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Ten Ways to Stay On Top Of Your Work


Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in work? Your inbox is overflowing, you have to move two stacks of papers to get to your keyboard, you have a constant nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten about something vital, and that major project you want to start work on still remains a pipe dream.

Some people say they “work well under stress”, but most of us are happier, healthier and more productive when we feel that we’re on top of things. With that in mind, here are ten tips to help you stay on top of your work.

  1. Don’t Take On Too Much
    If you’re overworked, is it because you’re not very efficient and waste time (be honest) or is it because you simply have too much work?

All the time management tips in the world won’t give you more than twenty-four hours in a day. When you’re offered an exciting new project to be part of, when a colleague asks for a favor, or when you’re thinking about sticking up your hand and volunteering in a meeting … stop and think about your other priorities. Remember that if your day is currently full and you take on new work, something else is going to have to go.



If you’re obliged to be in regular meetings, try cutting the frequency (perhaps a team meeting every fortnight, not every week, would be just as effective) or the duration (it’s surprising how much can be accomplished in half-an-hour).

If you can possibly avoid meetings, do. That goes doubly for meetings which are off-site – there’s a lot of wasted time involved in getting there and back.



The next morning, start on your to-do list before doing anything else (checking email, gossiping round the water cooler, making a round of coffee).



Fit your “big rocks” – the major things you want to work on – into your day first. All the little jobs like checking email, tidying your desk and making phone calls can fit into small time-gaps in between the bigger tasks.



It’s often useful to use this to do “big rocks” and then to relax your attention by attending to the “sand” tasks like answering emails.



For example, if you find that you’re always forgetting to follow up on action points for meetings, develop a framework to help you do this. That might mean that you schedule yourself fifteen minutes after the meeting to go through your notes and put your action points onto your to-do list.



Try “batching” your emails: instead of replying as soon as one arrives, set certain times of day (ideally, not before 10am) when you’ll read and reply to all your emails.



If you aim to get each project finished a few days in advance of the “real” deadline, you’ll feel considerably less stressed (you’re working to your own time, not to someone else’s) and you’ll also be able to cope with any genuine emergencies that crop up, without blowing the deadline.



(If, like many people, you’re not confident about delegating work, read Accomplish More Each Day: Four Steps To Easy Delegation)

If you’re self-employed, can you pay someone else to do tasks for you? For example, you might find a student willing to do some administrative tasks, and you could pay an accountant to help with your taxes.



If this is the problem, don’t be afraid to say that you’re being given too much to do. Your line manager may not realise that you’re feeling swamped. Don’t moan about having too much work, but mention your concerns that some aspects of your work aren’t getting done (or are being rushed) because you have too much else on.

How do you stay on top of your work? Share your tips and ideas in the comments!

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