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Improve Your Time Management: Teach Yourself

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Organizing your time effectively enables you to achieve more. Start by working out where and how you waste time. Then de-clutter your work and home spaces. Clear your desk and file, throw away, pass on or act on papers. Make use of shelves and other storage containers to tidy your office.

Now work out what your most important goals are in all aspects of your life. Use lists or spider diagrams to organize your ideas. Once you know where you want to get in life and work, break down your goals into several objectives and then into smaller steps. Record the steps in your diary or personal organizer. Concentrate on your most important goals and make sure that you complete one step towards each of your goals every day.

You need to be organized. Use your phone effectively: make and receive calls at set times, have necessary information to hand and take notes. Where possible, delegate calls. Organize your computer files and only look at emails twice a day. Have an alphabetical filing system and make it easy to use by using nouns as file names. Label your storage systems alphabetically too. Prepare for meetings by reading the summaries and preparing questions beforehand. If you are chairing a meeting make sure it starts and ends on time.

A lot of life is filled up with transition time, that is, short periods of waiting or time between longer jobs. Use transition time to catch up on short-term jobs.

Learn to say no – a great time management tool. Use the word no before any polite excuse. For persistent callers use the ‘broken record’ trick and repeat your refusal in different ways.

Delegate tasks to free up your time for work you must do and to empower your staff. Ensure that your expectations are clear and staff are prepared, then allow them to do the work.

Prepare for conferences by reading the literature beforehand, taking notes, and writing details on the back of business cards. Record meetings as soon as possible.

If your company provides extra training in time management take advantage of it. You can also learn by reading books (like this one), listening to CDs or using a personal time management trainer.

Insights

  • Don't reduce your sleep time if you get eight hours' sleep or less – you will be too tired to work properly. Why not reduce time spent watching TV instead?
  • When trying to manage your time-keeping, ask a friend to remind you when you are lapsing into time- wasting habits.
  • Book your holidays in advance, if possible. Mark them in your diary or timetable at the beginning of the year. That way you have no excuse for avoiding them.
  • Use a loose-leaf planner. You can then move your notes and lists close to the relevant page without rewriting them.
  • When estimating time for a long-term project, work backwards from the deadline. That way you can make sure that all parts of the project fit into the time available and are completed on time.
  • Don't try to prioritize lists as you go along. Write the items as you think of them and prioritize them afterwards.
  • Use your lunch break to have a healthy meal and a short walk outdoors. You will feel more energetic and alert during the afternoon and will be more productive.
  • When walking around avoid making eye contact with people – this discourages them from stopping to chat.
  • Ask your secretary to add routine reading matter to your folder, e.g. trade magazine, company newsletter.
  • With any project give yourself a deadline for getting any preparations completed. You then have no excuse for delaying the start of the first task.
  • Set an alarm to go off five minutes after you sit down at your desk. When it goes, start work straight away.
  • If, once you've started, you get into the flow of the task and don't want to stop, ignore the deadline!
  • If your desk faces the door, don't look up every time someone passes, otherwise it will encourage them to stop and chat. If possible, move your desk so that it faces away from the door or the main flow of people.
  • Allow yourself only one revision or one reassessment and correction of any work or task.
  • Eliminate interruptions. By doing so you give people less chance to ask you to do things.
  • To save time, especially when prioritising work, put a red dot on a piece of paper every time you pick it up. Three dots means you should deal with it now!
  • Show your secretary how your filing system works. If possible, introduce it to your staff so that everyone can quickly find documents from any system if someone is away.
  • A 12-month diary or planner might not be adequate for recording all forward dates and renewals. Use an 18-month diary or have next year's diary to hand.
  • Keep a pile of stamped postcards in your drawer or briefcase. Use them instead of letters when only a brief personal reply is required.
  • When replying to email, put any action into the subject line, for example, ‘need reply by Thursday a.m.’.
  • To save time choose software with on-screen demonstrations – it is easier to understand a technique if you are shown how it is done.
  • Remember that all phone calls must be answered – but not necessarily by you.
  • If your telephone messages keep getting lost use a carbon-copy pad. Throw the spare copies away once the pad has been used.
  • If the meeting is the only time that participants can get together informally, allow a 20-minute ‘social’ break. But put it into the agenda and call time on it promptly.
  • Aim to accomplish three things in any one meeting.
  • Define exactly what kind of subjects, if any, can be raised under AOB - Any Other Business.
  • Ask your staff what they think they need to do a job well – and then supply it.
  • Always allow time at the end of each job for checking and consolidation.
  • Keep an account of all the different ways you receive information in a typical week. Add up the amount of time it takes you to read/listen/watch it. Now you see why reducing information overload is so important!
  • Work out what an hour of your time is worth according to your salary. Before you decide to read or watch something, ask yourself whether it is really worth the cost to you and your company.
  • Give your email boxes specific rather than general names. Make sure that they are different enough not to confuse you.
  • To save time with staff training, start by showing a few key staff how you want them to work – if you enthuse them, others will follow.