6 Steps to Thriving at Work: Step 1


Time Management

“Time management” is one of those elusive phrases like “people skills” that mean a lot but are hard to define. What it comes down to is a single question: Do you have enough hours in the day to get everything done?

Your answer is probably a resounding “No!” Who doesn’t have pages of undone “To Do” items? Who doesn’t long for another hour to sleep or play or return e-mail?

Given that you’re already operating on a time deficit, the goal is to minimize the number of hours you spend at work while maximizing your productivity. And there are some relatively simple ways to get the most out of your hours:

Identify Time-Suckers

Plan Ahead

Write Everything Down

Stick to Your Priorities

Identify Time-Suckers

Cutting wasted time from your day is like cutting extra calories from your diet. First identify where the time is going. Commit to keeping an accurate record (down to 5-minute increments) of your schedule for the next week.

Be specific. Instead of labeling 3 hours as “planned trade show,” list how long you were on the phone versus writing memos. Don’t forget to mark the 15 minutes listening to a friend’s latest blind date nightmare. At the end of the week, total the categories.

Just knowing how much time you’re spending on personal e-mail, phone calls, and cruising the Web might be enough to break the habit. Yes, everyone deserves an occasional break, but your goal is to spend less time at work. These elements add to your day–and to your stress level.

You don’t have to eliminate them completely; just minimize them. Be mindful of non-work conversations. Check your e-mail hourly instead of every 5 minutes. Little changes can make a big difference.

Now look at your work tasks. Does where you take the most time correlate directly to your job responsibilities? If you’re spending most of your week on tasks not within your job description, it’s time for a conversation with your boss.

Next, determine what tools or training can help reduce the time spent on job-related tasks. Do you have to share a computer? Could a course in PowerPoint help you create presentations more quickly? Make a list and present it to your boss.

Plan Ahead

“I’m so busy, I don’t have time to plan!” If this is your mantra, take another look at your work style.

One of the greatest fallacies about time management is that planning takes more time than it’s worth. For those of us without personal secretaries, the single biggest move we can make to take control of our time is to plan ahead.

Planning doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be as simple as taking 5 or 10 minutes before you start working to actually think about what you want to accomplish. This may be the only time in your workday when you can be proactive instead of reactive.

Planning has several benefits:

It keeps you on track. By thinking out what you want to get done, you keep moving in the right direction.

It minimizes downtime. If you have a list to come back to between tasks or during slow spots, you can immediately address the next project, rather than having to figure out what needs to get done.

It allows you to focus on your priorities. If you know what absolutely has to happen today, you can concentrate your efforts on making sure it gets done.

For the next week, before you leave the office at night, take 5 minutes to make a list of what you’d like to get done the next business day. Put a star next to the 3 most important items, the ones that have to happen–or else. Now leave that list on your desk so it’ll be the first thing you see when you arrive at the office the next day.

At the end of the week, review your accomplishments. If you don’t feel more in control, less stressed, more productive–then go back to your old way of doing things. But if you’re feeling better about your accomplishments and your workload, try the planning experiment for another week. By then it may be so much a part of your routine, it’ll be second nature, and you won’t be able to imagine how you functioned without it.

Write Everything Down

How much time do you spend looking for lost items, trying to remember what you need to do next, and figuring out where you should have been an hour ago? Whatever your answer, it’s too much.

Face it: you may be the most capable person on Earth, but you can’t remember everything. So don’t try. Write it down instead. It doesn’t matter if you use a $500 Palm Pilot or a $.99 legal pad, the important thing is to pick a system and stick with it.

Make it a habit to record everything–from the fact that it’s your turn to bring bagels to the staff meeting, to what should be included in your largest customer’s order. Even if you don’t organize your notes into files or transfer them to a calendar, at least you’ve made a note regarding what needs to get done and by when. The mere act of building a record will help you remember what’s important.

Stick to Your Priorities

You do know what your priorities are, don’t you? If not, it’s time to figure them out. Make a list of your typical job tasks, review your job description, determine what’s getting done and what isn’t, and meet with your manager for a heart-to-heart.

Tell her you’re dedicated to doing your job and doing it well, but there are times when it’s just not possible to do it all. Ask her advice: “Of this list of responsibilities, can you show me what’s most important?” Ask her then to rank the remaining items.

Now it’s your responsibility to arrange your schedule accordingly. If your boss says the weekly report is your most important responsibility and you’ve consistently neglected it, move it up on your list. Conversely, if interdepartmental meetings are just not that critical to her, you know what to skip if you must.

For added motivation, type up your list of priorities and post it over your desk. Now you’ll always know what you should be doing.

Print our time management reminder sheet to help you take action on this essential aspect of thriving at work.