It happens to us all. We start the day with the best of intentions. Armed with our to-do list, we promise ourselves that this time we will get the things completed that we want done and not allow ourselves to be distracted by the wants and needs of others. Often the day ends completely different. We finish frustrated, our to-do list hasn’t shrunk and may even have increased in size. Back to the drawing board we head feeling increasingly overwhelmed at the inability to keep things under control.
Yet it needn’t be like that. Setting some ground rules can help you regain control of your time and results and prevent those hard-to-avoid interruptions from railroading the day. Here are a few tips that will help.
Avoid e-mail – technology is often held up as the savior of the 21st century, allowing us to automate tasks that took time we didn’t have. It comes with a dark side however. E-mails, and its online alter-ego social media, can be huge suckers of time. Avoiding both, especially first thing in the morning, can help keep your day on track. Have someone else open your e-mail. Get into a routine of only opening it at certain times of the day once other, more pressing tasks, have been done.
Set your leaving time – Stephen Cover, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People cites starting with the end in mind as one of his core philosophies. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available. Likewise, it can be compressed where time is denied. Ever noticed if you have a half day where you need to leave at lunchtime how everything falls into place? Adopt this plan for the end of your day and make it non-negotiable. You’ll be surprised what starts to come together in the last two hours!
Allow continuous time for important tasks – Once you’ve got into an important task don’t ease up until you’ve completed everything you possibly can. Momentum gets rewards; picking up a task and putting it down repeatedly leads to more time wasted overall.
Provide rewards – When you’ve completed a task reward yourself! It might be an eat treat, a chance to leave early, or something bigger for more momentous tasks.
Be unavailable – As tasks can expand to fill the time available, so too will people. Staff and customers will expect to see you if you are there. I’m sure you will have long-standing customers who like to deal with you for the smallest thing. Although this is flattering, and you don’t want to cause offense, you need to ensure your time isn’t monopolized by the 20% who want 80% of your time. Avoid the storefront unless really necessary or part of your intentions for that day.
Throw the question back to the asker – Do staff come to you repeatedly for the simplest of questions? If this is so you may be contributing to it. Over-managing can leave staff feeling they are unable to make decisions. You may feel more important from the fact they need you, but if you’re repeatedly dealing with $50 issues you won’t be making $1000 decisions.
Let calls go to voicemail – In the same way that e-mail can steal your time, so too can phone calls. Block off time where you don’t take calls. Likewise, don’t automatically answer your cellphone when it rings. Leaving a message stating you return calls at two separate times a day lets the caller know what to expect.
Time is your most precious resource yet it’s the one thing we often take for granted. Seize control of your work time and you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.