How to Make Your Time Work for You

Every day, I embark on a new journey of selecting an article topic, doing my research and interacting with all the necessary individuals who will contribute to that article- all on a looming publishing deadline. In addition, I manage other writing and research projects that demand my full attention. On occasion, I find myself working right up to the 11th hour of a deadline! Time can be your friend or your worst enemy. I’d like to think time is a much better friend though. To help me stay sane and organized, I follow these tips:

1. PRIORITIZE YOUR TO-DO LIST

Make a list and check it often, not just twice! Throw in deadlines, court appearances or ETAs if it will help you prioritize. Rank them or alphabetize them. The list will give you a bird’s-eye view of all the things you need to do. (Tasks that are written down are more likely to be accomplished).

2. SET A GOAL FOR THE DAY

Once you have your list, pick at least one task and make that your goal for the day. You are a busy professional and if you have direct reports, they probably already know just how busy you are. Setting at least one goal for the day will help to keep you focused long enough to accomplish that one goal. Plus, it’s a psychological perk even caffeine can’t compete.

3. SCHEDULE TASKS FOR UNINTERRUPTED TIME-BLOCKS

For the more time-consuming tasks, block off a reasonable amount of time so that you can finish that task. If you have to draft a brief, block off 50 minutes and reserve the last ten minutes for a break. (Repeat if necessary.)

4. TURN OFF THE AUTOMATIC ALERTS IN YOUR EMAIL PROGRAM

Most of us use Microsoft Outlook to manage our emails. In Outlook, every time a new email is received, a pop-up alert can show up on the bottom right corner of the computer screen. These alerts can be distracting when you are in the middle of a project that requires a lot of concentration. If you have a habit of reading and responding to emails when you receive them, these alerts can undermine your concentration all together. You can turn off the alerts without affecting the normal functioning of your email. (You should check with your organization to see if turning off alerts is allowed.) Alternatively, training yourself to respond to emails in set blocks of time (i.e.: early in the morning, lunchtime, and before you leave the office) can also help manage your time more wisely throughout the day.

5. LEARN TO SAY “MAYBE”

When it comes to accepting new projects and tasks, some of us just have a hard time saying “no” even though we are already swamped! Well, you don’t have to say “no.” Sometimes, it’s okay to say “maybe.” For example, let’s say you have three cases to file this week and you’ve just been asked to process a fourth case by the end of this week as well. If the option to say “no” is not possible, then how about, “I can do all three cases plus this fourth one, but I’ll need help from XYZ to make the filing copies for all four cases. This will ensure I can prepare them all on time.” Other times, we’ll have colleagues who need something or want something and come to you during unscheduled meetings. (Of course this is a normal part of any office environment.) If the interruption is not an emergency and you are in the middle of one of your time-blocks, it’s okay to let the colleague know you are in the middle of something and if you can speak with them later in the day. (Make sure you do follow through on what you promise though.)

6. SERIOUSLY, GET HELP!

It’s okay to admit you need help. Use a notepad. Use an assistant (if you have one). You can even dust off the old dictaphone. Most of us, however, use an electronic case management software system. It helps to manage tasks, time appointments, deadlines and client files all in one place. Sanity may also be included. What other tips do you have to ensure Time is your Friend?