William Squires, a U.S. Navy veteran and well-known stadium manager, once said “proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” He’s right, but first things first — if there’s no time to plan, then you need to plan out your time.
On Wednesday, April 13, from 10 a.m. to noon Barbara Nelson, a small business coach and owner of Successfully Solo www.successfullysolo.com) in Cranbury, will present “Time Management: You Can’t Manage Time, You Can Manage Yourself” at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Cost: $38. Call 609-771-2947 or E-mail email@example.com.
Nelson came to New Jersey in 1999 when she took a job as director of private client planning for Merrill Lynch in Plainsboro. After 15 years at major corporations such as Security Pacific Bank, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Merrill Lynch, Nelson encountered a difficult situation at work. She was leading a strategic initiative that eventually “had the rug pulled out from under us” she says.
Nelson’s despondency stopped when she saw a colleague who seemed unfazed by the situation. She asked her co-worker how she managed the adversity and the woman responded that she had a business coach. Nelson felt compelled to find out more about what business coaches do and if it was possible to make a living doing it.
Nelson was eager to take the plunge and start something new. Driven by a belief in helping others attain a feeling of competence, she never looked back. Nelson performs her coaching and consultation primarily over the phone with clients throughout the continental U.S. and a few other countries, including Australia. On occasion she rents office space in Princeton to hold meetings. Her client base consists mainly of small business owners and lawyers.
Block it off. Assessing the kinds of work one has to do and blocking off times in the day is crucial in time management.
Nelson finds that people tend to block only work for clients at the expense of all the other work required.
“Time blocking begins with thinking through the different kinds of work we have to get done,” Nelson says. “For example, lawyers have technical, legal, and analytical work but they also have marketing, financial management, and if they’re independent, ordering office supplies. You could have a specific time block for returning phone calls and only do it in that time block, or set aside one morning of the week for scheduling clients.”
Nelson describes herself as a fact-based, logical thinker oriented around goals, milestones, and deadlines. The first thing she has a client do is construct a vision for how he wants to more efficiently spend his time. For beginners and entrepreneurs Nelson advises a start and finish-line checklist approach. At the beginning of the day look at what you want to get done; at the end of the day review what actually was done — then start changing so that more can be finished.
“It’s a just-do thing and a way of creating habits that will make you successful when you do get clients,” Nelson says. “If you’re moving out of a structured situation such as a job and into something like becoming an entrepreneur then it’s hugely important to create your own structure. Even if you have no clients, you need to choose what your work day is. Say ‘my work day is going to be 8 to 5,’ or maybe ‘7 to 7.’”
For chronic procrastinators (and everyone, really) Nelson recommends the book “Eat that Frog” by Brian Tracy, in which frogs represent things that you don’t want to do and are procrastinating about. “I take it further and say that the frogs get bigger and multiply the longer that you leave them without dealing with them,” she says. “Eat them early, and get them off your plate. The bottom line is that if you have to do it, then you have to get it done.”
Another technique is to chunk up the workload and break it into smaller tasks that get done a little at a time. Nelson often tells clients she can do anything for 20 minutes, advising that they take on rough tasks for 20 minutes and see what’s left of it.
Nelson grew up in Oregon and Arizona and attended the University of Arizona as an undergraduate. She later earned an MBA from the University of Chicago. Her corporate career led her to travel for business and eventually to move to the east. Both of Nelson’s parents were physicians. Her father is now 88 years old and Nelson says her mom, a former Air Force colonel, was career-oriented before her time. Having both parents serve the community’s health needs inspired Nelson to give back in some way.
“My parents had a very strong work ethic and were adamant about being accountable. I had a lot to live up to in my career and I’ve done that,” she says.
Although she picked up relevant values from her parents, Nelson says time management is not at all innate — it is a skill set and a behavior set. At home she passes along her time management ingenuity to her 12-year-old daughter, Hannah. “Hannah’s Cleopatra costume is one example,” Nelson says. “Her school has a wax museum for seventh graders. It’s all project management and deadlines. It’s estimating how long it’s going to take you and getting it done.”
Time management commences at school age when kids start getting projects and inherit freedom of choice as to how to spend their time, Nelson says. Hannah’s middle school also provides a unique form of teaching time management. “Definitely in school they’ve been teaching them the process.”
ROI. Fear of failure can motivate people to manage their time better. They will avoid negative consequences by reducing the potential for something bad to happen. But Nelson views the opposite as an attractive motivator: thinking positive. In working with her clients, rewards are a big strategy for dealing with procrastination.
“I always ask clients what their rewards would be,” she says. “I have a client in Austin, Texas, who wants purple cowboy boots as a reward,” she says. Material goods and money are not the only motivators she hears about. Many unhappy people just want to be happy. Often people seeking help from Nelson say “I hate my life and unless I make some changes I don’t see it changing anytime in the future.”
Those who work late or on weekends often just need to spend more time with their families, she says. “That’s a big one for entrepreneurs — their families don’t see them and their families are tired of it.”
Though Nelson never disliked her career she relates well to this need for change. She sees herself as a recovering workaholic. When her daughter was born Nelson was 41 and not prepared to slow down in her career. She hired a babysitter to watch Hannah from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as Nelson continued in a demanding profession.
“I was a weekend warrior,” she says. “I was working in cultures where face time counted. You had to be there, it was part of the package. At one point my husband brought my daughter to the conference room on a Saturday with a McDonald’s Happy Meal because I was working all weekend.”
With today’s technology allowing for so much flexibility in work time and space, people can forget to take it easy. Nelson also reminds clients of the value of exercise, taking full breaks, and taking vacations. One of her new clients who hasn’t taken a vacation in two years will be advised to do so soon. “It’s not impossible to take a break,” Nelson says. “No one is that important.”
Allowing for her own practice of time management means setting clear and reasonable expectations and discussing communication preferences, protocols, and schedules. But as rigorously as Nelson teaches time management or productivity techniques, the purpose isn’t to follow the plan 100 percent. It’s to help individuals be in the best shape possible when the unexpected comes up.
“There’s a free condo in Hawaii, but you have to leave tomorrow,” she says. “If you’re on top of everything, maybe that’s possible. There’s no hope if you’re disorganized and don’t know what you’re doing. The idea is predictability so that you can juggle things better.”
Ultimately, the very phrase “time management” is a fallacy. “There’s no such thing as time management, it’s all self-management,” she says. “The goal of everything that I do is happiness. You break it down into ‘I have this much time and I want to get a certain return from it.’”