Have you ever wondered where your time at work goes? Did you intend to submit a report today but, between phone calls and email, don’t finish it? Does the day slip by with little to show for it? All of us want to make better use of our time, be more productive and accomplish what we resolved to do at the beginning of the day.
Several people have recently shared with me that they know exactly what they do during the day, thanks to an activity log. They learned how they were spending their time by using this simple, low-tech tool. It made them aware that they could be using their time more efficiently.
Another benefit from an activity log is that it tells you when during the day that you are performing each task. It should be in synch with the times that you do your best thinking. Are you most creative and clear-headed in the morning? If so, that is when you need to tackle important projects. Phone calls and email can wait until late morning or the afternoon.
Here is a suggestion on how to set up an activity log to track how you spend time at work:
Create a worksheet with a pad or notebook or print one out showing half-hour time slots. You can download a sample time log template from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_03.htm.
1) Begin right away — input information into your activity log starting now. Include the type of activity and indicate how valuable you believe it is.
2) Write your activities in half-hour time slots.
3) Divide the time slots into categories. Examples of categories are: working on important tasks, answering email, making and responding to phone calls, meetings, socializing, lunch, etc.
4) Track your time for 2-3 days; then calculate how much time is devoted to each category and when during the day you completed the work.
By tracking your time in half-hour time slots over a two-day period, you will learn exactly where your time goes. Are you using it to complete your most important tasks or are you devoting precious time to low value activities? You may decide to refocus your efforts as a result of your findings and consciously change the types of tasks you focus on and in what order.
Use valuable time at work to reach your goals faster; take advantage of what you learned from your Activity Log and put it to good use.
For more information, read fellow blogger Jason Womack’s article on activity logs: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/225029
A newsletter reader asked: “How do I switch gears between projects? When going from Project A to Project B, I find that I need to halt the brakes on Project A, skim through Project B’s file and figure out what the goals for the matter are, and then proceed, but in a way that makes me lose a lot of time. Any organization tips on how to seamlessly juggle multiple matters?”
What a great question! Most people find it very difficult, if not impossible, to go from one project to another seamlessly. It’s hard to avoid interruptions and delays especially when winding down from a project and gearing up for another one. How easy it is to lose “flow”, that state of mind in which you are focused on the project at hand and are not distracted by anything else! The transition is tough to make.
Here are a few suggestions to make the switch easier:
1) Before putting the project away, write a summary of what you did and what needs to be done next. Attach the summary to the documents. Be specific regarding next steps. Or enter the information electronically. Make sure it is readily available the next time you go to the project.
2) Move any physical evidence of the project, such as a stack of documents , somewhere else – preferably out of sight and thus, out of mind. That way it will no longer be an obstacle to moving forward on another project.
3) Take a mental or physical break (or both) to put space between the project completed and the upcoming one. This makes it easier to switch thought processes.
4) Do little tasks in between two major projects. Switch to the phone or email but keep track of the time so you can transition to the next project.
5) Start the second project by reviewing what needs to be done and listing the tasks involved. That will ease you into the project and give you a clear starting point.
Check out D. Keith Robinson on Lifehacker “How To Transition Projects Without Losing Your Flow” for more thoughts on approaching one project at a time. Like us, Robinson believes that multi-tasking and working on both projects at the same time wastes time. You may think that you’re getting twice as much done but, in reality neither project is receiving your best effort. Stick to one project at a time. Once it’s done, then move onto the next one.
Here are 5 ways to use your planner to help you become more efficient and effective. By following these suggestions, you will get more done and become closer to your goals.
1) Use your planner every day and check it often. Leave it on your desk in front of you. Some of our clients use paper planners and often apologize that they are not “tech saavy”. We assure them that it does not matter whether it is paper or an electronic, as long as you use it. (Tip: if you use an electronic version, you may want to print out the planner daily.)
2) Capture all projects and tasks. Write everything down on paper or electronically. It takes a lot of mental energy to juggle projects, tasks, and upcoming activities in your brain. You will be able to concentrate on upcoming projects without this extra mental weight. At some point, your memory will fail.
3) Review your week ahead of time – decide what is important based on your goals. Enter the tasks that must be done to support them. (Tip: make it visually easy to identify the most important tasks on your to-do list by highlighting them.)
4) Use one planner for both personal and work. (Tip: color code the activities. It’s easy on a paper planner. On an electronic calendar categorize the activities, making personal appointments one color and business appointments a different color. My business appointments are in red.)
5) Make your action steps concrete. Include appointments and commitments to others. Start with a verb. For example, call Fred re: Short client agreement. Don’t you agree that this works far better than putting Fred on the planner?
What are you going to do with your planner to help you become more efficient?
What do you do when you are working on an important project, being really productive and are interrupted? I’m sure that this has happened to you – a colleague passes your office and stops by to chat about an upcoming sports event or you receive a phone call from a friend wanting to discuss a matter that is not at all important.
Recently an attorney said she has a rule – Don’t Waste My Time! Great rule but you cannot always say it, even if you’re thinking it.
Here are a few tips on handling and minimizing interruptions:
You have more control over interruptions than you realize. The trick is to be proactive, not reactive. While many issues are important and need to be addressed right away, the basketball scores can wait, even if your team won.
This morning I had a lot of calls to make and did not particularly feel like making them. Then I remembered the book I had just finished reading — Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. In the book procrastination is not allowed. I would need to make the calls first thing and begin with the most difficult one. Ug. Well, I did it and it felt wonderful.
Tracy’s premise is that starting and completing the most important — and often the most difficult — task of the day will soon become a habit. Email and less important to-dos must wait until the most important one is done.
He suggests that we ask ourselves 3 key questions:
1) What are my highest value activities?
2) What are the biggest frogs I have to eat to make the greatest contribution to my organization? What can I and only I do that, if done well, will make a real difference?
3) Ask yourself every hour: What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
What important eat that frog task will you tackle tomorrow morning?
On average, according to researcher David Meyer, switching time increases the amount of time it takes to finish the primary task you were
working on by an average of 25%. In short, juggling activities is incredibly inefficient.
It takes 25 minutes to regain concentration after each interruption. (Source: University of California-Irvine Study)
What are the benefits of Block Scheduling?
Tip: 1 – 1/2 ½ hours most days of the week is ideal but 2-3 days may be most practical, especially at the beginning.
Can It’s Time To Get Organized help you set up your block schedule so you can get the maximum out of each day? Call 404-3-3-8431 or email: info@ItsTimeToGetOrganized.com.
With the start of spring and warm weather, it gets even more challenging to focus on the tasks you know you need to get done. Try these suggestions to stop the games you play with yourself to avoid the task at hand.
1) Add planning time to your day to decide what must get done.
2) Confront the task or project you have let slide. Is is still a priority? No? Take it off your list.
3) Write down specific steps to complete the project and estimate how long each step will take.
4) Decide what will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Last year’s documents? Uninterrupted time?
5) Set the mood. What external stimuli will entice you to get started? Music and snacks often the task more enjoyable.
6) Tackle the first step. If you have time, continue. If not, leave the next step for later.
7) Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started.
What a feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the project is done — or, at least, started.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to the project I’ve been putting off.