If I asked a random group of American workers how they feel coming out of 2009, I’m pretty sure of what they would say – exhausted.
So how do we shake that feeling in 2010?
We manage our time better.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are or whether you have an iPhone in a multitasking world. If you can’t organize your day to handle information and get things done you will burn yourself out trying to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Changing habits isn’t easy. It will require you to spend energy upfront and avoid the biggest impediment to staying on top of work and life priorities: distractions.
I went to the experts to come up with some behavioral change techniques. Here are eight tips to make you better at managing your work day:
•Schedule a 2 p.m. check-in. Most people wait until the end of the day to tally what they’ve checked off their to-do list. A mid-afternoon review allows you to know what needs to get done before it’s 5 p.m. and you need to extend your workday.
It also allows you to manage the expectations of others. If you make a goal of leaving work on time at least two days a week, a 2 p.m. check in should help you make this a reality. You may want to set a reminder alarm.
•Organize your to-do list every day. Some people prefer to make a task list before bedtime at night; some prefer to do it early each morning.
The list should include manageable items that can be completed, such as “Prepare exhibits for monthly report,” rather than just “Work on report.”
Don’t set yourself up for failure with an unrealistically long list. You may need to rewrite a task on the next day’s list until it gets done.
•Make a not-to-do list. “Every individual gets into a habit that at the time it was created made sense but since has outlived its usefulness,” says Noah Blumenthal author of “Be The Hero: Three Powerful Ways to Overcome Challenges in Work and Life” (Berrett-Koehler, 2009).
For some, that habit may be reading e-mail exchanges you no longer need to be part of, checking Facebook at the start of every morning, listening to a co-worker whine, or stopping for a cup of coffee.
Blumenthal says his “not to do list” eliminates time spent reading articles on ESPN.com: “I can check scores but I don’t need to read the articles.”
•Live in your calendar. People spend their entire days tethered to their in-boxes and lose sight of what they are supposed to be doing, says Dan Markovitz, president of the productivity consulting firm TimeBack Management.
“If you keep your calendar front and center you will know what you should be doing,” he says.
Markovitz recommends changing the setting your software program so the calendar opens first rather than your e-mail in-box.
“The first thing you need to see is what you are supposed to do today instead of everything from everyone who needs a piece of you,” he says.
When your calendar is visible, it gives you the opportunity to make smart decisions.
•Organize your day. When you block off time on your calendar for major events, don’t jam your day full of activities.
Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant” (Wiley, 2009), says many people underestimate the time it takes to get tasks done and the number of unexpected events each day.
If a problem arises that doesn’t need to be handled by that evening, she recommends suggesting to your boss or client that you take it up the next day when everyone is fresh: “Use your interpersonal skills to help them see the benefit.”
•Check e-mail on a schedule. Many people waste time answering every e-mail or text message as it arrives. Even worse, they respond without fully thinking through their response.
Create a schedule and fall into a routine for checking your in-box.
“Spending your day responding to e-mail is not a substitute for sitting and working. E-mail is not most people’s job,” says Markovitz.
To keep up with e-mail, organize it in file folders. If the message needs more thought, move it to your to-do list.
If you want to acknowledge receipt, respond with “got it.” If it’s for reference, print it out. If it’s a meeting, move it to your calendar.
•Know your purpose. Before you make a phone call or go into a meeting, know what you want to accomplish.
“A lot of people walk out of meetings feeling exhausted because the meeting didn’t start with a clear plan for what had to be achieved,” says Stuart R. Levine, business consultant and author of “Cut to the Chase” (Broadway Business, 2006).
He also recommends identifying the most important thing you want to get done each day, and doing it first.
Levine comes to his office early and writes three priorities on a Post-It note. He tackles them before reading e-mail, answering calls or welcoming visitors into his office.
•Use time management tools. Software such as Outlook lets you schedule events easily and can be set to remind you of appointments in advance.
Business coach Pat Morgan puts everything in her Outlook – whether it’s writing a thank you note, attending a meeting or making a phone call. If she can’t get to the task, she will reschedule it in her Outlook calendar.
“I take care of things because I don’t want to see a reminder pop up again,” says Morgan.
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