One consequence of today's tepid economy is that leaner staffs are struggling with increased workloads. Time is at a premium and there is more to accomplish than ever, but being in a state of constant motion does not correlate with being efficient. Unfocused and unprioritized activities can result in overspending and delays, frustrating both clients and employees.
What's the key to productivity in this hyper-charged environment? Begin by recognizing that some time drains -- such as emergencies or computer malfunctions -- are beyond your control. Most others can be avoided:
- Inadequate planning
- Failure to prioritize
Here are some tips to maximize productivity:
- Handle top priorities first. You may not complete your day's to-do list, but if you've addressed what's most important then you are probably in good shape.
- Schedule realistically. Allow sufficient time -- plus buffer -- to do a good job. Rushing often results in rework and wasted hours.
- Take control of your calendar. Decide how to best focus your time and be prepared to diplomatically decline requests that don't match your priorities.
- Do what you're best at. If someone else is more suited to handling a specific task, delegate.
Use calendars or lists to organize your assignments and stay on track. One trick is to block out time for everything - meetings (including preparation) and phone calls, as well as project to-do's. This is a sure-fire way to determine if you're cramming too much into a single day. These tools only work if you're consistent, so integrate them into your daily routine.
My clients report that email is their biggest time sink. Follow these suggestions for getting your inbox under control:
- Review emails at a high level to determine priority. Based upon priority, flag for when they need to be handled -- same day, tomorrow or next week. The goal is to read, handle and move on.
- Stay focused on high priorities by ignoring your email. If needed, set an auto-reply stating when you'll be able to respond to the message. Indicate a contact number for urgent issues or emergencies only.
- Unclutter your inbox by "unsubscribing" to blogs, newsletters and other communications that you've stopped reading. Alternatively, you can set filters for specific senders and route these items into a folder other than your inbox, for later review.
- Most importantly, determine if a five-minute phone call will be more effective than email. This can avoid the back and forth of ambiguous emails.
Many of these tricks are designed to fight procrastination, which is one of the major obstacles to effective time management. There may be no way to stretch time, but making the most productive use of the hours at your disposal is a big step towards achieving greater results and a more balanced life!