ON A day-to-day basis, nothing is defined and redefined in people's minds as much as time.

Time remains constant, but your perception of it changes.

When you focus on it, it slows down. When you turn your back on it, it speeds up.

Herein lies your power. Because things are as you perceive them, you can choose to see time as a manageable commodity and live your life according to that assumption.

This is one of the secrets of successful people - they work at shaping those things which others think are beyond their control.

Efficient versus effective

In discussing time management, some people argue that "what we need is to be more efficient with our time!"

Others say: "Let's not worry so much about efficiency, let's be more effective!"

Efficiency means doing things right. Effectiveness means doing the right things.

Working efficiently is doing things with the least amount of wasted effort. Effectiveness means doing the things that yield results.

Many people, when learning about time management, ask the question: "Which should I work on first, efficiency or effectiveness?"

In theory and practice, the best answer is to improve your effectiveness first. It is much better to aim your sights at the result than to worry about the process.

Too often we get bogged down in the means and lose sight of the end.

Eliminate time wasters

Time wasters come from the people around you as well as from within yourself.

Identify the most frequent sources of time wasters in your day.

As a means of comparison, I have included a list of time wasters.

Many researchers find the same handful at the top of their lists, which indicates that these are problems common to most people:

* Scheduling less important work before more important work.

* Starting a job before thinking it through.

* Leaving jobs before they are completed.

* Doing things that can be delegated to another person.

* Doing things that can be delegated to modern equipment.

* Doing things that actually are not a part of your real job.

* Keeping too many, too complicated or overlapping records.

* Handling too wide a variety of duties.

* Failing to build barriers against interruptions.

* Allowing conferences and discussions to wander.

* Conducting unnecessary meetings, visits and/or phone calls.

* Chasing trivial data after the main facts are in.

* Socialising at great length between tasks.

Set priorities

When setting your priorities, there are two famous laws to remember.

The first is Parkinson's Law. It states that work tends to expand to fill the time allotted for its completion.

Parkinson's Law makes setting priorities twice as important. If you do not know what your priorities are, your other work will expand to fill in the extra time. It will take longer for you to accomplish less.

The second law is Pareto's Principle. It states that 80 per cent of your results come from 20 per cent of your efforts.

Another way to look at it is that 80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your clients.

Use a to-do list

A list of "things to do" for each day and week is a valuable aid to managing your time.

A to-do list organises your thinking and planning in the least amount of time with the maximum amount of efficiency.

As mentioned earlier, Parkinson's Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. Your to-do list should, therefore, define a specific amount of time, if possible, for each activity. This will keep work from "expanding".

Your activities should be listed in order of priority. Work on high priorities first.

In listing the activities, it is helpful to spell out the result as well as the process. Stating when, where, and what you are going to do increases your chances of doing it successfully.

As the day goes by, check off completed activities and make any notes that seem relevant.

In the evening, make out a new to-do list for the next day and include any activities you could not complete.

Always save your to-do lists for future reference and evaluation.

Keep records

The experts in time management all agree that when you keep records of how you spend your time, you will be more aware of the opportunities for improving your use of it.

You will learn, among other things, what tasks you are having trouble with. You can actually chart your performance to get a graphic illustration of your strengths and weaknesses.