Why is it that we have invented so many time saving devices to help with our time management skills, and yet we are more stressed than ever? The tools we have put in place to help us manage time are simply not enough. Many years ago businesses had secretaries to help create order and develop communication management systems. With the development of technology and e-mail, we now all need to become our own secretaries so that we can manage the barrage of information we have to deal with on a daily basis. We have embraced technological developments by improving our technical skills, but we now live in an instant society where it is easy to drown in the information overload, and unless we are trained administrators, this information can cause immeasurable wasted time.
How often are you asked to re-send mails that your recipients have lost or cannot find? How much of your time is spent dealing with, deleting or being distracted by junk mail? How often do you click on a link to navigate for information you’re after, only to find yourself caught up in a web of other links that you didn’t intend to follow, but couldn’t resist? How much of your meeting time is interrupted by e-mails or cell phone messages and calls?
Even as I write this article, I find myself unable to resist checking that e-mail that’s just arrived, and the sms my phone is calling out for me to read. Many of the time management problems we deal with nowadays can be reduced by changing our habits in dealing with distractions, or by being more disciplined in keeping focus. We also need to learn how to be librarians of knowledge, information, contacts and messages. Learning how to effectively organize all this information using efficient systems and processes is key to improving our time management skills. We need to be able to prioritise tasks and say “NO” to trivia or distractions.
We are also not all specialists in business communication, and poor communication often results in confusion and misunderstandings. Further correspondence is then required to clarify these misunderstandings and (apart from the embarrassment and potential loss of business) lots of time is wasted this way. People also send e-mails when they should be talking. Valuable company relationships are ruined and we’re unaware of the fact that it’s because the mail we sent is misread or the meaning overlooked.
If you are already an expert in business communication, perhaps your daily choices are causing your stress. You can’t control time and you certainly can’t manage it. You get just as much time as anyone else. But, you can control yourself and what you do with that time. Here are some ways to manage your daily use of time better:
1. Know your Priorities
Plan what you want out of every day. Make sure you understand your job outcomes to avoid being confused by requests from other people that should not be a priority. Once you’ve established this, it is easier to set boundaries.
2. Set Boundaries
Set a deadline for activities and direct all of your energies toward your one current activity. Sometimes it’s good to close your door, close your e-mail and – yes, your cell phone has an “off” button and voicemail!
3. Use a Diary
Use a diary or task function on your cell phone and computer, not only for meetings but also for deadlines, tasks and reminders.
4. Keep a Time Log
The key to productivity is awareness of how you spend your time, what you do, how long it takes, and what benefit you get, so some people find it useful to create a log tracking your activities for a week. Evaluate the time investment versus payoff for each activity – how much benefit or enjoyments are you getting from each activity? The idea is to keep high-payoff activities on your to-do list, and to ask yourself if low-payoff activities need to be done at all, or if they have to be done by you? Can they be simplified? If not, and they can only be done by you, make sure you do the high pay-off activities before the low-payoff ones.
Technology has given us the power to do amazing things, but with power comes responsibility. Take the responsibility to improve your (or your staff’s) essential life skills such as time management, planning and inter-personal communication skills to deal with the changed work environment we have created.