Watching the Clock

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2006

A not very organized Randall Dean attended a not very organized three- day time management class and, ironically, that's what turned him into the "Totally Obsessed Time Management/PDA Guy."

"Three days on time is a lot of time on time," Dean told his boss at Proctor & Gamble, where he was then a market research specialist. His boss asked him if he could create a better program. "And I never stopped doing it," says Dean, who owns Randall Dean Consulting in East Lansing, Mich.

In February, Dean published Major Satisfactors=Major Success: A Unique New Way to Look at How We All Spend, Use and Waste Time. He's speaking in St. Petersburg later this month to the 29th Annual Conference on Management and Executive Programs, a gathering of university and college administrators.

When it comes to time management, Dean practices what he preaches.

"It's incumbent on everything I do," Dean says. "When I compare myself to my peers, I'm working consistently fewer hours."

Dean takes a holistic approach to managing time. Get your priorities in order, he says. "A lot of people are good at being productive, but they don't know why they are doing it," he says.

Dean speaks on "Finding an Extra Hour Each Day," the "PDA Power Program," and running effective meetings. He offers a few twists on time-management standards.

1. Handle the quick stuff right now. Dean says if it can be done in three minutes or less, do it. The more little things you can get out of the way, the more time you'll have to spend on bigger projects. Sometimes your small stuff is necessary for other people to get their jobs done. "You don't want to be the sticking point," he says. "Keep the river flowing."

2. Practice effective procrastination. Certain tasks should be put off, Dean says. If you're not sure something needs your attention, put it aside. "Very often, when you ignore that stuff, it'll just go away."

3. Block an hour to advance productivity. It's easy to procrastinate on bigger projects and long-term goals, Dean says. But if you set aside time each day to hammer away at them, they won't get so overwhelming. It's a lesson Dean says he had to remind himself of when he was trying to finish his book. "I was about 90 percent finished and my editor kept asking me when I would be done," he says. He set aside an hour a day to work on it. "In two weeks I had it finished."

4. Tame the e-mail beast. Dean says he tries to keep his e-mail in-box empty even though he gets about 75 e-mails daily. "I follow the three-minute rule," he says. For correspondence that takes longer to answer, Dean prints it out and puts it in priority order. "Then you start knocking them down." A good e-mail filing system is crucial. Dean has a file for clients and subfolders for each: prospects, vendors, marketing/PR opportunities and ideas. Anything that doesn't fall under one of those categories and isn't worthy of its own folder gets deleted.

5. Use a planner, notebook or PDA effectively. "If you want to feel in control," Dean says. "You have to include work and personal. If you don't have it written down, it gets relegated to the side." Whatever system you choose, he says, it's important to have a list and make sure you have the right things on it. "Every day, look at the list and prioritize. It's an eight- or 10-minute process to create the most value. You get better at making choices."

6. Make your contact list work for you. Dean's address book has more than just the typical phone numbers, e-mail and addresses. Using the notes features common to most e-mail or PDA systems, he jots down directions, names, quirky habits and logs of his conversations. "That's real power," he says. "You have an archive of your relationships."

7. Manage meetings. Dean isn't a fan of meetings and notes that most of them never start or end on time. Bring a planner to use those extra minutes to "get your ducks in a row." Have a list of important things to discuss with key people in the room, and use the pre- or post-meeting time for those conversations. If you're in a position to call meetings, make sure they begin and end on time, have an agenda and invite only necessary people. "There's no better place to show your competence or lack thereof," Dean says. "If you run a poor meeting, people question your overall ability."

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