Managing Time and Money
To achieve real success in the workplace, either as somebody’s employee or as an independent, nothing contributes as much as good skills in managing time and money. This stems from observing that for many IT professionals “time is money.” What they contribute to the bottom line depends on how effectively they spend their time on the job. It’s also true because once spent, neither time nor money is easy (or even possible) to replace.
But there’s more that links effective management of time and money:
- Careful planning and scheduling of activities—which ultimately translates into time spent working—can help drive earnings further than they might otherwise go. Planning and preparation also permit you to calculate cash flows in advance and give you an opportunity to adjust workloads, juggle projects and so forth to increase earnings when necessary or to decrease the workload when you overcommit yourself.
- Understanding the value of time is important. First, you must determine the value of your time spent working on various tasks. This helps you set priorities and can therefore improve overall earnings. (Hint: Spend more time doing things that make good money, and as little time as possible doing things that make little or no money.) But remember that some overhead is inevitable, so you must spend some time taking care of yourself, your job, your correspondence and other tasks for which you may not be paid directly by anybody, but which must be done anyway.
- Understanding the trade-off between time and money is also essential. If you can work at a higher hourly rate while paying somebody else less to handle routine or menial tasks—such as filing, office organization, bookkeeping and so forth—you wind up better off in the long run than if you were to do everything yourself. The key lies in understanding what your time is worth, and what it costs to pay others to do certain things for you, then exploiting that difference when it’s in your favor. Don’t forget that you must actually generate earnings to pay others when they work for you. Also, be sure to allocate sufficient time to explain or demonstrate in detail what you want done—and don’t forget to figure this into your overall determination of whether or not to hand work off to others.
Managing time and money are not always so strongly linked that you can’t approach each one separately at times. Managing money involves learning how to budget funds, including setting goals for income and earnings, planning for growth and change and making sure that you’ll have the money you need to spend when the bills are due.
In fact, nothing beats a good budget when it comes to managing money, and it’s important to plan and maintain your numbers for both the income and the expense sides of your budget. In months when you forecast income to exceed expenses, no additional action is needed, but in months where expenses are likely to exceed income, you must arrange to meet shortfalls in the best way possible. If you’re lucky, savings from previous months of positive cash flow will cover the difference. If not, you’ll want to make arrangements for the credit needed to keep things going. (For more info, see the November 2002 Certified Expert column, “The Importance of Budgeting, Billing and Collections” www.certmag.com/issues/nov02/careers_certexpert.cfm).
When it comes to managing time, nothing beats history. What I mean is that you should get in the habit of tracking your time—and hopefully you’re doing this already. That way you can use your own prior experience to guesstimate how long it should take you to do your job, whatever it may be. Your estimates will be fairly accurate provided you can gauge the similarity of prior work to upcoming effort and use what you’ve already done to decide how long it will take you to complete future tasks. Of course, the more past experience resembles future plans, the better your estimates will be, so be sure to build in a fudge factor to help compensate for differences, the unexpected and other random factors life will throw your way. Later, by comparing estimates to the way things turn out (which is why tracking time is so important), you’ll quickly learn what kind of fudge factor to use to bring estimates as close to actual experience as possible.
With a careful review of what things cost, how long they take to complete and how much revenue they produce (or how much cost they help to avoid, if you’re in a cost-centered situation), you can learn to manage your time and money with the best of them. The keys are careful planning, regular review and a willingness to adjust your plans to meet the circumstances you face.
Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at iLearning.com and is contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.