I’ve known people who roll their eyes when someone mentions ‘time management,’ and mutter under their breath, “I don’t have TIME to worry about time management.” The problem with that attitude is that good time management doesn’t have to take much time or effort at all. The changes you make in your habits don’t have to be huge. Even small changes can make a big difference when added together.
There are many things you can do that will help you be more efficient without having to waste an hour a day trying to save fifteen minutes of work. Here are a few ideas you can try:
- Only touch a piece of paper once. Okay, this one doesn’t totally fit today’s computerised world, but it does apply, and it can be modified to fit our current needs. For example, many businesspeople have an IN box. It might be your top drawer or an actual box sitting on your desk. Don’t thumb through the items in your IN box, reading them over and over so you can choose one that you want to work on. Pick up the next item in the box, do it, and move on to the next. You’ll save time because you won’t be reading each item multiple times a day to see whether you want to do it.Actually, the same can hold true for computer work. Unless you are expecting something you need in your email, don’t open and read everything you get immediately when that little ‘you’ve got mail’ tone goes off. Chances are you’ll go back to whatever you were working on originally and have to re-read the email again later when you decide what action, if any, is required of you.
- Prioritise. Whether you take ten minutes first thing in the morning, or ten in the morning and ten right after lunch, prioritise your work for the day. You’ll save time because you won’t be ruffling through projects constantly during the day, trying to figure out which one you should work on next. Take a few minutes to line the day’s work out in an orderly fashion. Of course, you have to be flexible – new jobs come in constantly that take priority, but don’t stop what you planned to do unless absolutely necessary.Personally, I’ve always used the last ten minutes of the day to clean up my desk and prioritise my work for the next day. I love coming in to that nice clear desk in the morning, knowing right away what my schedule is. I even stack my workload in the correct order, so the first job is right on top!
- Use lists. Lists can be helpful in so many ways. Use a list on your calendar to prioritise your work. Use a list on a project to line out the steps you need to take to complete it. One of the biggest ways you’ll save time is by not making false starts and having to go back and redo work because you forgot a step.A note of caution, however: Don’t become so enamoured of lists that you spend more time on lists than on work. In all honesty, I once worked with a young lady who made lists of her lists. True story! She had so many lists that she made a list of them so she wouldn’t forget to update each one. I think most of us would agree that this is defeating the purpose of saving time by using lists.
- Avoid distractions. Are you easily distracted? Can you see out the door of your cubicle to the hallway? Do people walking by catch your eye? Do they stop and lean in the doorway to chat?If you waste time because you are distracted by others, move your office layout so you can’t see out the door anymore. Perhaps security requires that your computer not face the hall. If that’s the case, arrange a plant in front of your desk on a file cabinet so it blocks most of the doorway. Explain to people who come in to chat that you are sorry but you have a close deadline and don’t have time to visit. After a while, people will get the idea and stop bothering you.
- Don’t multi-task. I bet this one surprises you, right? The difficult part about multi-tasking – such as typing an email and talking on the phone at the same time – is that you aren’t giving your full attention to either task. You’re more likely to take the wrong message or make a typo when your mind is on the other task. What a waste of time to have to call the person back to correct your message, or re-open the file so you can correct the typo and print it out all over again!
While these tips might be perfect for your situation, you should be able to come up with other ways to save time that only apply to your own work profile. For example, once upon a time, I worked on files each day. I did particular things to a file and then took it back to the file room and filed it away correctly. It dawned on me one day that I must walk back and forth to that file room at least twenty times a day, so I decided to set aside a few minutes before lunch each day to file ALL the files from the previous afternoon and that morning. I saved about a half hour a day – yes, I timed it – by doing all the filing at once. It’s very likely you can find specific time-savers for your workday too!