If only life was more like the movies. Then business executives could pause and rewind their 9-to-5 work day so they’d have enough time to return telephone calls, delete Outlook reminders, and actually read their E-mails.
In reality, according to Larry Solow, founder and owner of 3-D Change, an organizational consulting firm in Westampton, the only special effect executives really need to tackle their never-ending to-do lists is a set of solid time management skills.
“Everybody gets the same seven days a week, times 24 hours a day, 168 hours per week,” Solow says. “The clock just keeps on ticking, so you have to learn how to use time effectively and efficiently.”
Solow will discuss “Time Management for Your Business” during the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Before Business breakfast meeting on Wednesday, October 15, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Cost: $30 non-members. Visit www.princetonchamber.org, or call 609-924-1776.
Solow will offer six tips for mastering time management, detail useful time-management tools, and explain the difference between “urgent” and “important” tasks. “I work at the intersection of people, process, and strategies,” he says. “With time management, the technology isn’t what’s important. It’s the discipline and the process. Once a minute is lost, it’s lost forever, and that to me is critical. You don’t get to do it over. You don’t get to have it back.”
Solow grew up “in Burlington County, Exit 5 off the Turnpike.” His father worked as a Willingboro police officer, and his mother was a teacher and reading disability specialist in the Willingboro School District. Married with two sons, ages 17 and 20, he recently wrote the chapter “Creating a Total Learning Architecture” in “Learning Architectures: Building Organizational and Individual Learning” by Warren R. Wilhelm.
Solow earned his bachelor’s in human communication from Rutgers in New Brunswick, where he met professor David “Louie” Bender, a Vietnam War veteran who showed him a different side of education.
“You can answer question number 4 in 19 words, if you know the right words,” Bender would tell his students. “If you write more than what I gave you space for, I’ll know you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know the answer, at least write down a good joke, and I’ll give you partial points.”
Solow laughed at the classroom memory before adding, “He came back with a hole in the back of his arm from a shrapnel wound; he was unkempt with red hair, and was as funny as George Carlin,” Solow says. “I took seven courses with him, and he forged a lot of my views on how learning takes place and the ways to share information. He was funny, off beat, and he put things in language that normal people could understand and relate to. It was an incredibly refreshing, useful, bottom-line orientation to learning.”
After earning a master’s in organizational communication from Temple, Solow worked as a consultant, completing time and motion studies. He later landed jobs with Harley-Davidson in York, Pennsylvania, where he worked as the director of continuous improvement, and Allied Signals Aerospace, where he worked as a divisional manager of total quality.
He became an independent consultant in 1993 and started his company, Lawrence Solow and Associates. Now called 3-D Change, the company’s motto is “accelerating organizational change.”
“I get the biggest kick out of helping people, and this job offers me an opportunity to that every day,” he says, adding he often incorporates some of Bender’s teaching methods to help business leaders learn. “I get bored easily, and I consider myself to be really fortunate because no two organizations or two people are ever the same. I can bring the lessons learned from one client situation to help someone else. It’s fascinating to me.”
Understanding time management. When talking with executives about their poor or nonexistent time management skills, Solow often hears the same excuse — that they are too busy to plan their day. “It’s a pretty common pattern that is not helpful,” he says, “and it gets in the way of them doing a good job.”
On the opposite end of the time-management spectrum, he says, are the over-planners, who schedule every minute without accounting for interruptions, the unexpected, or even bathroom breaks. “People block out every minute of every day, and as soon as something goes wrong, they’re off plan,” he says. “Psychologically, that adds to a sense of failing. They just throw their hands up, and say, ‘Well obviously I can’t do this.’”
The bottom line. For businesses, poor time management results in lost opportunities, which, in turn, can negatively affect the bottom line. “Nowadays, companies need to be responsive to very rapid changes, and the company that changes fastest, that is the most nimble, often wins,” Solow says. “Time management enables folks to do a better job of being nimble, and it also helps stimulate a conversation about priorities and what’s important.”
Those conversations are crucial because they help business executives look at their to-do lists objectively and decide how best to spend their work hours; thus, instead of stressing out and trying to cross off 14 semi-important tasks, they can handle the top three urgent tasks.
Finding the time. Start simple, Solow says. Create a pared-down to-do list that includes some downtime for a coffee break or 15-minute walk. Then eliminate time-wasting tasks and inconsequential details. Do you really need to color code your paperclips, or print and file every E-mail you receive?
“I had always considered myself to be reasonably good at time management, and then some time in my Harley-Davidson days in the late 1980s, I was exposed to the Franklin Time Management system,” he says, referring to the system developed by author Franklin Covey. The paper-and-pencil system improved his personal time management by 15 percent. “That kind of helped me understand that instincts are good, and having some basic processes and disciplines are even better,” he says.
Today, he adds a technological spin to the system and teaches executives how to master time management by utilizing their Outlook calendars, Blackberries, and Smartphones. “It’s really not about the time so much, but rather what things you decide to do with it,” he says. “It’s using time effectively and efficiently by doing the right things with those hours. The time goes away, the clock never stops.”