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Advanced Time Management

Question:

I work in a high-pressure environment, juggle multiple projects and deal with non-stop interruptions. I’ve been to several time management workshops but none have helped enough. Prioritizing is great in theory but what do you do when all your tasks are “A” priority? I’d like to “work a plan” but what happens when your plan gets shot to heck and gone? When it all seems too much for me, I feel like giving up and put off what I know I need to get done. I need “advanced” time management.

Answer:

Advanced time management requires leveraging every minute. You probably remember days when you accomplished more than you initially believed possible and other days when you worked long hours yet felt you got little done. The difference? – When you operate at peak efficiency, you can handle a heavy load of interruptions and projects without derailing.

To accomplish this, you need to fix any habits that sabotage your efficiency. I don’t care how well you now manage your time, you can do better. We all have treasured bad habits – those piles at the back of your desk that you let build up, the way you let the less urgent duties crowd out your higher priorities. These bad habits sap your energy because you know they eat up time.

Second, commit to making every minute count. This means you have to shorten the interruptions you can’t prevent and move now on projects you tend to put off. To shorten interruptions, take a look at how you handle them. When others stop to chat with you do you get interested in their stories and ask them questions? When a stray thought about another project pops into your brain when working on a project, do you set your initial project aside and explore the new idea? If so, you feed interruptions – an indulgence you can’t afford. As for your procrastination habit, challenge it by asking yourself, “If not now, when?” If you plan to do the project later anyway, why not now?

Third, truly prioritize. Which of your “A’s” matter most and which really rate as “B+”s? Although this distinction may seem small, if you work first on your “A+”s, next on your “A”s and then on your “A-“s, you fuel yourself with the sense that you continue to accomplish the most important. If you instead tackle lower priority items first, not only do your looming yet undone higher priority projects weigh on you, but you don’t feel the same satisfaction, thus lowering your productive energy.

Fourth, carve out time when you can work full-speed ahead. This means you have to manage the events that fragment your time. One favorite strategy – reduce telephone tag. When you return to your desk after several hours away and find multiple phone messages and make call-backs, only to discover you can’t reach those you called, don’t simply leave your phone number and name. Instead, leave the message, “I’ll be easiest to reach between 11:15 and 12 noon.” By leaving this type of phone message, you help callers know when you reach you and safeguard the time prior to 11:15.

Finally, when it gets too much for you, take a guilt-free seven-minute break. No one can productively work eight hours straight at full intensity. If you don’t take an occasional break, your productivity gradually slows from 65 to 45 miles an hour. Better you work 7.5 hours at 65 miles per hour than eight hours straight at a steadily decreasing rate.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com

You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com

© Lynne Curry, March 2013, www.thegrowthcompany.com

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