I ran into an old acquaintance this weekend (literally) as we were rushing off in opposite directions to get to different competition rooms at our children's thespian festival. The mid-hall collision slowed us down enough for me to get out a quick "How are you doing?" to which she responded, "Oh, you know. Always in 'catch up' mode," as she raced off down the hallway.
Interesting how the seeds for articles get planted, but it does seem like everyone is in "catch up" mode these days. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from clients, friends, colleagues, sometimes even strangers rushing by that they wish they could create more time in their day in order to get everything done that needs to get done. Well, I can't magically add more hours to a day. But I can offer a few tips to help you make the most out of the hours that you do have.
1) Write it down. A visual of what you have scheduled on a given day can serve not only as a reminder, it can also be an effective way to let you see, literally, when you're piling on too much in one day. If you don't allow your mind to override what your eyes are seeing, the visual of what each day looks like can be a powerful method to help you control overscheduling.
2) Get it over with. Most people put off what they least like to do until the last minute, which can cause all kinds of problems, especially when there is a hiccup and something doesn't go as planned. So why not get it over with? If it has to get done, then put it first on your to-do list and just do it. Using this strategy will not only get a project off your to-do list, it also will remove that "dread cloud" that hangs over your head all day and wears you down when you know you have that unwelcomed project floating out there in "never gets done" land.
3) Finish what you start. More time is wasted by distractions than anything else. In fact, surveys have found that many workers waste several hours each day by getting pulled off task by distractions, such as surfing the Internet, making personal phone calls, and checking email and test messages.1 So a great way to "find" more time in your day is to train yourself to finish what you start (and yes, it does take discipline not to be pulled away by all those tones; for help with this, see 12 Steps to Recovery for Instant Communication Junkies). This time-saving strategy is even more effective when you break down your responsibilities or tasks into small chunks and get each piece finished completely before moving on to something else. For examples, see How to Make Your To-Do List Work for You, Not Against You.
4) Invest time to add time. When you invest a few minutes of time in the morning (or at night before you go to bed) to map out your day, you can often find ways to save time. For example, if you see that you have to go to the bank and the post office and you also have to get groceries and pick up your child from soccer practice, why not group some or all of those things into one "trip" to save time in travel. The same kind of consolidation can be done for office-related tasks. If you work in a large office and you know that you have to go to the mail room, try to wait until you have something else on that side of the building so that you only have to make one trip.
5) Work when no one else is working. If you have the flexibility, start before everyone else goes in (or for at-home workers, wakes up) or stay an hour after everyone leaves. You'll be surprised how much more work you can get done when there is no one and nothing going on (like phones ringing or TVs playing) to distract you. I do a lot of work from home, and my most productive time, without question, is in the morning when everyone in the house is still sleeping. In fact, I often get more done in that hour than I do in several hours of my normal "work day."
If you have any other time-saving strategies that work well for you, please share them in the comments section below so that all readers can benefit.
© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
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Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout
(Prometheus Books, 2011).
1 See Wasting Time at Work 2008 at Salary.com.