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Time Management Best Practices

What is a Practice?

For the purpose of this discussion, a practice is the way in which you normally handle a specific situation, or the sequence of steps you follow when you want to accomplish something.

For example, a practice could be the way you go about reading your email, the first thing you do at work when you get in the door, or the way you decide what to work on next.

Practices can be classified in one of three ways: good, bad, and harmless. Good practices help you, bad practices hurt you, and harmless practices don’t really make that much difference.

One way to think of practices is as investments. Your investment is the time and effort you put into the practice, and your return is the value you get back from the practice.

Practices are the same way: best practices are the lucrative investments, worst practices are the dogs, and the rest are somewhere in between and don’t really do much either way.

Practices and habits are closely related. After years and years of using them, your practices become so habitual and customary that you don’t even think about what you are doing or why you are doing it; you just do it.

If you are like most people, you probably didn’t give much thought to the practice when you started using it. You just picked some way to handle the situation or some way to get things done and have been doing it the same way ever since.

The point is that your habitual practices determine how effective or ineffective you are at managing your time.

Habits allow you to keep doing things the same way over and over again without too much thought. This is what makes habits so powerful, for better or for worse.

What is a Time Management Best Practice?

Best practices can be used to produce good results and have been proven to work for thousands of people. They consistently provide high returns on your investment of time and effort. Some of these practices are relatively new, while others have been around for many years in one form or another.

Best practices consist of seven components:

 

Principles

Best practices are often based on a key principle or natural law that gives them their power. It is the principle behind the practice that enables it to work consistently and effectively for many different types of situations; as long as you remain true to the underlying principle you can adjust the practice to fit your own style and needs.

Just as there are natural laws such as gravity that govern our physical universe, there are natural laws that govern the realm of time management, productivity, and effectiveness. These consistent and recurring patterns of cause and effect are directly applicable to your use of time, the relationships in your life, and the results you achieve. Remember that just like gravity, these laws govern your life and your time whether you are aware of them or not.

Paradigm

Closely related to principles are the paradigms that embody them. A paradigm is a model, theory, or frame of reference used to understand or describe a certain concept or reality.

A map is a simple metaphor for a paradigm. A map is a way to represent certain important elements of a given physical territory, but it is not the territory itself. It allows you to understand, think about, interpret, or communicate with others about the territory without having to physically be there.

A mental paradigm or mindset is a model or map of a concept or reality. It is the way we think about or ‘see’ that particular thing in our mind’s eye.  It is the set of beliefs, attitudes, and ideas that we use to interpret our perceptions and guide our actions.

A paradigm is effective if the beliefs, ideas, or assumptions that you draw from it lead to productive behavior and positive results. Effective paradigms are based on an accurate and correct view of reality.

On the other hand, a paradigm is ineffective if it leads to counterproductive behavior producing negative or unwanted results. Ineffective paradigms have an inaccurate or incorrect view of reality.

The Source of Sickness paradigm, which in the middle‑ages held that sickness was the result of evil spirits in the blood of the patients, led directly to ‘cures’ such as bleedings—where leaches or razors were used to cut the patient in order to let blood drain out—or drilling the head of the patient in order to let the evil spirits come out.

Based on the “evil spirits in the blood” source of sickness paradigm and the beliefs that naturally flow from it, such ‘cures’ seem like a reasonable and rational attempt to save the life of the patient.

In fact, most doctors of the time applying these cures had the best of intentions; they really wanted to save their patients. They were simply doing the best they could with the poor understanding that they had.

The discovery of microorganisms led to the formation of a new and much more effective paradigm of the source of sickness: infectious agents.

Understanding that microorganisms or other infectious agents are the source of sickness has given modern doctors a great advantage over their predecessors.

This understanding led to the development and discovery of antibiotics, vaccines, and other modern treatments, which can truly cure or prevent many illnesses.

In addition, this paradigm also guided doctors to understand why so many soldiers died from flesh wounds and other non‑lethal injuries during combat, and why so many people routinely died after seemingly successful surgeries or childbirth.

The infectious agent paradigm leads directly and naturally to the practices of instrument and operating room sterilization in order to avoid exposure to germs, and thus prevent deadly infections before they even develop.

