We all want to manage our time better, right? Harry explores tools that can help you today and offers advice for long-term results.

Big Rocks and Little Time

We all want to manage our time better, right? Harry explores tools that can help you today and offers advice for long-term results.

Let’s face it, we all wish we had more time for the things we want and need to do. But since the hours we have in a day/week/year are limited, managing the time you do have is of utmost importance.

In preparation for this column, I poked around and sought out how my co-workers manage their time. The idea was that by doing a little research, I’d save my own time in preparing this column. A stroll around the floor of my office revealed that different people have different approaches. Many people in my company use the tried and true approaches: DayTimers, Microsoft Outlook, and 3Com PalmPilots. Some people integrate their Outlook schedules to synchronize with their PalmPilots. But, by and large, there weren’t any amazing breakthroughs to write home about. That is, until Dotti told me the story of Big Rocks.

Big Rocks

The story goes like this: A wise man gathers his pupils and fills a jar with large rocks. He asks his students if the jar is full, to which they reply affirmatively. The wise man then proceeds to pour small pebbles into the jar, which settle between the gaps created by the stones. Asked again whether the jar is full, the students’ answers now vary. The wise man then proceeds to pour sand into the jar, followed by water. Only then is the jar completely full. The wise man asks the students how this applies to time management. Bewildered, they reply that it doesn’t. Ah, but it does, he explains. If you don’t start with the big rocks first, you’ll never fit them in. Translated, if you don’t complete your big tasks first, you’ll never “fit them in,” or complete them. You can fit the smaller tasks in around the big ones, so start with the big ones. There’s another lesson learned in time management.

Techie Time Management Tools

Allow me a few minutes to share a couple of time management tools being used by MCPs today to help them fit more into each day. The approaches include:

  • Microsoft Small Business Tools—This add-on to the newly released Microsoft Small Business Server 4.5 allows you to publish your Microsoft Outlook Calendar to a Web page that you can access via the Internet and a standard Web browser. This capability addresses one severe weakness in the use of the Calendar in Microsoft Outlook: keeping it current. As a working MCSE, I’m more often out of the office than in, so updating my Calendar is trying at times. But by publishing my schedule to a Web page, I can update my Calendar from an Internet café (where I take my coffee breaks, MCSE-style!). This tool greatly benefits my co-workers, boss, and ultimately my clients because it helps me proactively engage in better time management.
  • DSL, baby! I initially ordered the latest thing in high-speed connectivity, DSL, for my home in order to assist with my book writing efforts. My intent was to make better use of the Internet for research purposes (with a little play thrown in as well). What I found was that the high-speed DSL line allows me to get more done in a shorter length of time—an entirely acceptable definition of time management if I ever heard of one. Here’s how DSL is working for me. First, I can send and receive large file downloads from my publishers more rapidly. Second, the Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection to my company’s LAN is now much more practical. So now I can attach to the company network and update my time and billing activity daily (something I massively rebelled against during the old modem dial-up days!). Just ask Carol in bookkeeping if I’m now managing my time better as a result of my high-speed DSL connection.

Forward Thinking

Finally, I will consider a longer-term view on time management that’s applicable for MCPs. Essentially, on a daily basis I try to undertake one task or activity that will yield long-term benefits. That is, by investing some of my time today in something that might not make the most sense immediately, I hope to save time or “leverage up” in the long term. Here’s what I mean.

A few of my friends have that darn “day-trader” mentality that’s sweeping the land. These are the people who will perform a task or activity only if it results in an immediate payoff. If the payoff isn’t there, they bail out, feeling they’re the wiser for it. To them, a billable hour today is worth far more than performing some activity that may or may not result in many billable hours in the future.

I, on the other hand, walk to the beat of a different drummer. I need look no further than my experience in writing computer books. There’s no question that I’ve compromised a few billable hours today to write my books. Those hours are lost forever. However, I’m betting that my “investment” today will more than make up for those lost hours tomorrow. I believe that being a widely published MCSE-type will allow me to bill more consulting hours in the future with far less effort, because both soliciting and performing consulting work will be easier for me. Likewise, I’m hoping that I can ascend the consulting food chain and enjoy higher quality clients—in other words, clients who pay within 30 days and provide me referrals, the easiest and most efficient marketing of all! So, while I must tolerate the scorn of the daytrader crowd today for, in their eyes, wasting time, I take some solace in my strategy (whether right or wrong) that I’ll make all of that time up and more in the future. In short, I’ll catch up and surpass the daytraders down the road. And isn’t that another form of time management? Invest your time today in certain endeavors so you’ll have more or better quality time in the future.

About the Author

Bainbridge Island, Washington author Harry Brelsford is the CEO of NetHealthMon.com, a Small Business Server consulting and networking monitoring firm. He publishes the "Small Business Best Practices" newsletter (subscribe@nethealthmon.com), and is the author of several IT books, including MCSE Consulting Bible (Hungry Minds) and Small Business Server 2000 Best Practices (Hara Publishing).

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