Make Time to Manage Your Time Efficiently! Part 2

In the most recent look into Paul Burton’s guide to time management I reviewed some tips on e-mail and scheduling – you can read read that blog post by clicking here. Now I’m going to get into a few of his other keys to creating a better working environment and improving your personal productivity throughout the workday. The topics I’ll discuss include both task completion and limiting distractions in your workspace.

Assignments, task, or projects, however we choose to label them, are what makes up the up the bulk of our individual job function. Each day you come into work with a number of tasks on your desk that you’d like to complete and send off to the next processor. These tasks all come with a variety of distinguishing characteristics including the following:

  • Length of Time to Complete
  • Internal or External Deadline for Completion
  • Group Involvement is sometimes required
  • Contingent on future actions
  • Degree of Difficulty

Due to the variety of qualities in a project, it’s sometimes difficult to hone in on the one you should complete first. Hopefully after looking into some of the secrets to task management you can better decipher and complete your duties.

I previously mentioned I make lists to get thoughts out of my mind. Another strategy would be to make a listing of the tasks you have to complete, and then redo it based on priority. Sometimes, for me, knowing that I simply don’t have to try and remember all the tasks helps clear my mind for focused work. Paul explained that making a core dump of information to a permanent list, helps to keep the mind from recycling the same thoughts and in turn waste precious time.

For those of you Smartphone users, I would highly recommend downloading the app Wunderlist. Paul briefly mentioned its capabilities, so I went ahead and gave it a shot. This app allows you to create a listing of tasks and share the listing with other individuals that have downloaded the app. I recently bought my first home and have projects, to-do’s, and items to purchase constantly rolling through my brain. My wife and I have used this app to centralize those ideas, and stop ourselves from searching for those handwritten scraps of paper left all over the house. Again, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the functionality and organization this app brings.

Another one of Paul’s tips I’ve made an effort to employ in my everyday work-life is to complete one task each day. Whether that is something small, or a large project you’ve spent months on, the satisfaction you’ll have at the end of the day will help propel you into the next. In conjunction with this tip is also the strategy of completing one MORE task each day. For me, this usually consists of reviewing the day’s e-mail or making that one additional client call. By working on a few additional tasks each day, I not only prevent myself from having to work as much from home, but I bank small amounts of time that can eventually amount to days of additional work availability.

Along with the one task philosophy is the questions of multitasking. As I mentioned in the previous article this is something we’ve all be caught trying to do. According to Paul’s experience and research on the premise, it’s never worthwhile. Instead of multi-tasking, start switch-tasking and try to start and finish one task at a time, which prevents you from having to focus back in after brief switches between assignments.

The final area of improvement to delve into is creating a better workspace, to foster the highest attainable level of productivity. Paul gives a number of tips to succeed in this area that include the following:

  • Face away from the aisle
  • Setup a designated work area
  • Sequestering yourself
  • Pass out Homework before meetings
  • Reduce Meeting Length

Work environments should be just that, a place to work. In many cases we find ourselves with a number of distractions that prevent us from continuing a focused work time. By facing away from the crowd you can give yourself the tunnel vision you need to lock into the work on your desk. In addition, you must take some time to clean up your desk and create a section in which you only work on the current task. If you have a number of other projects in vision, you’re bound to spend time glancing over and getting off topic. The same rings true for your desktops with multi-monitors. I currently reverted to only using all 3 my screens only when I’m in need. In the past I’d had something like Google homepage or the local business journal open on that additional monitor. I’d spend at least 10 minutes reading about the latest crime or breaking news story, when I could have been wrapping up the final steps in a task I’d been working. While we all have good intentions when it comes to workplace focus, we shouldn’t consider ourselves to be flawless. By removing the opportunity for a distraction we can prevent the possibility it costs us work time.

In other instances, setting up a work space in your office may not be enough. Physically removing yourself from the distractions is sometimes required, in order to guarantee success. I have a few examples here of ways in which I sequester myself and in turn create a better work environment. At the beginning of college I think I attended the library once or twice, and that may have been due to a freshman introductory class on how to research. Once I got into my junior and senior year I realized the importance of removing myself from my living space and the numerous distractions my roommates could cause. Sometimes I’d find a single person study room and other times I’d just occupy a large group study room in the library. The trick to holding onto the group room was bringing some extra notebooks to spread out on the other chairs, to make it look like it wasn’t just me (Genius, right?). While I did still have Wi-Fi access, I was able to limit the distractions available and by doing so I could gain complete focus. Don’t tell my coworkers, but I still do the same thing today with the number of conference rooms available in our brand new workspace at Anders. If I can isolate myself in a certain situation I can reach that maximum level of productivity.

Meetings are something we all take part in. There setup with an allotted amount of time that seems to always get filled. Just because that’s what the calendar says, doesn’t mean the meeting must fill the entire timeframe. If you’ve finished covering the topic at hand then leave and use that “extra” time to your advantage on something else. An additional time savor with meetings could be to pass out assigned readings or homework prior to the scheduled time. Let your fellow employees do a bit of research and preparation on their own before you sit down to discuss the issue at hand. There’s no use in defining the topic in the meeting and wasting the real collaborative discussion you seek.

I hope that after you taking some time to read through and adopt some of these tips you will gain the ability to improve your workflow. With this increased efficiency you can take back all that time spent between assignments and use it in your personal life. If you think about it, would you rather have 10 more minutes at home with the family or “spend” 10 more minutes sorting through a messy inbox? When I look at that direct comparison, there isn’t much to compare.

For more information on Paul Burton, you can visit his website here.