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COVER STORY: Eight Ideas for Better Time Management

These tips will help any farmer become a better, more effective manager

Published on: Mar 8, 2010

"Time = Life, therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life."

That quote is from Alan Lakein, well-known self-help guru and time management expert. Lakein's book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, (1973, New American Library), sold 3 million copies.

We've gathered a few of Lakein's tips, along with others, to help you become a more effective manager of time. Many of them apply to farmers trying to get organized for spring planting season, but they are useful year-round.

Set goals and priorities. What do you need to work on today? What should you be working on by next week? Write down your goals and share them with your team.

Communicate your goals with your team and ask for input. This is the best way to get 'buy in' from team members.

Tell your team you are going to go over plans and priorities at least once a week with them. Part of a manager's job is making sure everyone on the team knows what the goals are.

Don't leave email sitting in your in box. Take action on an email as soon as you read it." The ability to quickly process and synthesize information and turn it into actions is one of the most emergent skills of the professional world today," says Merlin Mann, a procrastination specialist and author.

Organize email in file folders. If the message needs more thought, move it to your to-do list. If it's for reference, print it out. If it's a meeting, move it to your calendar.

Start a to-do list and prioritize actions. A to-do list is the single most common denominator among effective people.

Use a time log to record everything you do during a day. It may be boring but it is an effective tool to weed out the things you should be putting lower on your priority list. It also helps you deal with things you don't anticipate, that make a mess of your to-do list.

Learn to delegate. Take part of your job and give it to someone else. Don't delegate to free up time, do it to grow the skill sets of the people who work with you on your team.

One way to overcome procrastination is to disclose the project and deadline to someone else. By doing so you automatically make yourself more accountable.

Make every meeting effective. Over half of meetings are a waste of time, according to studies. They are either too long or meander because they do not follow a written agenda. For every meeting have a written agenda and a set time limit. Have a strong chairperson and make sure someone is there to take notes. Make sure the right people attend and dismiss them when they are no longer needed.

The purpose of a meeting is to exchange information, define goals, build group commitment and induce action or decisions. It also offers opportunities to develop leadership skills.

Do the most important thing first. Personal productivity specialist Gina Trapani calls this "running a morning dash." When she sits down to work in the morning, before she checks any email, she spends an hour on the most important thing on her to-do list.

According to career management specialist Penelope Trunk, this is a great idea because even if you can't get the whole thing done in an hour, you'll be much more likely to go back to it once you've gotten it started. She points out that this dash works best if you organize the night before so when you sit down to work you already know what your most important task of the day is.

Learn how to handle interruptions. If you are working and the phone rings, try to have your calls screened or sent to voice mail. Before you return calls, batch them together and gather as much information as you need to make a decision during the call.

Likewise, there are ways to handle visitors. Place things on the office chairs in front of your desk. If they do sit down, limit the conversation to three minutes, then stand up and explain you have other business to attend to. Remember, when someone asks for your time, always ask, 'what's it about,' first.

Learn to say no. Why can't people say no? It stems from the basic human need to feel needed and important. Don't be afraid to say, "I'd like to help you, but right now I have to finish this for so and so."