If you spend most of your day putting out fires and feeling like you never get done what you set out to accomplish, you're not alone.
These days, time management is essential to successfully manage your workload.
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Time management expert Patricia Hutchings offers these tips:
1. Start by keeping a time log two days a week for at least two weeks. Keep it simple: Write the hours of the workday down the left side of a sheet. Across the top write the categories that represent your daily activities, such as "email,” "walk-in visitors,” etc. Record your actions with a check mark or a time notation, such as "15 minutes.”
"You want concrete numbers,” Hutchings says. "It helps you avoid saying, 'I'm interrupted all the time,'” and instead lobby specifically for what you need.
Example: "On average, I receive 18 emails, five instant messages (IMs) and 10 walk-in interruptions every hour. That's why I'd like the opportunity to work in the conference room twice a week for one hour of uninterrupted time to get high-priority tasks done.”
2. Prioritize tasks with ABCs or 123s. Stumped over which items deserve top priority? Use this paired-comparison exercise to end up with only one A, B and C:
List five things you have to accomplish this week. Compare No. 1 and No. 2, asking, "If I could get only one of these done this week, which would it be?” Put a tick mark by the chosen one. Then compare No. 1 against the No. 3 item, and mark the one you'd choose; next compare No. 1 against No. 4 and No. 5.
Now, begin the process again, starting with the No. 2 item. Compare it with No. 1, and put a tick mark by the chosen item. Go down the list, comparing No. 2 against the other items. Now start with No. 3, then No. 4 and last, No. 5. The item with the most marks is your A, the next highest number of marks is your B, and so on.
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3. Block out five to 15 minutes for planning first thing in the morning and at day's end. "You're setting up your day, so you don't get so busy with voice mail, IMs and email, and suddenly it's the afternoon, and you haven't gotten to your top priorities,” says Hutchings.
"You want to be at your top priorities within 20 minutes of sitting down at your desk. That's how you get the most productivity out of your day.”
4. Check and respond to email three times a day. If that's not possible, says Hutchings, do it at the top of every hour.
Tip: Put a line below your signature telling people when you check and respond to email. If they need you before then, they can call you. "You'll be surprised at how quickly people respect that,” says Hutchings. "And you'll see productivity quadruple.”
5. Allot realistic time for scheduled meetings. When writing down meetings in your calendar, think: How long will it take me to print things out; make sure the room is ready; get to the site? How long does it typically run over? Will my boss be stopped on the way back to his office to talk? How long will that take?
Answer these questions, and then block out the time in the calendar.
"You need at least five to 10 minutes on either side of a meeting,” Hutchings says. But many people schedule meetings back-to-back. Then what happens if one meeting runs late?
"I work with so many admins and bosses where this system works great,” she says. "Because they're in control of time, not controlled by it.”
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