Feature Article: “Using Time Wisely: Proven Tips for Taming the Top 5 Time Wasters at Work”

1. Meetings 

• Schedule meetings involving brainstorming, problem solving or strategic thinking in the morning when productivity is usually highest.
• Schedule routine staff meetings, project updates, or information-only meetings during lulls in productivity. Better yet, forget the meeting and share or distribute information with email or memos.
• Always use an agenda and always start on time.
• Schedule meetings an odd starting times like 10:17 a.m. Try it and you’ll be amazed how prompt -- or even early -- everyone is.

2. Phone

• Answer it. By the time someone leaves a message, you listen to it, write down the details, and call back; you could have saved time by simply answering. 
• Use voicemail strategically. Let your voicemail pick up when you have a pressing deadline.
• Keep the conversation focused. If a conversation is off-target, use your agenda to bring it back on track. 
• Return all phone calls at once, if possible. You will naturally get right to point, saving you time. 
• Use a wireless headset so you can use your hands to complete minor tasks.
• When you’re going out of town and need to connect with co-workers, schedule a conference call to handle all matters once a day. 
• Prioritize the order in which you return calls. 

3. Email

• Set aside a specific number of times a day to check and handle your email rather than doing it every time the impulse strikes you.
• Use the subject field to indicate contents and priority. 
• Agree on acronyms to use that quickly identify actions. For example, your team could use <AR> to mean “Action Required” or <MSR> for the Monthly Status Report. 
• Include the word “Long” in the subject header so the recipient knows the message will take time to read. 
• Sending a one-line text message to a Blackberry? Send the message in the subject line, using <EOM> to signal the End of Message. 
• Instead of forwarding a series of forwarded messages, write a brief summary of the key points or select and highlight the essential information. That way the recipient doesn’t have to waste time scrolling through pages of information.
• Turn off your email program’s email notification feature. 

4. Clutter

• Discard. If you tell yourself “I might this some day,” get rid of it permanently. 
• Delegate. Hand off as much as you reasonably can. We cannot manage by doing it ourselves in the Information Age, so give away as much as possible
• Delete. Stop any reports, memos, letters, minutes, catalogues, magazines, and junk mail that you don’t need or have time to read.
• Organize files based on the frequency they are accessed: at least daily, monthly, yearly, and rarely.

5. Interruptions

• Agree on a signal to let co-workers know when someone is not to be interrupted unless it is an emergency. For example, turn your nameplate around or hang a colored ribbon on your cubicle. 
• Set aside “down time,” periods of time every day where you cannot interrupt another employee, schedule a meeting, or answer your phone. Inversely, establish fixed office hours when you can be interrupted.
• Schedule regular check-in times for updates from people you must talk to often. 
• Go into hiding. If you absolutely have to get away for a solid hour without being interrupted, find an empty conference room or borrow a vacationing colleague’s office.
• Use verbal tactics and body language. Stand up when interrupted and immediately state how much time you have.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2005 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: "Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."