Today’s business world is constantly changing at breakneck speeds. It requires flexibility, a great deal of organization, and a good sense of humor just to keep up. Companies are retaining fewer employees but the workload continues to increase, making it harder to meet job demands and almost impossible to maintain any kind of work life balance.
Many companies have recognized this disparity and have implemented various types of time management training programs; some are good, most aren’t. Even so, you need to come up with a well thought out plan in order to meet your goals. Luckily there are several things you can do to make the most of your day, get things done, and still have time left over to relax.
The Curse of the Information Age
As technology improves, the number of people bombarding us with messages only seems to grow. Every day they have new and improved ways to interrupt our work. Between e-mail, the telephone, cell phone, Twitter, Linked In, and the eighteen other sites that keep you “in touch”, we have entered the age of information overload.
One of the best things you can do to work smarter is to manage your incoming communications. This will be difficult because many of today’s tools are taught to chase you, find you, and interrupt you. Start by separating your work and personal e-mail accounts, and only respond to your work-related messages while you are in your office. Save the personal messages for later. Schedule blocks of time in your calendar specifically for this task, put a time limit on it, and stick to it. Buy an egg timer if you need to.
Schedule your important phone calls as well. Allow sufficient time to contact your clients, but do not get entangled with personal conversations. Keep your phone time to a minimum, but do not be short or rude. If you don’t use it, learn how to send calls straight to voice mail so you aren’t tempted to answer a caller ID you recognize.
Managing Mountains of Paperwork
Develop a desktop organization system for incoming documents and mail. Touch the papers as little as possible, meaning they get filed as soon as you have time. If you come across mail, notes, or memos that will not be filed, shred them as soon as you are finished reading them. The goal is to reduce the amount of clutter on your desk so you can work more efficiently. Handling paperwork wastes almost as much time as e-mail so by making a simple change in how you handle paperwork, you could be saving yourself a great deal of time.
Speaking of clutter, organize your desktop. It does not necessarily need to be neat, just functional enough for you to get things done.
Find Some Quiet Time
When you need to read a technical document or if you are working on a task that requires great thought and concentration, remove yourself from your colleagues, shut down email, turn of twhirl. Interruptions from co-workers can cause you to lose focus, and can cost you a great deal of time when you need to go back and re-read something. Close your office door or go to the library to ensure your success with your project.
Take a Breather
Sometimes we become so focused on getting things done that we forget to give ourselves a break. Walk around the office or go outside and get a few minutes of fresh air. Eat your lunch, and have a snack in the afternoon. Getting the blood moving and nourishing our bodies will ensure the ongoing function of our brains. We will be able to stay on task better when we do not feel fatigued, making it easier to accomplish our goals.
As new projects arrive or circumstances change, we may feel compelled to jump to a new task before we finished the previous one. Unless it is an absolute emergency, avoid this behavior. You interrupt your progress and train of thought, making it difficult to pick up again where you left off with any efficiency. Lack of efficiency only adds to the amount of time it will take you to finish.
If you do not already keep a calendar, begin now. Write everything down with an allotted time period. Allow ample time to reasonably accomplish your goals so you do not feel overwhelmed or unduly pressured. Do not stray from your schedule, which should include personal errands and chores as well as work-related appointments.
Following a few simple changes will not necessarily change the amount of work you must complete, but it will help you complete your work more efficiently. Getting things done in a shorter period gives you the extra time you have been looking for. You can take your extra time and spend it guiltlessly on your spouse, your children, or in a hot bath. Working smarter will help you keep up with the demands of the workplace while still maintaining a good work life balance.