Hopkins professor juggles job, family and community work


December 03, 1990|By Ellen L. James

There has to be an explanation.

Somehow, Geri McArdle, a 43-year-old single mother and Johns Hopkins professor, has found the time to get a doctorate, write five books, raise a daughter, conduct a full-time management consulting practice, lecture and play an active role in community affairs.

Her answer? Effective time management.

"You have to be very focused -- know where you're going and what you're doing," says Dr. McArdle, who teaches 30 courses a year, including time management courses, through Hopkins' downtown center.

Obviously, the subject of time management carries more than academic interest for Dr. McArdle. Early in her career, she realized that conscientious time management would be essential to accomplish all she intended to do. That's why she follows careful guidelines on using her time.

"I always map out what I'm going to do the night before," she says, noting her habit of creating lists that place in sequence the activities planned for the following day. This takes just three minutes and is invaluable in organizing her time, she says.

By completing her list before her day is under way, she can subconsciously prepare, knowing all her ducks are lined up. And the next morning, she can plunge into her work without any preliminaries.

In creating daily checklists, Dr. McArdle follows time management principles. She seeks to do her most arduous intellectual work -- such as writing -- in the morning when she knows she's sharpest. Phone calling, errands and other relatively less demanding activities are done in the afternoon.

Dr. McArdle, whose management consulting practice is based in Reston, Va., seeks to bunch similar activities together on her schedule. For instance, she groups computer activities into one part of her week and errands -- such as trips to the photocopy shop and office supplies store -- into another part of the week. This gives her an economy of scale that makes her more efficient, she says.

She also estimates the amount of time for each activity, giving her a realistic appraisal of what she can and cannot accomplish in the course of a day. Realistic estimates are essential to time management, yet many people have trouble honestly assessing how long an activity will take, she says.

Besides her "To Do" list, which goes on paper, Dr. McArdle has a mental "Not To Do" list that can often prove equally, if not more, valuable.

Dr. McArdle is cautious about the time she spends networking at meetings and conventions. She's convinced that consultants waste far too much time on such activities with the vague expectation they will turn up clients. Rather than attending most such meetings, Dr. McArdle seeks to become a "skillmaster," honing the key skills that truly matter in building a loyal following of clients, she says.

As might be expected, Dr. McArdle applies time management principles to her personal life, as well as her professional life.

Years ago she made the deliberate decision to spend no time shopping for clothes. To avoid shopping, she pays a personal shopper $35 an hour to find clothes for her.

Dr. McArdle is convinced that the world is made up of two groups of people: planners and doers. Natural-born planners need to learn the art of mobilizing, and doers need to learn how to plan. Time management, she says, teaches the art of combining planning and doing for the most effective result.

As she says, "Do it now or do it never."

TIME-SAVING TIPS * Plan ahead. One hour of planning can save you three hours worth of wasted time and disorganized action.

* Take advantage of "prime time." Determine whether you work best -- morning, afternoon or evening -- and schedule your most demanding work then. Stretch your prime time periods with brief breaks such as a cup of coffee or a walk outside.

* Handle paperwork wisely, keeping in mind the motto, "Do, Delay, Dump or Delegate." Don't let paperwork disrupt projects that should take priority.

* Avoid procrastination by breaking large tasks into pieces. Do challenging tasks on deadline if you thrive on pressure.

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