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When there’s too much going on, the mind simply starts shutting down and nothing gets done — or it all gets done badly. That doesn’t bode well for any business. It’s easy to get overloaded — a couple extra clicks and you’ve blown 30 minutes better spent polishing a report or completing that Web page.
Here are some ways to keep yourself on task and on time, without feeling like a prison warden.
1. Make a Realistic Plan
Crossing off an item on a to-do list feels great, even if it’s something small like “call the plumber.” If you know things always go out the window after 3 p.m. just leave that open — or put in small items that aren’t due that day.
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2. Know When You Are Most Productive
Some people hit their stride first thing in the morning and then get slower as the day goes on. Others need a couple hours to start up and then speed through a huge pile from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. A few are night owls and work best after the sun goes down. If you can, arrange your most challenging tasks when it works for you.
3. The Worst First
According to the Mayo Clinic, if there’s a task you’re really dreading, give it the 10-minute-per-day rule. Often just tackling the nightmare makes it seem more manageable. Others say that the worst task should be the first thing on your to-do list so you just get it over with.
Tackle the things that only you can handle. Assign the smaller things or the everyday items to other people. Then shut the door, close the email window and focus on the task for a specific amount of time.
5. Find Out Where You’re Wasting Time
By keeping a time diary for a week, you’ll see where you get off track. Maybe you think you’re only spending an hour replying to email every day but it’s really sucking up three or four. Be as honest as you can so you can see where you can cut out that Facebook time and slot in an hour for exercise.
6. Keep It As Simple As Possible
Instead of emailing everything back and forth, put documents on a computer cloud so you can see everyone’s editing comments and they can all edit on their time. Keep one single calendar with all your events, projects and appointments in one place that’s accessible from your home, phone and work. Create a simple filing system — can you find last year’s taxes quickly? How about a report from a year ago? Make it so.
If time management is a continual problem — missed deadlines, swamped desk, overlooked documents — you might want to hire a professional organizer to create a system for you. They will study your habits and figure out how you work so that it won’t be a waste of your time and money.
Check out the National Association of Professional Organizers for tips and general costs.
The ultimate goal is to be able to finish the day and feel like you’ve accomplished at least most of what you set out to do. Of course there will be emergencies and things won’t go as planned, but if you’re already organized, those won’t send all the dominoes falling.