If you are someone who never seems to have enough time in your life and you feel that you are always chasing your own tail then this simple guide is for you. Learning how to save time and how to spend it effectively, particularly in the world of work, is a key ingredient in our overall performance. Developing techniques and strategies which help you manage your work time effectively will in turn reduce the pressures on you and give you more time to yourself.
In the office
Most of us work in offices ranging from enormous office blocks to the single room of a self-employed person. Whatever your circumstances make sure that your work area is well organised. Materials and equipment that you use often should be close to you, your lighting should be good to avoid headaches and eye strain - if you can, consider a desk light. Ensure that your chair is well designed and doesn't give you backache and that your desk is large enough to accommodate you and your equipment easily.
At your desk
Take a look at your desk when you next sit down. If it is cluttered with papers, letters and files you will immediately feel 'snowed under' making you feel tense and frustrated. It will also mean that you spend longer finding things that you need and that work is not necessarily prioritised correctly. So clear it up and keep it clear. Try and keep paper off it and develop the knack of concentrating on one thing at a time and doing it well.
Despite the advances in office technology we still generate mounds of paperwork. To ensure that you don't drown under a sea of it try to sort it into Action, Information, Reading and Waste Paper. Anything that can be dealt with quickly and simply - do it straight away - this positive approach will not only make you more effective but it will make you feel on top of your job.
When you are writing, try to keep your paper work clear, concise and as short as possible. Remember that some of the best ideas are the simplest and the best way to present them is to put your points in a logical order using presentation skills to good effect. Your aim should be to only handle paper once.
Despite huge advances in company communication systems from mobile phones through to email facilities, bad communication is still cited as a major problem for many companies.
Developing positive lines of communication with your colleagues at all levels is essential. Letting them know the information they need to know and vice versa can save enormous amounts of time and energy. Remember to copy the right people into memos and emails and give people a reasonable amount of time to respond.
If your company has an internal email system then use it as much as possible. It provides a fast, efficient and very cost effective method of communication and gets you away from the problems of not being able to contact people. Take care, though, that using email doesn't mean you don't talk to anyone - the most effective form of communication!
Telephoning on the other hand demands an instant response, so it is a good idea to plan your calls. Before you ring, plan what you are going to say or find out, and try to keep the call concise and to the point. If you aren't sure how much time you spend on calls, time yourself for a day and you might be surprised!
If you have an urgent deadline to meet then this must be your priority. One hour of concentrated work is worth four hours work with interruptions. Let others in your office know that you don't want to be disturbed and if possible arrange for your telephone calls to be diverted. Another useful tip is to block out time in your diary so that you know that time is free, and work in a separate room.
The art of successful meetings is to work out in advance what the purpose of the meeting is i.e. is it a briefing, is it a negotiation, is it to discuss ideas or a regular committee/department meeting with a set agenda. Whatever type of meeting, it is essential to agree in advance with other participants timing i.e. that you will start on time and work to an agreed deadline and to work out an agenda that is specific and to the point. Ideally one person should act as a leader keeping the meeting on track time wise and subject wise. Meeting notes should be clear and concise containing essential information such as what was agreed, and who is doing what by when.
Before every meeting ask yourself "Is this meeting really necessary?"
Making use of your best time
We all have a best time of the day which is when we probably do our best work.
Work out when your best time is and use that time to tackle your most challenging tasks. If you are working on something and getting nowhere with it then take a break. If you are still feeling blocked later on try and identify what it is that is stopping you - is it lack of information, lack of motivation or are you unclear about what you are trying to achieve? Positively identifying some of the problem areas will often lead to solutions.
If you are permanently behind in your work and feel you 'just don't know where the time goes' you could consider keeping a time log for a week so that you can see exactly where and how you are spending your time. You will probably be surprised by what you see and you can use it as the basis to make changes in the way you work to improve your efficiency.
Planning your day
Using your diary or scheduler as an aide mémoire, make a 'to do' list of what you want to achieve and what you have on the next day every evening before you leave work. Establish your priorities in terms of urgency and importance and develop your own system that is comfortable to use and which works for you.
Aim to achieve as much as possible every day but always remain flexible so that you can take on unexpected tasks if necessary.
Taking risks is never easy but at some point in your career you will have to do so. It may be taking on a new job in a different area, it may be putting yourself forward for a more senior position or it may even be giving up your job and studying for qualifications which you believe will open new doors. Whatever it is, weigh up seriously all the pros and cons before you make your decision so that when you do take risks they are calculated ones and you are aware of the consequences. But at the end of the day, particularly where work is concerned, there is often an element of 'nothing ventured - nothing gained'.
Learning to say no
Effectiveness at work depends as much on knowing what not to do as what to do. Learning not to over-commit yourself and to say no is key. If you are asked to do a piece of work and you know that you will not be able to meet the deadline it is vital that you communicate that fact. Rather than vaguely saying 'I'm not sure' or 'let me think about it' or worse saying nothing at all, explain why you are not able to. Negotiate on timing - say I can't do it today but I would be pleased to do it tomorrow/by the end of the week. If the work is really urgent then discuss the implications of doing it with your boss/colleagues so that other deadlines are not missed. Learning to say no is not easy - we all want everyone to think well of us so it has to be handled in the right way.
Setting goals and objectives
Working out what you want to achieve, when and by what means will give you something tangible to work towards. Ideally objectives should be as specific as possible, measurable and set within a time frame. Goals are likely to be longer term but just identifying what they are and having them in mind can be both motivating and energising.