We all start out in life with one thing in common – the same number of minutes and hours in each day. That remains constant whether we live 50 years or 100 years.  So why is it that some people accomplish so much, and others, very little?

One important reason, time management. Improve your time management and your time will improve you.

It’s not how much time you have; it’s how you use that time.

Time is precious. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it.  And once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.

Using your time efficiently and effectively takes organization, planning and information. Those are, in my opinion, the three most important secrets to getting the most out of your day. Let’s break them down further.

  1. Organization – Isn’t it the key to everything?

But in terms of time management, it’s especially critical. Learn how to prioritize, and identify what your top priority is each day. Make a list in descending order of importance what you need to accomplish. Start with the most important or most difficult item. Getting the hard stuff out of the way first makes the rest of the day a breeze. Most of us are at our sharpest at the beginning of the day, so it makes sense to dig in to the big stuff then. When the afternoon doldrums hit, work on less complicated matters. Use time as a tool – not a crutch.

Keep to a schedule whenever possible. Minimize interruptions by returning phone calls at a specific time of day. Of course, you will need to take some calls, but those that aren’t urgent you can return when you have time to deal with them best. And if you need to leave a message for someone, always leave a time when it’s best to reach you. That will save time for both of you and help you avoid telephone tag.

Another aspect of organization is your own work environment. My filing system is far from perfect, but I know where everything is. Searching your paper or computer files for stray information uses valuable time. Make sure your desk is navigable too – the more clutter, the more time wasted.

  1. Planning – Be prepared for a traffic jam, a computer crash, a long and slow-moving line.

Keep reading material handy so that you can capitalize on the delay. I also keep books on tape or CDs in my car.

Make sure you know where you are going. Get directions either from the person you are meeting or use Mapquest or a similar internet service. Getting lost isn’t on your to-do list.  The scenic route is best used on vacations.

I’m also a big proponent of valet parking. Sure, it costs more. But how much is your time worth?

Plan ahead and make appointments. Cold calls are a huge time waster. Occasionally you get some business out of them, but I’ve always figured that if my product is worth selling, it is worth having an appointment with the decision maker. The message is simple: I won’t waste your time, and I won’t let you waste mine.

  1. Information – Researching for the right information will do more than save you time – it can give you a leg up on the competition.

Do you know when the buyers are working in your customers’ offices? It’s hardly a 9 to 5 world anymore. Find out when your key contacts are available: If they start work at 7 a.m., you can bet most of your competition will still be looking for the coffeepot. What an opportunity! And you can be virtually assured that you won’t be interrupted – another timesaver. I call those early mornings, late afternoons and Saturday mornings my “Golden Hours.”

Get as much reliable information as possible from both your company and your client’s before you make your sales calls. Give your client a specific timeframe for a reply.

I’ve saved a little tip for last – you can’t work all the time. Time away from the office is sometimes as important to your career as time spent at work. Take some time to recharge your batteries every now and then. Have the time of your life.

Mackay’s Moral: People who make the worst use of their time are the same ones who complain there is never enough time.