By Vicky Smith
It seems that working harder, smarter or faster hasn't affected the unrelenting workloads we try to manage each day.
Knowing and doing what is important rather than simply responding to what is urgent is a definition for good time management skills. We all have the same amount of time; most of us don't control how we spend it.
Our inability to take control of time is caused by constant interruptions from others, telephone calls, voice messages, e-mails, faxes and cellphones. Frustration and stress grows from not being able to stick to our plans because of all these disruptions.
A definition of insanity is "to keep doing the same things and expecting different results." Time-management problems are often related to poor work habits. Before we can make decisions about how to spend our time, we first need to know how we actually spend it.
Next week, keep a log of everything you do each day. That means logging every phone call and how long it was, every e-mail message you read and responded to, every person you chatted with and for how long and so on.
This activity is a great reality check. It demonstrates how we actually choose unproductive activities to fill our days and then become stressed trying to meet deadlines.
Once you understand how you spend your time, you can plan by prioritizing important and productive activities first. Time management is taking control by planning ahead.
Blocking an hour at the end of the week to plan for the next week. Make this time non-negotiable. Don't pick a time when you traditionally are interrupted or when you want to rush home at the end of a busy week.
Allotting time in your paper or electronic planner for key activities that need to be achieved that week related to your goals, projects and so on.
Blocking half an hour at the beginning of each day to overview your day. Block half an hour at the end of your day to review your day and adjust your planning for the next day.
Developing discipline to block out time each day when you will deal with e-mails, phone messages and so on instead of responding to "you've got mail."
Taking action immediately. Handle each situation once, as much as possible. Use the 3D rule -- do it, dump it or delegate it. How many times do we write down telephone numbers that we can't find later?
Think about all that hunting time you would save if you put the number immediately in your planner.
Making sure you leave unscheduled time in your week to deal with unexpected crises and unplanned-for events.
We have a love/hate relationship with e-mail and meetings.
Gregory P. Smith, author of The New Leader and How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce, writes the following about e-mails:
"E-mail creates another time management problem. Answer e-mail immediately. Don't read it and let it pile up in your in-box. Keep your in-box clutter-free.
"Create a 'keeper folder' and transfer the mail you want to keep for later. Create another folder for 'actions pending.' Respect other people's time and avoid forwarding all those stories people love to send you. Use the delete key aggressively."
Many studies have shown that a majority of meetings are considered to be a waste of time. Yet innovative ideas, good decisions and opportunities to motivate employees have been the result of well run meetings.
Critical steps to running effective meetings are:
Prepare a clear meeting agenda. It should state the purpose of the meeting and have timelines allocated for each discussion.
Distribute the agenda in advance with any minutes from previous meetings for review.
Start and end your meetings on time. You may have to start the meeting before all participants are present.
Maintain a focused discussion but allow for creativity and spontaneity so that new ideas or approaches can be explored to achieve the required objectives.
At the end of the meeting, agree on action steps, who will accomplish them and timelines.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are the masters of how we use our time and how much stress and frustration we choose to impose on our lives.
Taking the time to plan instead of running by the "seat of our pants" would give us more time to have fun at our jobs.
-- Vicky Smith is owner of Contact Human Resource Group, which is internationally partnered with Express Personnel Services. www.contacthrg.com
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