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Stop Getting Sidetracked by Time Wasters

Stop Getting Sidetracked by Time Wasters

As you make the effort to use positive time management during your workday, be sure that you reclaim time that is currently slipping out of your control. Regardless how productive you try to be, there are time wasters that need to be identified and managed to really get the most from every work hour.


What's the most frustrating time waster?  Drop-in visitors. This isn't usually the clients - seeing them is good for business. The big time waster is drop-in visits from other people in your office.


Make an informal log of the interruptions in your day. Be honest, how many of them are necessary and how many could wait until lunch break or after work?  Even if you stay don't hang around the break room coffee machine, people stop by to see you. There's a fine line between friendly and sabotage.


Yes, drop-in visitors with trivial chatter are sabotaging your workday. Maybe they have less work than you do or they are simply looking for a way to avoid working. Either way, when you let them interrupt your workflow, you lose. You have to screen your drop-in visitors as carefully as you screen phone calls if you want to reclaim the time they steal from your day.


If you have a door, engage closed-door hours at least one hour in the morning and in the afternoon. To give this a positive spin, post a sign: This is my Power Hour: See you later and thanks for supporting my time management goals.


What if you don't have a door to close at work? You can create the same sign and tape it to the entry. If that still doesn't work, as soon as you hear the usual interrupter, grab the phone and a pen and appear as if you are concentrating on a call.


Another way to limit time wasted with drop-in visitors is to make it clear immediately that you don't have time to chat. As soon as the visitors shows up, say emphatically, "Hello, Jane, I only have 5 minutes to spare so can you tell me what you came to say in less than 5 minutes." 


If she says no, then you say, "Ok, then we will have to set a time to talk at lunch (break, after work). If she still insists on invading your time with "this won't take long" (and you know it will), then be firm; "If I can't get your agreement to limit our conversation to 5 minutes, then I don't have time to even begin to talk now. See you later (at lunch, etc)."  Don't worry about appearing rude. She's rude for not respecting your time management plan. And frankly, why isn't she doing her work?


Conscientious workers are not offended by your desire to improve your time management skills. Co-workers who have little respect for your time are also not paying attention to the time they owe the company. When you make new time management plans, be prepared to irritate people who are poor time managers. That's fine, you are making the effort to remove time wasters from your workday and improve productivity. Never apologize for that.



Paralysis of the Plentiful


With so many electronic gadgets and office systems to help with your time management, it's easy to become overwhelmed. At some point, it's "paralysis of the plentiful"; or so many options and so little time to use them all.


This is like "analysis paralysis" where a person gets so wrapped up in making the right decision based on endless amounts of information that nothing gets done. The same is true for "paralysis of the plentiful."


You'll see these people; they have a cell phone, a Blackberry ™, a wireless headset, online calendar, to-do list on the computer, calendar posted on the refrigerator at home and day planner in hand.


This doesn't even count the myriad of yellow sticky notes at home and at the office. This person has "paralysis of the plentiful." If that sounds like you, then you have to make some tough choices.


When you find a new device that claims to save time, you grab it then add it to whatever you are currently using.  Before long, you have several time keeping options but you are still running late to meetings or forgetting to prepare reports on the date due. This is a case of working for the time savers instead of making the times savers work for you.


Start by choosing the most comprehensive, easiest to operate scheduling system. Don't feel like a low-tech co-out if you find the paper and pen day planner is that system for you.


If you are spending time programming an exotic phone or hand held organizer, then you are wasting time. That's not the point. Another problem you may have encountered is using more than one system.


Maybe you use the electronic planner for work items since it hot syncs with your computer, but you keep the paper day planner   for your personal life. That's a huge mistake. The more systems you have, the greater the chance for forgetting an important appointment. 


Do you spend more than ten minutes daily updating your time management system? If you do, you may be working with more than one device or planner and that's what's wasting time.  Let's face it, you will not your improve time management by spending more time with "paralysis of the plentiful," trying to keep all your systems synchronized.


Time management systems once engaged are supposed to give you a sense of relief and security that your schedule is under control. If you have the opposite feeling, take a look at what you are using for your time management. 


If you have more than one schedule method, cut back to one and use that until you are confident in the system. Later you can experiment with a new method, just resist the urge to add more and more options. Otherwise, the time savers become time wasters when they throw you into "paralysis of the plentiful."



Managing Phone Calls


Call center workers are drilled over and over in how to get information and get off the phone as rapidly as possible.  They either make money or lose money according to the time spent on each call.


Actually, you do to, but perhaps you never saw it that way. Even though email and instant messaging are increasing popular communication methods, if you are like most workers, you will have a ringing phone.


In fact, you probably have at least two phones; desk phone and cell phone.  Unless you know how to manage phone calls, more phones just lead to more interruptions and more disruption of your time management plan.


Do you start each day vowing to keep those phone calls under control then get sidetracked without realizing how much time goes by? Here are some simple strategies to avoid wasting so much time on the phone:


1.)       When you make the call, have a purpose in mind before dialing. You aren't just calling to see if your client likes the product. That's too vague. You are calling to ask how the client is using the product today and is there any question for you that was not covered in the start-up guide. Then quickly move into the next stage, which may be to tell the client about a companion product or ask permission to include on a newsletter about product updates. Then get off the phone! These are the 4 most important words in telephone time management.


