I would consider myself a pack rat when it comes to holding on to information. However, I am realistic enough to know that I can’t save everything. For example, I don’t need every daily report saved. As part of my organizational improvement, I found I can’t always be the controller of information—but I can know where and from whom to grab it. You should know who the key contact is for critical information. If you don’t know who the key contacts are, you should invest the time to learn—it saves time in the end. How will doing more save you time? By making you more informed and effective, you will save time. Let’s find out how.
To increase your effectiveness, you should read all of your emails and avoid the systemic rules for auto-deleting. If you need to set a rule to auto-delete the email (e.g., daily reports), don’t bother getting the email in the first place. Also, read the entire email; don’t just pull up the attachments or read the beginning. There are often key points in the body, or the email trail, that might need to be addressed. If you are one of the few reading the entire body of the email, you are in the minority—a minority that gives you an information advantage. Although there is etiquette to delete needless pieces of an email and to summarize when you are the person who forwards it or replies, we are realistic enough to know it doesn’t always happen. Use the details to fully understand what is going on around you.
If there are attachments and you simply open them without reading the email, you may be missing out. There are often high-level summaries included in the email that provide context that will be extremely important as you pull up that attachment. Read the key points and the summary. This may save you time researching information that may already be in front of you.
Checklists are both a blessing and a curse. We have all used checklists. Some people use them better than others. Some people write out checklists chronologically, some people write out by priority, and some people write first come, first served (not recommended). Some people move the checklist from one day to another. If you are the daily shifter, stop using the checklist. Checklists are not productive if you constantly shift them from day to day—they simply become time wasters. If you have moved the same task for multiple days, how important is it? If it is important, take action on it. If it is important, but not urgent, don’t schedule it for tomorrow; schedule it for a week from now when you know you can get to it. If you are proactively staying ahead of your day, your week, and your month as stated earlier, you should be on top of this anyway.
Checklists, if kept, must comprise the least amount of work you expect to get done and still consider the day a success. It might sound counterintuitive since we are trying to get the most out of a day. However, I specifically think of it as the, “I can’t leave until this gets done” list. This should be your very realistic list. Anything finished after this list should be considered a bonus. Use a pull system to bring the bonus tasks into your freed up parts of your day as opposed to continually pushing the tasks to another day. You will start to find you will have a lot more bonus days as you get control of your checklists and calendar.
It is important with checklists to not write something down today if you are not going to do it today. In addition, you should double the time you expect to complete the tasks, even the regular ones, and account for interruptions (e.g., calls coming in, questions being asked, etc.). Doubling the time is critical for being realistic with time expectations.
The following are additional miscellaneous tips that will influence effective organization and time management:
- How a request comes in may impact your time management. How the requests are communicated to you play an important role when establishing priorities. Be cautious of email—it can be a time consumer if you are spending all day reading it and trying to interpret the exact request. You also increase the risk of multitasking. Use a specific block of time in a day to go through your emails and organize what is being asked of you. Additionally, pick up the phone and clarify the request, if needed, to avoid having to go back for rework.
- Keep a copy of your calendar with you, even when not at your desk. You can use an electronic/virtual version, print a smaller pocket version, or tape one in a notebook or portfolio you carry with you.
- If possible, turn off the features that confirm you have a new email or messages. Research has proven that it takes an inordinate amount of time to get back to your original thought when you are interrupted—regardless of whether it is by email, text message, or someone asking a question. Additionally, don’t pay attention to previews when an email comes in. It will naturally pull you to read the entire message and it takes away what you were previously dedicating your time towards. Turn off all indicators, whether it is visual or sound.
- Touch it once. Read it, take action, move it to a time when you can get to it, or save it for future reference. Stop moving it day to day because of an inability to take action; stop reading it more than once. Take actions on the emails—this might be moving it to another location or scheduling a meeting or a phone call, etc., to take it to its conclusion. Don’t read an email and just leave it in your inbox. This causes you to read it multiple times.
- I recommend not organizing emails by categories, senders, etc. It takes away from your ability to see it once. This causes you to have to look into multiple places when researching or looking for something. I have rarely seen this work effectively without something falling through the cracks.
- Give yourself some breathing room before you start your day so you are not rushed around. It sets the tone for the day. Don’t walk in the door at 7:59 A.M. if you are supposed to start at eight o’clock. That rushed feeling takes a while to go away.
- Many of us have a tendency to do the easiest things first for the sense of accomplishment. We must understand the difference between ease and true accomplishment. If you get a lot of easy things out of the way, after a while the more difficult things start to pile up. Also assess what is urgent, not urgent, important, and not important. Each of these needs to be reacted to in a different way. Do not give each a blanket reaction. Also, respect that what might be urgent or important to you may not be important or urgent to others. You should ask questions if you are unsure.
- Ask what happens if the deadline if missed. Know the rewards and consequences. You will be surprised how frequently what you thought of as urgent was really only important or vice versa, once clarity is added.
- Understand that internal pressures are sometimes greater than reality.
- Always take a notebook to meetings and actually use it; then go back and refer to it. Put any actions needed on your calendar.
- Immediately file and organize—this includes paper, emails, and online filing, as needed. Don’t pile up.
- If you have pushed the same task more than five days or made no progress on even starting on something, make a final decision on what action you need to take, including dismissing it. You do have options to take that immediate action: delete it, schedule time to address it, or take action to finish it now. A decision to do nothing is still a decision—just understand the consequences.
My former company used to consistently solicit people for their opinions regarding time management for certain roles. I used to laugh because the conclusions never changed. We used to conduct these time studies and came to the conclusion that there was not enough time in the day to get everything done. Don’t wait for a time study to figure out what you do all day. Self-awareness will lead to your success. If you are feeling strained, you must discuss time management challenges with your manager. Silence will only hurt you. You must over-communicate with your manager regarding what’s on your plate.
Time management is a requirement for all levels in an organization. If you don’t have enough time to invest in improving your own time management, take another serious look. There are only twenty-four hours in the day. They should not be all devoted to work, but if you don’t manage the work piece, you can’t balance the personal piece. Start immediately.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby