Keeping Track: Where Does the Time Go?
You’ve tried this before – creating a To-Do list, scheduling some appointments and booking projects. You have started the day on the right foot, determined to get on top of things.
The kid’s lunches were packed and ready. You had plenty of time to get to work in the morning without any stress. When you arrived at work your projects were in order, your day timer up-to-date and you knew exactly where you need to be and when.
Because you used a schedule you figured that you’d have no problem getting everything done on time. You start out alright, but as you carry on through the day you notice the time and are shocked that you only accomplished half of what you planned before you have to switch activities. Several interruptions by coworkers and clients and before you realize it the schedule has been abandoned and you are again rushing through your activities and feeling overwhelmed. Why does this happen?
You Have More Time Than You Think…
Before you blame the scheduling process you need see what other factors affect your day.
You can do this by logging your normal routine for a few days.
It is difficult to appreciate the time you spend on activities that do not contribute to your productivity until you’ve logged them over a few days.
Creating a Log
For the next few days keep a pen and paper handy to write down what you’re doing and the time when you change activities. Quickly assess and write down how you feel – energetic, tired, hungry or anything else you can identify. This record does not have to be detailed but should include every activity change in your work day.
There is a sample log at the end of the book you can print out and use.
After you’ve kept a log for a couple of days you will be able to analyze certain patterns. Do you often feel tired in the middle of the afternoon? Are you refreshed after taking a small lunch? Did you spend longer on menial tasks or talking to others than you thought? How many people used up your time with little benefit (phone calls, drop-ins and emails)?
Finding these patterns can help you plan your activities so they fit better with your natural rhythms. Perhaps you find getting through the afternoon (or getting started in the morning) to be the most draining. Is it possible to schedule your most challenging projects or meetings when you are most alert and energetic? Block off this time in your schedule – no calls, no meetings – so that you can accomplish the most work.
Give Yourself Rewards
You can also try implementing a self-reward program when needed. If pushing through a tedious project causes you to dawdle or get easily distracted you might find that giving yourself small rewards as you complete small chunks of work will keep you motivated.
Perhaps you will only get a cup of coffee when you’ve finished filing half of the pile. Or maybe you’ll take a stretch or call a friend (briefly) when you’ve dealt with 20 emails. Keep the rewards small but frequent enough to keep your momentum and prevent you from resorting to distractions which will only prolong the process.
Should You Stop Wasting Time?
This process may also highlight to you that after evaluating how much your time is worth you should really consider delegating some of your work to other people or eliminating some tasks.
While it is commendable to keep on top of things you may be wasting resources by trying to do everything yourself. Smaller businesses frequently call on the owner or employees to wear several hats during the day or week. While it appears to cut costs this may actually be wasting resources. Perhaps hiring someone part-time to help with the filing, cleaning and mail outs would permit key employees to spend their time at more profitable occupations.
If you identify this problem and you are an employee you need to discuss your findings with your manager or employer. If approached properly they may see that your time is better spent focused on aspects of your job that are more profitable. Important duties are being compromised by menial tasks that need to be performed.
Whatever you discover to be a time waster you must take steps to deal with. Here are some ideas for four common time wasters…
Top Five Time Wasters
MEETINGS: people in meetings all day are not getting things done.
Meetings have their place. They are an important way to deal with group issues, create plans and get feedback. What is a problem is when meetings are called on the spur of the moment with little preparation and no plan. When these meetings start each person has a separate agenda. If the purpose is unclear and the participants unprepared are you going to come to a clear decision?
To avoid wasting time with meetings try the following:
1) Create an agenda giving each item a time allotment – Prioritize the agenda so the most important issues are dealt with first.
2) Send the agenda to each participant so they can come prepared.
3) Focus on getting a solution – scheduling another meeting should not be the solution although it may be a part of completing the plan.
4) Avoid last minute meetings
5) Schedule meetings for the end of the day or week so that all involved can arrange their work flow and jump right into their tasks the next morning.
6) If the issue can be dealt with on the phone or through email don’t plan a meeting.
PHONE CALLS: You don’t have to answer every time it rings.
If you have blocked a certain time for working on a task do not let phone calls interrupt your momentum. While you may feel that you need always be ‘on-call’ the truth is that you are loosing productivity by permitting continual interruptions to your work flow.
If you must answer the call and the person can wait ask them for a time when you can call back and discuss the issue. Not only will you set boundaries with your time but you can be prepared to deal with the call without other distractions.
To avoid wasting time with phone calls try the following:
1) Turn off your phone for two hours while you complete your task. If that is too much then do it for one hour or 30 minutes.
2) Ask that your calls be held for the allotted time (making exceptions for those who need it – like your boss).
3) If you answer tell the person you are in the middle of a task so you need to schedule a return call later that day. Decide who will make the return call and when.
DROP-IN VISITORS: "Do You Have a Minute" will always take longer.
If you cannot finish a task without a co-worker stopping in to ask you for a minute of your time you may find your whole day is occupied with ‘one minute’ issues. Often the individual will get comfortable and discuss many more items than the one they initially came to you with.
While some positions do require an open door policy, or you may not have an office you can close the door to, it is important to have uninterrupted time in your day to complete the tasks on your list.
To avoid wasting time with ‘drop-ins’ try the following:
1) Schedule the time you are not available so YOU stand by your decision
2) Close the door or use a ‘do-not-disturb’ sign to discourage idle visitors.
3) If you must deal with a situation or individual ask for the details and suggest you find a time to sit down and discuss it. Schedule it in so they know you view it as important and want to give them your time.
Working at the WRONG TIME: Wasting Your Resources
Are you always planning activities that clash with other people’s schedules? Do you find the time you allotted to make calls (such as lunch time) means you are not able to get a hold of anyone? Do you ask for help when everyone else is too busy?
Rearranging your schedule to make the most of your time will prevent you from ‘getting in your own way’. Find the most opportune times for tasks and your day will be much more productive.
To avoid wasting time with bad scheduling try the following:
1) Do you find more people available to talk later in the day? Make all your return calls then.
2) Do you often need to ask for assistance with big projects? Plan ahead so that your project does not conflict with other people’s schedules.
3) Give yourself extra lead time. Things don’t always work out like you plan, give yourself some extra time so you can make your deadlines even if you have setbacks. Check up on delegated tasks to make sure they’re on schedule and give them early deadlines as well.
Disorganized WORK SPACE:
To use your time well it is a MUST that you have an organized work space. Every moment looking for a pen, a file or a misplaced check not only means wasted time but it can add to your stress level and interfere with your ability to focus on your work.
To avoid wasting time with disorganized work space:
1) Give EVERYTHING a home. This includes your cell phone and keys.
2) Keep daily needs easily accessible. Whether you work from your car or an office, place phone lists, calendars and other daily needed items in an easy to see spot or in an easily accessible folder.
3) Put everything else away. Files and tools that are not in use need to be put away. The easiest way to do that is to give yourself at least 50% more storage space than you currently need. If you cram items into a small space you will not likely keep up with your organizing and you will have difficulty finding what you need.
Once you’ve identified and dealt with key time wasters you will be surprised how much more productive your day can be!