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Beating the Clock

Time management when you’re under the gun

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in Workplace Communication

A typical manager’s day consists of constant crises that erode time. But you don’t have to give up trying to control the clock. Even with multiple deadlines and emergencies swirling around you, you can get more done in less time. Here’s how:

Plug holes. You may work well once you get rolling. But you must also maximize time between tasks. If you’re not careful, you can prolong the transition by complaining, fiddling with low-priority jobs or just plain dawdling.

It’s better to bounce quickly from task to task. Give yourself a 10-minute break, then dive into your next project. A compliance officer at a mutual fund firm tells us that he turns over an hourglass when he needs to decompress after handling a “minicrisis.” When the sand runs out, he moves to his next priority.

Plunge in. When Tom Peters instructs executives to adopt a “bias for action,” he wants them to charge ahead and do something. Same goes when you feel time slipping away. Don’t ponder too much how you’re going to proceed— just do it. Planning is fine as long as you don’t get so caught up in thinking about something that you immobilize yourself.

Post visual prompts. Begin your day with a written to-do list. Keep it in a visible place, such as on your computer monitor or bulletin board. It’s your guidepost as you fight off distractions. Don’t type your list into your computer. Write it out by hand. That reinforces your will to get things done. And many people find that crossing off items provides a psychological boost.

Keep calm. Don’t talk about how harried you feel. The more you blab about stress, the more stress you’ll feel. When interrupted, don’t snap. Just say, “Can we discuss this Friday morning?” Set a time and return to work.

Think ahead. Anticipate questions or problems and prepare for them. If you’ve just turned in a report and you expect your boss to ask for more information, don’t think, “I’ll deal with that later.” Instead, submit all the supporting material you think will be needed.

Cluster your tasks. Maximize every move you make. If you’re rushing to a meeting on the fifth floor, think of who else you need to see there and bring any relevant documents. Plus, always carry an appointment book, your to-do list and key phone numbers so you can operate efficiently away from your office.

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