time management


Her voice was tentative, “Are you all right?”  My friend, Pam, asked.

At first I had no idea to what she was referring.  “Great.  What are you talking about?” I inquired.

“Well,” Pam started, hesitantly, “when we were having lunch on Monday and you got that phone call from AT&T, I was really surprised at how angry you got.  I’ve never seen you get angry.”

Alexander Graham Bell

Since October 16, I’ve had an ongoing battle with AT&T to get my home phone transferred from my previous server to their phone service. AT&T has been in business since 1885 and can trace its roots back to Alexander Graham Bell.  You would think this company would know how to connect a home telephone.

In fact, the process of connecting a phone appears to be so easy that they send self-installation kits to your home for you to install your own phone. (Because of their incompetance, I’ve received three installation kits.)  Yet even with 137 years of experience and the current ease of installation, I have been trying to get my phone installed for over a month.  It appears the skill needed to install a home phone has been lost by AT&T.

My journal logging the events over the past month is a three page, single-spaced document.  I’ve been shuttled to so many helpful service representative that I’m thinking of hooking a few of them up with some stray, unmarried cousins.

During lunch last Monday, I received a phone call from an extremely polite man from India or Pakistan informing me that I would now have a new phone number.  “It appears Mrs. Howard,” he quietly and most jovially said, “that you have misplaced your former phone number and AT&T cannot find it.

In response, I screamed as calmly as I could, “Oh, no!  I’ve had that phone number for 45 years.  You lost the number; now you find it!”  Then I hung up as I headed to the AT&T store where I had initiated the transfer.  The store resides only a mile away and I arrived there almost before he could call me back.

“Mrs. Howard, you must let me explain!” his quietude was withering.  I calmly screamed for a few more minutes.  Finally, I listened.  His explanation was classic.   I had somehow fouled up the account and even though AT&T was working as hard as they could, I would need to choose a new phone number.

I have spent over 40 hours on the phone with AT&T’s extremely polite and considerate representatives. My phone was originally connected by AT&T on October 16.  Disconnected on October 17.  The phone has been connected and disconnected an additional five times in the past month.  In response to each disconnection, I have been kind.  I’ve joked. I have raised my voice.  I’ve cajoled, begged, pleaded, demanded, asked to speak to the supervisor.  AT&T’s usual response is an extremely polite moment of silence on the other end.

I must commend AT&T for the training of their reps.  In the 40 hours spend being transfer from one representative to another, I have only encountered one person who has not treated me with the greatest of respect.

The only problem–I don’t want or need respect.  I need my phone.

It is November 15 and I still don’t have a telephone. Though I have been politely and joyously assured that I will receive yet another self-installation kit tomorrow.

Making the most of my time often means a few easy steps that I’ve found works; and many time-management professionals agree.  Here are ten top ways that may help you manage your time.

  • Prepare yourself physically and mentally.  In the days I was writing, my office was a spare bedroom.  Nevertheless, I found that I took my job more seriously if I simply got dressed to “go to the office.”
  • Set a daily goal.  Because I was writing professionally at the time, I set a goal of three completely finished and edited type-written words each day.
  • Make your goals obtainable and simple.  My goal of 600 words each day was easily obtainable and I found that I almost never did ONLY 600 words.  Doing more than my goal gave me an even greater sense of accomplishment.
  • Work out a daily schedule.  Even though it’s been about 30 years since I began this time management routine, I’ve found that the method of working out a daily schedule for myself has allowed me to accomplish far more than I would have ever dreamed.
  • Accomplish one task at a time.  When my husband was once asked, “How has your wife accomplished so much?”  He said, “That’s easy.  She only does one thing at a time.  She completes one task before she moves to the next.”  In all honestly, I always felt this was a detriment; but as I analyzed his statement, I began to feel that perhaps he was correct.  The Lord had taken what I felt was a drawback and turned it into an asset.
  • Don’t let the magnitude of the overall project deter you from the daily scheduled tasks.  When we begin a large endeavor, it is important to not be overcome with the fact that this is a “big job.”
  • Don’t look at the overall “big job” but settle to bite off one small piece at a time.  As a young mother, I often turned on the soap operas during my afternoon breaks.  In one episode an older woman was knitting a sweater while she and a friend talked.  The friend was much younger.   The young woman asked her knitting friend, “How can you knit a whole sweater?”  The older woman stopped knitting.  She smiled and replied, “Oh, I never knit a whole sweater.  I knit one arm, then a second arm, then a yolk and so on until at the end I have a sweater.”  I really felt this was a word of wisdom given to me from the Lord.  I’ve used the One Arm Method ever since.
  • Keep a list of the things you must accomplish in a day.  Then mark off the things you finish as they are completed.
  • Make each task a game.  A friend told me that she had struggled for years with completing her tasks until she was a mother.  To help my son, I made every working task a game for him.  “I’d set the timer and see how many toys he could put up in a minute.  Many times he and I would compete.  I found it worked so well for him that also started making my tasks a game.  My daily tasks didn’t become exactly fun but they were easier,” she reported.  I loved the idea and started playing at my work from that day.
  • Don’t let interruptions destroy your concentration on the task at hand.  In the office, I find that almost all my interruptions are phone calls.  With the cell and cordless phones, it is much easier to keep stride and continue to work even when interruptions come.

Naturally, you have your own list of tricks that have worked for you.  What are they?  Share with us.

I’m disappointed many days when I realize how much I did NOT accomplish.  Interruptions, phone calls and distractions seem to rule the days when I’m not able to finish the needed jobs.

Many people enjoy a structured work environment in order to keep themselves focused and on task.  Often women and men who are retired moan that they don’t seem to have as much time as they once did after their retirement.  Too often, the people who are unfortunate enough to be without a steady working position voice the same complaint.

Being a work-at-home mom has sharpened my “unstructured” work skills.  No one walked through my kitchen at noon to be sure that the breakfast dishes were safely tucked into the dishwasher and the cabinets, stove and refrigerator were wiped clean. There was no timed schedule that told me I had one hour to prepare dinner.  No scheduler informed me that I had exactly 45 minutes to get to the grocery store, load my buggy, check out and get home in time to meet my child arriving at home from school.  These were day-to-day choices I had to learn to make myself–all by myself.

Of course, I had a structured office job before my children came.  Yet, I didn’t ever seem to put the two things together.  Once I came home with a new baby, I found that interruptions–rather than scheduling–reigned in my working life.  It took me about ten years to grasp the necessity of making the most of my time.

In reality, it began when I started writing full-time.  In those years, I would hurriedly do my daily tasks.  Then I would dress to arrive at the office.  I found that dressing for success helped me to be serious about the job I was doing.  Once in the office which was a fourth bedroom that was my husband’s study, I had a set number of pages that I was required to complete before I could leave the office.

Almost without exception, I found that I was able to complete many more pages than I set as my goal for each day, giving me a sense of accomplishment.  Of course, having my first book published and then having my second book sell over a half a million copies didn’t hurt either. Emily Colson, daughter of Chuck Colson and the mother of Max, has written a touching story about her son entitled Dancing with Max. She found that it was the small things which seemed maintain the large strides in Max’s life.

Eric Liddell

As Eric Liddell,  Scottish Olympic gold winning runner and missionary once said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”  I felt God’s pleasure each time I sat down at my typewriter.  Having the Lord’s seal of approval on what you have set out to do is extremely important.

While my main ministry would never be writing, the Lord allowed me to understand the principles of time management in those years of full-time writing.  It was His precious gift that continues to bless my life.