Based on the previous paradigms, there was no way doctors could have known the importance of such practices. From their perspective, it would have seemed like a waste of time to sterilize everything and take precautions to avoid infection.

As this last example clearly shows, moving from an ineffective to a more effective paradigm can have dramatic and drastic consequences on your assumptions, behaviors, practices, and ultimately your results.

Such a transition draws its power from the fact that resulting changes in your external behavior and attitudes are based on deeper and more fundamental changes in your inner understanding, insight, and perception.

By understanding the true source of infection and disease, doctors were able to take steps beyond “fixing” the sickness of their patients; they were able to prevent them.

You can see why effective paradigms are an essential component of best practices and why understanding the paradigm behind the practice is so important.

All too often, someone will copy a practice they see working for someone else only to find that it doesn’t work for them.

If they are just going through the motions without really understanding the principles and paradigms behind the practice, they invariably miss an essential ingredient or step or are unable to properly adapt it to their own unique situation.

Effective and ineffective time managers don’t just do things differently, they see things differently.

It is this difference in their beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions that naturally guides them to the best practices and away from the worst ones. Their results are in large part based on the way they see the world.

When you make the necessary adjustments in your mindset, you will see the best practices flowing naturally from your new understanding.

Knowledge

The third component of a best practice is knowledge. There are two types of knowledge: theoretical and practical.

Theoretical knowledge gives you an intellectual understanding of a practice; it tells you how and why it works. Practical knowledge covers the use of the practice and gives you an understanding of what it is, why you should use it, and how to use it to accomplish what you want.

Skills

The fourth component of a best practice is skills. You need certain skills in order to perform each practice. Without the necessary skills, you may conceptually understand the practice and know how you are supposed to use it, but still not be able to get any benefits from it.

A simple example of the difference between knowledge and skill is skiing. You may have the conceptual understanding of what skiing is all about and have an idea of what you are supposed to do, but does that mean you can go to the top of the hill and ride down your first time out? It takes skill to ski, not just knowledge.

Each best practice has its own set of skills that you need to develop in order to use it effectively.

Tools

The fifth component of a best practice is tools. Having the right tools can often make a difficult task seem easy, while the wrong tools can turn a simple task into a big pain. Just try unscrewing a screw with a hammer and you’ll see the difference.

Systems & Processes

The sixth component of a best practice are its supporting systems and processes. In most cases, they represent the implementation of the best practice in your particular environment after you have adapted it to fit your personal style, preferences, and needs. Once you have systematized a best practice, you can enjoy its benefits regularly without having to rethink it all the time. You can also easily share it with your team and coworkers.

Ray Kroc took McDonald's from a few outlets to one of the most successful retail organizations in the world. His genius was in realizing that he could use carefully designed systems and processes to consistently provide a quality experience to millions of customers around the world, even though each McDonald's franchise is independently owned and operated.

McDonald's provides extensive training to each franchisee on all these systems and processes, which allows them to use a relatively unskilled labor force with a high degree of turnover and still provide a consistent experience to customers in any part of the world.

This is the power of systems that have internalized one or more best practices. They allow you and your team to regularly produce outstanding results without having to reinvent the wheel every time you use them.

Having systems and processes doesn't mean you get to stop thinking, but they do allow you to work without having to remember all the details off the top of your head or having to make things up as you go along.

Another reason systems are so valuable is that they make it simpler to incorporate best practices into your work environment. By reducing a practice to a set of simple and practical steps that anyone can follow, it becomes much easier to perform it by anyone in your team.

Motivation

The final component of a best practice is the motivation you need to incorporate it into your life and use it consistently. You may understand the importance and value that a practice could bring, but without the motivation and commitment to use it, you will never receive its benefits.

Many best practices require an investment of time and energy before they deliver any tangible results. Principles require that you pay the price in full before you receive any benefits. You must sow before you can reap; the law of cause and effect demands it.

It is not always easy to find the desire to incorporate best practices into your routines and turn them into habits, but the benefits of doing so and the consequences of not doing it can be great motivators.

Related Articles (best practice guide):

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