There is never enough time to achieve everything. But all too often we do not use the time we do have well. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the work you need to complete, or are just running out of time, try incorporating at least 5 of these tips into your daily work life.
1. Know your priorities. Before you can manage your time you need to build a clear picture of what you want to accomplish versus what you need to delegate or defer.
2. Schedule time for you on your calendar. You are in control of how you spend your time. Make sure that the way you spend your time is consistent with your priorities and preferences. Schedule regular time to complete your actions. Set aside certain periods of the day to accept, initiate and return calls. Allocating time for your priorities during the day will help ensure that your life does not get overrun with the priorities of others.
3. Keep your desk organized. Having clutter around you contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, it distracts you from the focusing on the task in hand, as well as costing you time when you search through piles for papers. At the end of every day take 5 minutes to organize your desk.
4. Develop a hot file system for active papers on your desk. Create hot files for the paper that you would normally keep on the surface of your desk. The list of folders below has consistently worked for many of our clients, but use a system that will work for you. You can use either an expandable file box that you keep on your desk or one of your desk drawers with files. Once you have your system, clear your desk and commit to keeping it clear.
- TODAY for papers relating to work to be completed today.
- THIS WEEK for papers relating to work to be completed this week.
- READING for things you need to read (Take this with you when you travel)
- VERBAL PASS ON for papers that you need to pass on to someone else with a verbal message.
- IDEAS for a list of ideas, and any relevant reference information. When you think of a good idea make sure you jot it down on this list so it does not get forgotten. Refer to this file when you are problem solving or planning.
- ACTION LIST for your list of actions see #5.
- FILING for everything else.
5. Keep a single action list. Keep a master list of your open actions with expected completion dates. At the end of your day transfer any new actions to this list, update actions completed and review your calendar to plan actions to be completed the following day.
6. Keep your in-tray and your email inbox empty. Keep your in-tray empty, by filing immediately to encourage people to place items in your in-tray and not on your desk or chair. Keep you email inbox empty by reviewing your email on a regular basis and either responding to email that takes less than one minute to write, or moving email to an “Actions” folder that you deal with when you have more time.
7. Reduce interruptions. Set up and communicate guidelines on when you can and cannot be interrupted, and then stick to them. For example you might decide not to answer the phone while you work on specific project, or if you can close an office door let everyone know that this means that you cannot be interrupted, and set a regular time where you have an open-door policy.
8. Under-commit and over-deliver. Many of us have too many requirements of our time because we over-commit. Learn to set achievable deadlines by reviewing your current action list before you take on a new task. Give yourself more time then you think you will need when you commit to an action. Say NO when appropriate. Remember people would prefer you to say that you cannot do something, then have you either deliver late or not at all. By saying no, you give them the opportunity to find some other way of getting things done.
9. Think long term not short term. You will make different decisions depending upon the lens through which you view any given question, request, dilemma. People often commit themselves to projects because it seems good in the short term. ( Don’t want to disappoint a colleague, wants to impress a boss, wants to look like a hero etc.) Keep the whole picture in mind as well as the long term implications before you commit.
10. Complete a weekly review and clear-up. This is a great Friday afternoon task. Schedule 30 minutes on your calendar every week to complete this review. Why not try this on Friday.
- Clear papers from your desk and in-tray using the system detailed above.
- File papers from the filing section of your desk folders.
- Process your notes. Review journal entries, meeting notes, and miscellaneous notes and turn them into appropriate action items.
- Review this last week’s calendar for remaining action items, and update your action list.
- Check your email for action items, “waiting-for” items, and so on.
- Review your action list and check off all completed actions.
- Complete any regular maintenance tasks, eg back-up your computer, water plants…
- Clear your head by writing down ideas, scheduling in your calendar actions you need to complete, review your calendar for next week and plan your time.
By Doris Kovic, Business and Executive Coach of Leading Insight. Leading Insight is a management consulting company, based in San Clemente, California. Its purpose is to provide services that help companies increase the effectiveness of their people, resulting in greater productivity and revenues. We provide a range of services from leadership coaching and team development, to visioning, business planning, and a variety of workshops on leadership and management. Please visit Leading Insight at
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Copyright 2009 Doris Kovic All rights reserved. You are free to use this article in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including a live website link.