeting, if you already know the client fairly well and have met with them several times before, a conference call should suffice instead of having to physically meet – you do not have to meet with a client every time something needs to be discussed, unless it is imperative that you are across the table for a specific reason. I am a major advocate of this approach which I continue to use very successfully, which saves an enormous amount of otherwise wasted travelling time.
The very same approach can also be utilized with prospective clients depending on the matter/s to be discussed and how well and for how long you have known them, but be very careful here for obvious reasons. The acid test for either of the above last two points is “do I really need to leave the office for this particular matter”. If the answer is no, suggest a conference call, and if necessary use an excuse that you cannot be away from the office at the time they would otherwise like to meet.
Similar to the last two points, if someone contacts you who thinks they would like to do business with you, but where you know that you would choose not to do so, or it is a case that you could not do business with them anyway because you have no need for their product or service in either a direct or indirect way, then do not waste your time meeting with them unless of course you are assisting a friend by way of their referral of a person to you, etc. However, always offer to have either an instant or deferred conference call to see whether you can help them and/or direct them to an appropriate party, and furthermore if you do refer them to someone else, make sure you ring that someone else and tell them that the inquiring party will give them a call. My reason for always doing this is simply “always leave people well”, because if you have at least tried to help them, they will hopefully always remember you in a kind way and thus will only speak well of you to others in the marketplace.
Regarding the cash flow of your business, make sure you update a schedule every day as to when all monies are due to you, and follow up on them personally if necessary in order to make sure your cash flow is optimized. You should also maintain a schedule for all payments due, and make sure they too are all paid on time, or very near time.
If you are charging out your time by the hour, make sure you bill your clients on a fortnightly basis, with all invoices marked as “payable upon receipt of invoice, please”. Do not offer any payment terms unless you are forced to. Also, send out your statements on a fortnightly basis. If any client is slow to pay, when you send your second polite reminder (statement), enclose a personalized, hand written note, say, on a with compliments slip, with words to the effect of something like “ can you please fix this for me Bill. Thanks and regards, Don”. It’s hard for someone to totally ignore a personally directed request; it has worked well for me in the past.
On the payments side, a couple of small tips. When you draw any cheques, put them in an envelope and write the amount, and when it’s due, where you will put the stamp once you post it. Thereafter, post them as and when you receive and bank income that either fully covers or partially covers the amount/s to be posted (assuming you would have at least a small overdraft). At worst, always post your payments preferably within stated payment terms, but certainly no later than upon the receipt of a second reminder to pay.
If anything at all comes to your attention at any time, always take the approach “if I can deal with it now, do it now”. If you get into the practice of establishing and maintaining such an attitude, you will save an enormous amount of time. A simple example here, when I call in response to an invitation to a cocktail party, I have at times received the comment “you’re the first to respond” (as though you’re desperate for an invite!) to which I reply, “I received the invitation, I looked in my diary and am free at that time, so here I am accepting”. Why would you waste time putting the invite aside in the first place when it can be dealt with there and then?
You will always be working on a number of different matters at any one time. Once you have taken any matter as far as you can then go, and are thus then in wait mode for a response from somewhere, have the discipline to move on to the next matter after setting the previous matter aside. Sounds simple, but at times it isn’t easy to set an important matter aside, even if it is not for very long.
Consistent with the previous point, if it helps you, (particularly on a very busy day, but separately from your diary) on a separate sheet of paper, prioritize the total number of activities for the day (as noted in your diary), so that you have some sequence of working through all that has to be done on any given day, particularly during peak load times. Then adjust your diary accordingly at the end of the day from the same sheet.
Always focus on the quality and effectiveness of your time, not the volume of time. Try to get all that needs to be done completed within normal business hours. If you must take work home (and yes it happens), and you have a partner and/or children, don’t start the work until after you have spent enough quality time with them, and in the case of young children, not before they have gone to bed.
Sacrificing family life for working life is not a winning combination, and is not worth the problems with children that it brings otherwise, every time. In my own case here, I was fortunate enough at an early time in my career to “see the light” about working those long hours at the office.
I was a Financial Controller for an industry association company, and the General Manager had given me a lot of autonomy to do as I liked in my role, which I appreciated. We were working long hours, late finishes, early starts, and in my case a lot of travel by public transport at times from a long distance to home. Although we were both very caught up with the excitement of the growth of the industry and our customer base within same, that same customer base was very political and difficult. I one day woke up to the fact that; why should I put in such long hours, effort, etc for a customer base that was always complaining, whingeing and moaning, back-stabbing and generally non supportive of what was being provided to them as a service. I decided at that moment to make sure that, even though I would continue with a degree of extra effort, I would do so on the basis that I would be at the office only during normal working hours, and would provide any extra effort via doing some work at home, but only after I had spent the quality time with the family first, during normal family type hours. As a result of this decision, and thus my less, “out of hours, hours” at the office, the General Manager was concerned that something was seriously wrong with me, and approached me on it; I duly explained the reasons as above; he wasn’t too happy about it but understood; I have always abided by the same policy since, and believe that I have always maximized my effective working time, within normal hours, because of taking that stance at an early stage in my career.
If you focus on trying to get all of the work you need to do done within normal working hours, and plan it accordingly, you will in most cases achieve it.
If you have the good sense to practice all of these directives on a daily basis you will underpin a very sound basis for achieving success in your business – I attribute approximately fifty percent of the success of my business to the adoption of these skills, yes as much as fifty percent, if you think you can do it without such skills you will struggle. If as an individual you do not possess most of these skills or disciplines, then make sure that you employ such skills/disciplines into your business, and preferably, directly around you, before it grows too far.
Don Matlock has had in excess of 30 years collective experience in investment banking, including the last 20 years as the principal of Matlock Corporate Advisory, a leading boutique corporate advisory firm in relation to corporate divestment, merger or acquisition advice.
Don has recently published Risk Taker, Success Maker – Consulting for Career and Personal Growth – www.risktakersuccessmaker.com