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     Three Effective Time-Savers At Work

As a time management expert, I’m often asked "So, what would be the most effective thing I could do to save time?" Obviously, this answer varies from person to person. However, there are two issues that I have seen over and over: Lack of PLANNING, and constant INTERRUPTIONS.

Let me start with constant interruptions. Many people I work with are people in sales positions, business owners or managers. As such, a significant part of their job is dealing with people and managing them. It therefore seems natural to answer the phone and deal with the person who comes in their office whenever they happen to contact them. However, interruptions take a large toll on your ability to get things done. Studies have shown that an activity that, without interruptions, would take one hour to complete, takes up to five times LONGER (yes, five!) to complete when interrupted. Furthermore, since the brain needs some time to get to maximum focus and CONCENTRATION, the results of your efforts will be more likely to contain errors, and the analysis will be less deep. Part of the solution is to create a closed-door policy: Once or twice a day, close your office door for an hour or two, turn off the phones and email alerts, and focus on your work. You will get more done than you ever thought possible, and the people around you will very quickly learn to respect your "time out."

The other part of the solution is to master the ELECTRONICS around us. Between landline phone, email, cell phone and wireless email systems such as the Blackberry, there are a lot of ways to be interrupted without someone even stepping foot into your office. Check your email 2 to 4 times a day only and occasionally turn off your phone ringer or buzzer so you can get some uninterrupted and focused work done. Just be sure to let people know when you'll be returning calls so you don't leave them in voice-mail LIMBO.

Even worse, most of those have either a sound (ringer or buzzer) or visual ALARM (flashing light, pop-up window) to remind us of their presence. Unfortunately for us, those alarms activate the most primitive area of our brain, for whom any unexpected sound or movement is potential sign of DANGER. It made sense when we were hunter-gatherers and unexpected sound or movement could mean a bear about to attack us, but it doesn’t make much sense in today’s society. Now, sudden sound or movement usually means a phone ringing or an email coming in, and our primitive brain doesn’t make the difference between those and genuine danger. As a result, we tend to be distracted by the phone ringing or an email coming in, and we want to react to them by picking up the phone or reading the email. But this is an interruption as well. By turning off most of those alarms, you will minimize the risk of your primitive brain playing tricks on you.

If you think that this is all good and well, but doesn’t apply to you since you absolutely need to be ACCESSIBLE at all times, keep track for a couple of days of all the emails and calls coming in and the people dropping by. See how many of those interruptions were true emergencies that couldn’t have waited for an hour or two. My bet is you will find that at least 99% of them could have waited, unless you are an emergency room doctor, a day trader or working at the White House.

The other time-waster I most often see is lack of planning. Indeed, if you don’t have a clear idea of your important tasks and PRIORITIES for the day, it is easy to get caught up in other people’s emergencies, fun tasks and interruptions, potentially resulting in extreme busyness, but low effectiveness and productivity. So every day, before starting to work, plan your day: Write down your critical tasks for the day, and your priorities. Then, get going, preferably starting with your most critical task of the day. Whenever interruptions happen –- and they will happen –- you will automatically COMPARE them to your list of tasks and priorities, which will make it easier to discard the unimportant ones, and less likely that you will get side-tracked. Planning first thing in the morning also has another positive effect: It allows you to start the day in a pro-active mode (i.e. you are making things happen), rather than in reactive mode (i.e. you are reacting to the incoming phone calls, emails, interruptions etc.). Starting the day in proactive mode makes it more likely that you will stay in that mode throughout the day, while starting the day in reactive mode almost guarantees that you will stay in that mode all day long, hence being busy, but not necessarily productive.

While these strategies are a small sample of what you can do to get more done in less time, integrating them in your daily routine will already result in a significant IMPROVEMENT of your productivity.


Karin Vibe-Rheymer-Stewart is the owner of Stewart Organizing Services, a professional organizer, and mother of a toddler. She is the author of several published articles and offers consulting and seminars in the areas of paper and time management. You may contact her at or visit her website at www.stewartorganizing.com.

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