Success in the workplace depends on being a good time manager, because it doesn't matter how good you are at your job if you never have time to do it. Here are the four most important steps you can take to end that feeling that you “can't get everything done”.
Most people who are too busy to get everything done are not really too busy: they are procrastinators. Everyone has time to do the most important thing on their to-do list each day. Most people have time to do the top five things. Problems arise when people do the number eight thing first because it's easy.
Instead of doing the easy things, do the things that will have the most impact. Many days, for me, that means doing one very difficult thing that has the potential for big, long-term reward. The problem is that this one thing probably has a lot at stake; if it goes poorly, then no long-term reward. So I get nervous about doing it. The number-eight task has little impact, so doing it poorly doesn't scare me as much.
In the worst case, this sort of prioritization goes on all day. If you choose to do the easy things first then at the end of the day, when there's no time, you make yourself crazy trying to get the top of your to-do list done. Whereas if number eight is not done, you can go home anyway.
Stop doing research
One of the biggest black holes on a to-do list is research. “I need to read this book before I start writing,” or “I need to have three more numbers before I start the project.” In most cases, you can start without all the research.
My friend Mary just fired someone who procrastinated so much she was frozen at her desk. This person's job was to write client work proposals, but in each case, she would say she needed more information in order to write the proposal. Mary would tell her to make up assumptions for the information she didn't know, and fix it later. But this employee could not do it; she was so scared to get started on the proposals that she could always think of another number she needed from the client.
Another form of procrastination is pile-making. To read a piece of paper briefly and then put it in a pile to be read again is to double your work. In most cases, though, a pile maker does not want to make a decision about that piece of paper until it is an emergency. If you forced yourself to deal with every piece of paper as soon as you touch it, you will find that you deal with papers in 50% less time.
Barnes & Noble is so convinced of this theory that the company has made touch-it-once company policy. When Barnes & Noble opens a new store, hundreds of workers unpack boxes of books. Some books are easy to shelve and some are difficult. Rather than shelving the easy ones right away and making a pile of difficult ones, employees touch a book only once: you cannot put it down until you know where it goes.
Call a spade a spade
This morning I sat down at my computer to write a column. But first I checked email. (I have four accounts. I checked them all.) Then I rechecked because I thought I should have received a more interesting batch of mail the first time around.
Then I told myself I could surf for just a little. I came a cross a study from the University of Carleton that said cyber-slacking is the new form of procrastination, and it's killing peoples' productivity. I saw myself in that study.
So I took my computer to a local cafe where I cannot connect to the Internet. The Internet is useful, yes, but in most cases, it’s a way to take a break from doing the hard stuff.
It seems that most of time management is being honest with yourself: At each moment, ask if you’re doing the most important thing or the easiest thing. The more honest you are with yourself, the more time you’ll find in your day.