Although our new technologies offer wonderful opportunities to improve our efficiency, they equally offer chances to fritter away time in ways never before seen. Checking on sports scores, reading newspapers online, chatting with friends and coworkers–but what about legitimate duties that waste our time? There are so many necessary tasks that we perform during our workday that cost valuable time for little return. It behoves us to perform them in the most efficient manner possible, so that we may get on to more productive tasks.
The electronic age has ushered in whole new categories of time-wasting duties. We have computers that can automatically fill in forms at the click of a button, but we do not spend less time on them; we just have more forms. Paperwork is a necessity in any company, from smallest to largest, but it is possible to improve the handling of this task with a few simple measures:
* Set aside a block of time to do paperwork. Most of it is not time-sensitive, so do it once per day or two days.
* Although one guideline is to handle a piece of paper only once, instead I pick it up once to prioritize (do immediately or do when convenient), then again at the appropriate time to perform the task.
There are numerous guidelines on handling e-mail regarding courtesy and etiquette, but we also need more efficiency.
* Delete, delete, delete! Be ruthless–you do not need to open the e-mail about the conference in Zimbabwe to which you know you will not be going.
* If you do need to read it, do you need to save it? If so, file it immediately; if not, delete it.
There are several keys to making meetings productive for all:
* Have an agenda (or encourage the organizer to make one) and stick to it.
* Avoid sidetracking, by either yourself or others–stick to the topic.
* Ensure attendance by the key people by inviting them several times, if necessary.
* Start meetings on time. It is a disservice to those who arrive on time to wait overlong for stragglers.
* One manager I know holds his morning meeting standing up–everyone stands. They are short and effective meetings.
I work in a home office, which allows me to sit at my desk and get my work done without interruptions. When I meet with customers and colleagues in their offices, we are often interrupted by people wandering into their offices. Most of these are legitimate visits by people that need my host’s advice, assistance or input–these interruptions are usually short and to-the-point. However, it is visits of the other type that take up the time–the co-worker who wants to tell you about his weekend or her new car. Whether legitimate or idle, visitors prevent you from doing your tasks.
* Close your door when you are particularly busy–having an open door policy does not mean that people can interrupt whenever they feel like it.
* Tell visitors that you are busy–schedule a time to meet them at your convenience.
* Remember that you are a member of a team, so some interruptions must be tolerated to ensure a smooth-running operation.
The key to controlling time-wasters is good planning. Start each day with a review of the tasks you expect to accomplish and use this time to make a ‘to do’ list. Leave time for unforeseen duties, as they always come up. I use ‘to do’ lists for common tasks–if I forget anything, I add it to the appropriate list for next time. Work on the high priority items first, but do some easy low priority items as well–it gives you a sense of satisfaction to get a few extra tasks done.
Despite feeling overworked, most of us do have the time to get our work done. The keys are to work efficiently and prioritize. It may all have to get done, but it does not all need to be done today.
Freelance writer Dan Davies can be reached at [email protected]