Beat the clock Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

When John Lehmann joined Great Lakes Lithograph two years ago as sales manager, he quickly noticed how much time his staff was spending in the office.

“I saw a lot of them,” he says. “You don’t want your sales people in the office, you want them out on the street selling.”

He also noticed other issues. “They weren’t prompt for meetings, they always seemed to be out of control and they weren’t considerate of others’ time,” says Lehmann. “I thought it was important for them to learn how to prioritize their time better.”

So he hired a time management consultant, Susan Aldrich, who put Lehmann’s 10-person staff through a six-week course on how to budget time. After the classes were over, Lehmann noticed immediate results. His people were spending less time in the office and they were better organized. It wasn’t long before sales started to improve as well.

In today’s fast-paced business world, where people constantly have to change priorities and often handle work that used to be split among two or three people, it’s easy to lose a grip on time, Aldrich says. But regaining control isn’t necessarily hard; it just takes some discipline. Here are three steps that she used to help Lehmann’s staff get on track.

Create a schedule and stick to it

Aldrich says it’s common for people to spend the bulk of their time putting out fires and never getting ahead. An alternative is to plan out a 40-hour work week by creating blocks of time for each task, such as prospecting, filling out paperwork and dealing with clients on the phone.

Aldrich says there’s no reason to worry if your job requires more than 40 hours — unless you’re not organized enough to handle it. “If you don’t have a schedule and an emergency pops up, you’ll be too stressed out to deal with it effectively,” she says. “We live in the crisis moment. If you plan your week out in advance, then when something comes up, you’ll know what your responsibilities are and be able to deal with the problem better.”

Prioritize tasks

“Some people make the mistake of completing lesser tasks first, thinking that they’ll get those out of way and then tackle the big project,” says Aldrich. “What happens is that they’ll keep putting off the most important task until they’re in crisis mode to get it finished on a deadline. At that point, it’s more difficult.”

Instead, take on the tougher jobs first. Says Aldrich: “Sometimes that requires breaking them into smaller projects and setting goals for small steps.”

One way to integrate that process into your scheduling is to color code each job that needs to be accomplished. “People are attracted to colors,” she says. “It makes it easy to look and see what needs to be done and how much time you’ve set aside to do it. You can also see if you’re not devoting enough time to something.”

Learn to say “No”

“Don’t get yourself overcommitted. It’s only natural to want to be involved, but if you get involved in too much you’re only setting yourself up to fail,” Aldrich says.

One way to avoid taking on too much work is to delegate tasks to other people. “That doesn’t mean dumping work on someone,” she explains. “There’s a difference between that and motivating people by giving them work they’re good at and that interests them. Good professionals know how to build successful teams.”

How to reach: Susan Aldrich — (216) 671-0006; Great Lakes Lithograph — (216) 651-1500.