Find the Time to Manage Your Time Efficiently! Part 1

Do you find yourself wondering where the day went? Are there times when you are trying to work on multiple projects or assignments simultaneously? I know I have been delayed by both of these dilemmas. However, after a recent Anders Business Development Forum session, Done! Time Management Strategies for Regaining Command of Your Day, delivered by Paul Burton, I feel as though my work capabilities have reached an all time high. Paul is the founder of QuietSpacing, a company built around improving efficiency in the work place to help provide employees a better work life balance. Throughout a two-part blog series, I’ll take a look into his key areas of focus and improvement that I recommend you employ in your work and in some instances even your personal life.

As a tax accountant,  I love organization and efficiency. Throughout busy season and certain annual timeframes, there are many deadlines to be met. I find myself trying to multi-task, working in & out of various assignments, and even missing out on events in my personal life. It’s always a process trying to keep things FIFO (That’s First In-First Out for those non-accountants out there) and also please my superiors facing the same timelines. If you’re like me, creating handwritten lists is usually the go-to. With a handwritten list, you can get your thoughts all in one place and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing out those you’ve addressed. For me, this is comparable to running the lawnmower over those final rows of tall grass or in some cases like powering through that final bite of brussel sprouts. After sitting in on Paul’s seminar I can now reach those feelings of satisfaction even sooner. Let’s get down to some of the secrets to success.

There are 4 major areas to take look at when trying to improve your productivity and reduce the numerous distractions we all succumb to daily. The first being e-mail and the monster within called “the inbox”.

One of the best time-saving secrets I’ve adopted for e-mail would be, to add a DESCRIPTIVE subject line. This line is what your audience is sure to see. So using something like “Tax Return” or “FYI” for a subject line is unacceptable. By going with something that describes the “meat” of the e-mail you can not only help your audience filter their inbox, but probably guarantee yourself a quicker response. I know there’s plenty of e-mail I’ve passed by due to the bulk of important e-mails I can identify just from my inbox homepage.

A few other e-mail guidelines include:

  • NEVER hitting reply all
  • Turning off email alerts
  • Limiting email to one subject

I think I’m accurate in saying that nobody enjoys being a part of a reply-all thank you parade. There’s no need to add additional parties to a response in which only the sender requires. Consider yourself forewarned of that button’s use and help me in an effort to abolish it from future use.

Email alerts can be handy in time sensitive situations. However, in most cases those that use them regularly either lack the technical ability to remove them or just enjoy the “catchy” sound they’ve set to sound out. If you’re receiving alerts on all e-mail, doesn’t that defeat the sole purpose of alerts? Another factor with alerts is that little window that pops up on the screen that is much too tempting to avoid. I’ve since removed these screen alerts due to the fact I consistently get sidetracked clicking into them and wasting brain power on a completely different subject. Paul’s message here was to maximize the focused work time by avoided any sidetracking devices. The 5 more minutes you spend in the “zone” are significantly more valuable than the 15 minutes it will take you to get back there.

The limitation of 1 subject is similar to having a lack of descriptive subject line in that, it can prevent the timing or even create a lack of a response from the recipient. I was definitely guilty of breaking this rule prior to Paul’s discussion. It just seems so convenient to tack on a couple lines about that other assignment or happy hour you and your recipient need to talk about. Just take the time to create a separate e-mail and save others the hassle of searching through their inbox or e-mail chains. For those looking to become e-mail wizards, I’d recommend taking this topic further in an article written by my colleague Whitney M. Fossum, where she discusses email etiquette.

The next major area in which we can all improve is in how we schedule our time. There are days I view my calendar and internally proclaim “well I’m not going to be completing any work on my desk today.” Overbooking your time and not planning for that “fire-drill” project that pops up every day is a mistake. There is always something that you must do ASAP causing you to and push back some other work you had previously planned on getting to that day. Paul’s keys to scheduling are paramount in creating a better workflow.

  • Schedule time between appointments
  • Only plan 4hrs per day
  • Establish set office hours
  • Take a break
  • Regularly check your inbox

Scheduling time between meetings, even just 5 minutes, can help prevent missing the start of the next meeting. We’ve all had meetings run long and trying to creep out the backdoor like a ninja is never fun. You should plan for a cushion of time around meetings, so that whether they run long or short you can stay efficient.

Placing a limit like 4 hours can help provide that time you need to spend actually at your desk completing work. It will also allow for changes in the schedule which we all know is quite volatile. Additionally, by setting office hours you can prevent meetings from cutting into your scheduled work time and better plan your work availability. That timeframe should be one that you sit down and put your nose to the grindstone avoiding any interruptions. Don’t accept or set up any appointments in this time frame, as you can then develop a consistent work time to be guaranteed each day.

While taking a break may seem inefficient, it’s those 15 minutes that give you a chance to fully digest what you’ve just discussed and allows your mind to be clear heading into the next task. Also, make an effort to check new e-mail or appointments in a set range of time each day. This can prevent you from dropping what’s already on your desk for something new that came into your inbox (Turning off alerts can also help here).

After a month of application I can see that better managing my scheduled group meeting times allows me to gain a feeling of accomplishment each day. It’s that satisfaction that carries me forward to the next task and allows for a better sense of my availability going into the next day. I hope you can find a few tips to put to use in your workplace going forward.

Click here for part 2 of this blog series, as we’ll look into task completing strategies and some ways to improve your work environment to promote your own work life-balance.

Click here to visit Paul Burton’s website.