2.)       If the caller starts storytelling or rambling about non-business matters, politely redirect the call; "That's great, however my boss has an important project for me so I need to go now."  Or you can give the caller one more chance to get back on track: "Is there anything else that I need to do (look up, work on) before we wrap up this conversation?" For most people, this is sufficient hint to regain control of the call   and complete it.


3.)       For the client or coworker who wants to chat after handling business, you need to get off that call promptly. The longer you try to listen and be nice, the more you let them know that they can run over your time management schedule. "That's all the time I have for now, I must get back to business." "My desk is piling with work and I must get back to it now."  Or you can bring in the third party motivator: "I have someone in my office who needs my immediate attention."  That last one isn't lying. You are in your office and your work needs your immediate attention!


4.)       With long winded people, offer to summarize the key points of the call in an email and get off the phone.


5.)       Set an egg timer at your phone and work toward completing most routine business calls in 3-5 minutes. The timer will help you see how much time you are wasting that isn't necessary to do the job. Get it done then Get off the phone!



Get Your To-Do List Under Control


Is your to-do list almost too long to read every day? Or have you simply given up trying to keep a current to-do list. Don't give up; get your to-do list under control to compliment your time management strategies.


To begin, you need to understand that a to-do list is a "hot list" not a planning pad, wish list or long-term idea starter. Your to-do list is for tasks that must be accomplished in 48 hours or less. For anything further ahead, use advance planning list or add the items to your day planner for the appropriate due date.


Start by writing down every task you need to complete on individual index cards. Arrange the cards in three piles: Must Do, Need to Do, Want to Do. The "Must Do" pile is the tasks that have to be completed in 24 hours.


Take any "Must Do" items that could wait an extra day and place them on the next day's to-do list. These are what some time management systems call the "A" level tasks.  Next sort the "Need to Do" or "B" level tasks. These are important to do in the next day or two but not as imperative as showing up for a presentation or catching a plane.


Finally, deal with the "Want to Do" or "C" level tasks that could be done any time in the next several days.  Some time management systems suggest that you toss out the "C" tasks or add them to a "Someday" list for when you have extra time.


Of course, that's humorous since you need a time management system because you are already overscheduled.  If you want to include these, just make sure they don't serve as a distraction from necessary items. For example, you might enjoy surfing the net for collectible books but you don't need to do that "C" item when you have an "A" list report due in four hours.


How many items can you manage on a daily to-do list? It depends on whether each item is a one step process or multi-step process.  With complex tasks, you may only be able to reasonably complete 3 or 4 "Must Do" items in a day. As you are adjusting to this time management technique, make a note by each item about how much time you expect to spend on this task.


You can create a paper to-do list or one on your computer, just as long as it's easily accessible during the day. When an item is done, cross it off, make a checkmark beside it or in some way be able to see what's done from what needs to be done.


If you use an electronic to-do list, you can add color background for each level. The advantage of color-coding items is that you can quickly see how many yellow highlighted Must Do items are left compared with the green highlighted Need to Do items.


At the end of the day, transfer any remaining important items to the proper category on the next day's to-do list. When you finish the day and see most or all of the "Must Do" items finished and crossed off your list, it's a great sense of relief and motivation to keep your time management system working for you.



Time and the Tube


Time in front of the television seems to escape faster than anyone realizes. Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking a break after dinner and watching a favorite television show.


And certainly, sports fans are glued to the tube on weekends. Even if you don't care a lot about sports, you were probably among millions who tune in to incredible sporting events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl. Even those are limited time programs. It's the regular shows that tend to take up the most time.


Be honest with yourself, how much time do you spend each day watching TV? Maybe you don't count the time that the TV is on and you are listening to it while doing other things around the house. But you still stop and dash back into the room when you hear something that you want to see.


If you still protest that you don't watch much TV, how many shows can you name the lead characters? What about the supporting characters? How often do you talk with your co-workers or friends about what happened in the last episode of certain reality shows?


Are you able to name all the contestants from the last five seasons of a show? Do you know more about the personal history of TV characters than you do about your neighbors? Do you freak out when the cable is down? Have you ever refused an invitation because you absolutely had to see a season finale as it happened? These are signs that you are more chained to your TV than you realized.


Stop living your life through TV characters. A.C. Nielsen Company survey shows that the average person in America watches more than four hours of television every day. That's 28 hours in a week and if you are like most TV watchers, you watch more hours on Saturday and Sunday than on workdays.


With some cell phones, you can get television programs so you could even take it with you everywhere. And if you can't give up your favorite series during the summer hiatus and you are compelled to watch the past season reruns of DVD, then you are giving too much importance to television in your daily time use.


Think about a favorite TV show or character. What is so compelling about them? Do you admire the career of the main character? What would it take for you to have that career? Perhaps you need to get a college degree or additional technical training.


Maybe you have to move to a different city where you can break into that career. Rather than long for the life of the character, start doing what's needed to get that life for you. You'll have to give up some TV time and invest that time into preparing for a new career. With time management that's geared toward your goal, you won't wait for a weekly visit to the lifestyle you want. You'll be in position to have that life for yourself every day.


It's not that you have to give up television totally to have other pursuits in your life. But you will need to be choosey about what you watch and the time you are giving to TV. If you can't cold turkey turn off the set every day, then limit yourself to one hour nightly.


In that hour, you can watch two thirty-minute shows or one-hour long show. Decide to turn off the tube and start new projects to expand your life. Become the star of your own life. It's your time, so you might as well use it for your benefit.

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