Emails. Phone calls. Instant messages. Text messages. More information than ever to absorb. More new technologies than ever to learn. You face more ways than any workforce in history to be distracted, interrupted and kept from being able to focus on the projects that really matter to you and your team.
Are you finding time to think big-picture, get creative, and make progress on the projects you care about? Are you able to control your schedule, to devote the time you need to each task? Or are you spending your entire workday reacting?
If you believe you would benefit from even a bit more control over your time each day, enjoy my brief ebook, Time-Management Tips That Work. And feel free to share it with anyone you think might also find it useful.
In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite time-management tips.
To your productivity!
1. Keep Tasks Handy in Case of Downtime
Imagine your day is loaded with meetings at agencies all over town. You arrive at your first meeting of the morning and find your host has canceled. Now you have 90 minutes before your next meeting—not enough time go to back to the office. What do you do?
Many professionals treat situations like this as frustrating inconveniences—missing the great opportunities they present. Think of it this way: In your battle to find time to accomplish all the things you want to get done, some “found time” has just presented itself to you.
Always keep a set of “What If” tasks handy, wherever you go. These can be tasks on your to-do list that can be accomplished quickly or away from your work environment.
Here are some What If tasks you might want to keep with you at all times:
Return the phone calls you’ve been putting off or haven’t found time to make.
(Note: Keep the phone numbers of the people you’ll call if you find some “What If” downtime. You might also want to make a note to yourself about what you want to discuss with each person.)
Respond to emails you haven’t had time to answer.
Plan the remainder of your day. With this open block of uninterrupted time, new ideas and tasks will occur to you. This is your chance to capture them.
2. Distinguish Between Urgent and Important
Try reordering the task list below, based on your gut reaction to each item’s importance. In other words, guess which item, if this were your to-do list, you’d tackle first, second and third.
Write up fiscal-year strategies and goals for department.
Respond to angry voicemail from Jerry in Public Affairs.
Complete and send budget projections to Accounting. (Requested by tomorrow!)
Many people receiving an angry message from a colleague will drop everything to try to clear things up.
Problem is, “angry voicemail” isn’t enough information. What if Jerry is always angry about something, usually unjustifiably so? What if he simply wants to rant about an article on your team in the agency newsletter that he didn’t like?
Sure, this might be an important call—and in that case, addressing Jerry’s concerns might be your top priority. But what matters most here is context. Just because someone else deems something an emergency doesn’t mean you have to.
Similarly, what if you know that the Accounting task on this list—even though it was “Requested by tomorrow!”—is not going to be dealt with until the following week? The urgency you feel is that Accounting put a deadline on your response, but does that make this your most important task? Not necessarily.
Maybe you’re better off spending your time on that first item, writing strategies and goals for your team this year. There’s no deadline on it; chances are no one but you even knows you’re considering this task. But it may well be the most important thing you can do today to ensure your team’s success this year.
Urgent isn’t always important, and important isn’t always urgent.
3. Organize Your Space
Have you noticed how much more productive and energized you feel when your workspace is totally clean and organized? Looking at a work area loaded with random piles of materials is stressful, and stress saps you of energy and brainpower.
Every time you glance at a stack of disorganized paperwork on your desk, some part of your brain is registering the fact that there might be important work in that stack, work you’re missing because you can’t see it.
That’s why you’re far less likely to have a creative or inspirational idea if you’re not organized.
But there’s another reason to keep all of your work environments and tools organized—your office, desk, cubicle walls, drawers, laptop bag, anywhere you spend time working or retrieving work-related materials. The more organized you are, the easier you’ll find things as soon as you need them. Nothing slows your progress faster than not being able to find what you need.
This goes for electronic organization, too. That means maintaining a clean and up-to-date contact list, electronic calendar, email inbox, etc.
Remember: It takes energy to stay disorganized. So organize your workspace, and put that wasted energy into being productive, proactive and creative.