Time is an illusion.
Time is the fourth dimension.
Time waits for no man.
These little philosophical quips may give us pause for thought, but in a hectic and demanding office environment, the only thought about time is, “Where did it go?”
All of a sudden, the day is over, and there are still files piled on your desk that you did not get to, phone messages not returned, and a meeting that had to be re-scheduled for tomorrow because you ran out of time today.
Time for a Change
Either you have too many task responsibilities at work, or you are not working as smart as you could be. If it is the former issue, you need to have a conversation with your boss (or delegate differently if you are the boss).
But before you do that, take a look at the following tips for managing your time. You may be surprised to discover that if you implement them, the day ends with you having accomplished much more.
1. Create Your To-Do List
Most everyone has these things. They are written on the backs of envelopes, on scratch paper, on large post-its.
For your purposes, get a legal pad or a spiral notebook that stays on your desk. Each morning, construct your list as follows:
- Rate. Each item on the list gets a 1, 2 or 3. The 1s are the “Must-do today” items. The 2s are “Should be done today, but can wait until tomorrow.” The 3s are longer-term items that you should be working on a little at a time.
- Rules. There are only two. 1) You may not relegate a 1 to a 2 just because the task is distasteful and you want to procrastinate on it. 2) You may not do a 2 until all of the 1s are completed.
- Reorganize. Some people make three separate lists, and that is a good organizational tool as well. Everything on list 1 gets done before throwing it away.
- Reward. Scratching an item off is really a nice little reward, and it will motivate you to move forward so that you can scratch off another!
- Revisit. Anything 1 or 2 that was not done today gets a 1 status tomorrow. Put them at the top of tomorrow’s list before you go home.
2. Work Against the Clock
Give yourself reasonable time limits for each task based upon past experience. If it’s a new task, keep track of the time and note it for use in the future.
Set a timer and work against the clock to meet that time limit. This will keep you on schedule and moving forward. It will also help you avoid distractions.
3. Set Aside Time
Schedule time for emails sometime before noon, preferably the same time every day. Inform others of that time, so they are not expecting a reply any earlier.
Do the same with returning phone calls. This will keep you from spending all day responding to other people’s requests.
4. Go Off the Grid
When you need to focus on a project, let your phone go to voicemail. If your cell phone rings, check the caller ID, and, if it is not a family member, it is probably not an emergency.
If you have an office, close your door. I have a sign for my doorknob that says “Only Emergencies Please.”
5. Stay in the Flow
If there is an issue or problem that pops up, and it is not an emergency, add it to your list, but do not disrupt your flow by getting on it immediately.
People don’t get things done because they are constantly jumping from one thing to another instead of adopting a steady flow.
6. Discern Priorities
Learn to say “no” if your list for today is too large. Someone else’s issue is not yours this very minute.
If, on the other hand, it is something that you can do in 30 seconds or less, do it. Learning to discern what you can do and what you can’t is important to protecting your time.
7. Clean the Slate
Get rid of all the clutter on your desk. If you have a stack of files, for example, your attention will continually be drawn to it as you are trying to work on one thing.
Put them on the floor behind you out of site. Only have your current task on your desk.
8. Know What Comes First
There is nothing wrong with taking a bit of work home, and it is inevitable sometimes. But nothing that is a 2 goes home.
It has already become a 1 for tomorrow, unless you have a strong motivation to get it done. And, if you are falling behind on a 3, you might want to spend some home time working on it.
9. No Time is Too Small
Find chunks of non-office time to work on a task. I am thinking specifically of times when you have a dental or doctor’s appointment or when you take a child to the dentist or to an after-school activity. Work on a task during “wait-time.”
One final reminder: Sometimes it is difficult to focus on tasks because your mind continues to wander to some other issue, perhaps a phone call you know you need to make or an email you need to compose.
Be flexible enough to stop and take care of that issue to get it out of your head and allow your focus to return.