Time Management 101

Expert Maura Thomas provides entrepreneurs with three tips for finding more hours in the day.

By Sarah E. Ashlock

“People think about productivity as just getting more done,” says Austin-based time-management expert Maura Thomas. “To me, it’s about getting more done that matters.” 

Thomas has spent the last two decades fine-tuning the best approach to mindful productivity and, before starting her own business, Regain Your Time, in 2003, Thomas worked for Time/system, a company that sells paper-based planners. She latched onto the concept of personal efficiency as a way to “create a life of choice.”

“I use a dictionary definition of productive, which is, ‘achieving or producing a significant amount or result,’ ” Thomas says. 

For her, cranking out subpar content isn’t synonymous with productivity, and she demonstrates why in her most recent book, Work Without Walls. In the book, Thomas delves into how companies can create an environment in which their employees can implement productivity practices. 

One of Thomas’ local clients, the Sustainable Food Center, participated in her attention-management training. Employees identified their current processes and implemented more efficient ones. 

“It was instrumental in streamlining our work,” says Ronda Rutledge, executive director of the center.
Seeking tips to streamline our own efficiencies, Austin Woman asked Thomas for a few pointers on how to make 2017 the most productive year yet.

Observe the Clock
If there were a secret sauce to creating a more productive lifestyle, it would be to diligently observe how we spend our time. 

“Start paying attention,” Thomas says. “We don’t think about our workflow. We don’t think about how we do what we do.”

Thomas says every person has the power to mold his or her day in whatever way they choose, but we often don’t make the time to truly examine that.

“When you get to work in the morning, what’s the first thing you do?” Thomas asks. “And then what’s the next thing?” 

While counting down the workday with a watchful eye, notice where you keep your to-do lists. Thomas says most clients have action items and notes in a variety of locations, such as on smartphones, work and home computers, in notebooks, on sticky notes and even in the world’s oldest note-taking device: the mind.

Create a Process
“Start paying attention to all those little components of your workflow, and that will illustrate where your problems are,” Thomas says. “Then you can seek a system.”

She suggests identifying one problem in your workflow, finding a solution and repeating. This will allow you to test out a new, efficient process. For example, if one of your to-do lists takes the form of flagging emails but you hardly return to those flagged emails, this is a method that doesn’t work for you.  
If you act as a leader, observe your team’s processes as well, and brainstorm on solutions. 

“If your employees are responding to your email at 1 in the morning, that’s probably going to say something about the quality of their sleep, and therefore about the results they produce for you tomorrow,” Thomas says.

Read the Instructions
Some solutions might come in the form of tools.
 
“There are two components when it comes to tools,” Thomas says. “If you have the system, then you know what you need in a tool. If you don’t have a system, then no tool is going to be the answer.” 

For example, Thomas observed she was wasting time scheduling meetings, so she adopted an appointment-scheduling software program called TimeTrade. However, don’t expect a tool to solve your productivity woes, at least not at first. 

“I can’t cook,” Thomas says as an example. “But if I went out and bought all of the gadgets and all of the pots and pans and knives that Rachael Ray has in her kitchen, that still doesn’t make me cook like Rachael Ray.”


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