Managing the many demands of your time
You know the refrain. It exists everywhere, all around you. In this fast-paced world, you can't escape it, but you can carve out a quiet, peaceful place for yourself as you work to meet the challenge.
Clear your quick emails first
Rather than let your emails pile up, start each day by responding to and clearing the easy tasks out of your email. By reducing volume in your inbox, you will have less to keep track of and you will not feel as overwhelmed by the amount of unnecessary email piling up in your inbox. You will also clear time for longer, uninterrupted blocks of time for your bigger projects.
Keep it organized
How much time do you waste searching for items? It adds up, both physically and mentally.
Use an email with a folder filing system and store the emails you need for future reference in a place where they are easy to find – rather than floating around on page 5 of your incoming emails.
Same goes for filing on your computer. Everybody has folders, but are you using them? Create as many project folders and sub-folders as needed to make it easy to find your documents.
Even in an electronic world, you will still have paperwork. Take care to organize your “old school” materials just a carefully as your electronic materials. Keep frequently used files close at hand, and remember it’s ok to have an “active projects” folder of items you can just sweep off your desk and into that folder at the end of each day.
Find a scheduling system that works for you ... and work it
Over the years, I have tried every system out there – organizers, calendars, notes, task lists, Alexa reminders, and more. I never stuck with a single one. For a while I settled on a to do list that was a series of post-it notes tacked around the edges of my computer in order of importance. I got a sense of satisfaction every time I could rip off a post-it note, crumple it up and practice baskets into my trash can. I supplemented it with a running to-do list in Word. Not very sophisticated, but I used it faithfully, and it was better than nothing – although I wouldn’t recommend it to others (I now graduated to a more grown up method).
The key is to explore and find something that fits the way you work and the way you think. Then train yourself to use it regularly. And don’t be afraid to switch to something else if you find it’s not the method for you.
Don’t think that zipping off a quick email has saved you time
I often get emails from clients that have half the information I need for a project. They believe they are saving time by zipping off a quick email to get me started. However, by the time I start my project, realize I don’t have all of the information I need, detail what I’m missing for the client, wait till they have a chance to check their email again, do a couple more back and forths – well, you can see it didn’t save either of us time. Clear, well thought out communication reminds me of the saying “a stitch in time saves nine.”
Make a plan
Sometimes I run across a project that excites me so much that I’m eager to dive right in. Partway through the project, I’ll realize that in my excitement, I just started grabbing the materials I had in front of me and took off running. I didn’t check to see if there were better materials I could’ve used, I forgot about the work I did on a similar project that could have been converted, etc. Having a plan doesn’t mean being tied to a plan, but if you’re not taking time to think through a plan, you are probably not taking time to think through the project properly either.
Focus on one thing at a time
One of my favorite teachers had a saying “you can’t sit in two chairs at the same time.” We say that we are good at multi-tasking, but are we really? I think what we mean to say is that we are asked to be a jack (or jill) of many trades, and somehow we get it done. We can, however, make life much easier on ourselves by carving out different slots of time for each one. How many times have you bristled at a physical interruption – someone popping into your office unannounced – right when you were engrossed in a project. Trying to multi-task is inviting mental interruptions – interruptions YOU are inviting in.
I tend to think of myself as superhuman. I must, because I always underestimate the amount of time it actually takes me to do something. I’m especially bad when I want to justify to myself that it’s ok to work on a fun project that isn’t really due yet before a tedious project that is actually due. Giving yourself a palette cleansing break is ok, but make sure you only take that hour or so you promised yourself.
Timing is also helpful for shining a light on billing. Are you charging your clients for actual time spent, or the time you feel it should’ve taken?
It can also help you focus on the priorities of your position. Think of a pie chart that designates where your income is best earned. Would a pie chart of your time spent on activities line up with that income pie chart?
Overworking actually makes you less efficient. When you are tired, your mind wanders, your thoughts aren’t as clear, you don’t communicate as well, and you begin to work more and more slowly. Allow yourself downtime, knowing you are committing to being the most efficient worker you can be.