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.
Did you know that January 9 is Clean Up Your WorkSpace Day? It’s that important and crucial for your success that a special day has been designated. And it is at the beginning of the new year. As productivity specialists, we highly endorse sprucing up your workspace. It will help you be more organized and efficient in 2013.
Try this tip: Limit the items on the top of your desk to phone, computer, current projects, office supplies and planner.
These items are all essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day.
These five work tools will help you concentrate on the task at hand and help improve your productivity.
Your Planner: This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check your planner at least once or twice a day, if not more. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all meetings, contacts and tasks in one place and handy.
Your Computer: Are you able to find the electronic document you need immediately? From personal experience, we can vouch that a task takes a lot longer when you spend the first half hour (or hour) searching for a file folder.
Organizing your computer file folders now — in the beginning of 2013 — is well worth it.
Your Active Projects: What are you working on today? Reserve your desk surface for projects and tasks that represent today’s priority items. Projects and tasks that will be priorities at a later date can be kept in your working files drawer or a step-up file folder.
Your Phone: Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages. Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.
If the caller is someone whom you will need to call again, record their information in your contact list. So long back-of-envelope!
Supplies: If you have to shove aside stationery, envelopes and boxes of business cards to reclaim your work surface, it may be time to rethink what you need at hand. Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet.
Take a look at your own desktop tools. Are they going to help you stay the course?
By following these tips, 2013 will be off to a great start!
We often think of the things that we did not do this year especially when it comes to being more productive, more efficient and more organized. For example, I had resolved in January to be a social media whiz by the end of 2013 but, it didn’t happen.
Well, then, how about starting with the positives instead of focusing on what we did not do. What was the best thing you did in 2012 that you can repeat – or improve upon — in 2013? Was it going after and landing repeat business? Was it a YouTube strategy that now draws people to your website?
Can you name 2 or 3 things that went well for you this past year? Then focus your efforts and attention on these areas. Be efficient and manage your time well so you can duplicate your efforts.
Thank you to Bottom Line Personal. The article on the front cover of the December 15, 2012 issue “The Best Thing I Did in 2012 That You Can Do in 2013” sparked this blog idea.
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?
Has this ever happened to you? At the last minute, a client cancels or a conference call is delayed — you were prepared for the meeting that now is not taking place. What do you do with the “extra” time on your hands?
View this as an unexpected bonus … a golden opportunity that has come your way out of the blue … and make the most of it. While many may see this time as the possibility of doing something less important such as: a phone call to a friend or a chance to try a new restaurant, this may be a chance to get a meaningful task completed that will bring you closer to your goals.
Aha! This is where your daily to-do list comes in handy. You have already decided the 3 tasks that must be done for the day. (That was done the night before or at the start of the day.) Choose the task that you can accomplish during this period of time and get it done in this block of newly found time. Stay focused throughout the period of time that would have been spent in a different way, if things had gone as planned.
How have you used time that was freed up unexpectedly?