5 Tips to Help you Manage your Priorities in the Office

The Art of Getting the Right Things Done

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)

Welcome to the fourth edition of Career Tips in 2015! This is also the second installment of a three-part series on personal effectiveness. Last month, we looked at reasons why managingpersonal effectiveness your time might make sense and in fact could deliver for you benefits both at work and at home.

If you missed that article and would like to catch it, just click here.

Building on from such techniques such as the time log and the priority matrix, here are five tips to get you to more purposefully allocate your time in the office and raise your personal effectiveness:

1. Do not multi-task

Try this exercise. Count to 10 as fast as you can out loud. Now go from A to Jmulti-tasking as fast as you can. Now go A1, B2, C3 and so on until J10 as fast as you can. The first two exercises probably took you three seconds each. The third one probably took you about 12 seconds if not more. That’s because your mind had to switch from the category called ‘letters’ to that called ‘numbers’. We don’t multi-task, we ‘task switch’ from one activity to another. Task- switching interrupts us and consumes time. Further, if you juggle too many balls, the risk is that you won’t do any of the tasks optimally and you might even drop one of your balls!  Finish a task or at least a clear section of a task before beginning a new one.

2. Work with the end in mind

What are your objectives for the year? Make sure that youend in mind spend time on tasks which have a link (even indirect but clear nevertheless) to your work objectives – if not, you are wasting precious time! 95% is a good minimum – leaving only 5% of your time to dissipate. Every day, contemplate your to-do-list and see how it gets you closer to completing your annual objectives. Allocate your time based on what you will be thanked for come yearend.

3. Try the 18-minute technique

You only need 18 minutes to manage an eight-hour working day. Does that sound odd? Well, upon arriving in the office, take a first block of five minutes in the morning to look at your calendar, checking that you are spending your time where you are needed and where outcomes are aligned time managementto your work objectives (as per tip #2 above). Then, take a minute every hour (set up a recurring reminder in your email task box) and ask yourself: "Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?"

This is a one-minute distraction that actually helps because, on several occasions, you will realise that the time you asked yourself that question, you interrupted yourself from something that was a distraction! This allows you to regain focus: these interruptions keep you on track. Finally, in the last five minutes of the day, look back and ask yourself: "What worked and what didn’t?", "Do I want to do the same tomorrow?" and "What do I want to do differently?", "Is there anyone I need to reach out to or update about anything?" In this way, you wrap up your day and start laying the ground work for the next.

4. Practice assertive calendaring

Do not let your calendar control you: make conscious choices about what to allow into your agenda.  Of course, there will be many occasions when your choice is constrained: there are meetings to attend, folks to meet – even when the business rationale is less than clear. It’s politics, right? But, to the extent possible, pick and choose what you attend to while at work.Outlook calendar

Try to plan for interruptions and calibrate recurrent tasks. Plan breaks, plan slots to check emails – rather than checking each one as it comes in, plan moments to respond to phone calls – letting some calls go to voicemail while you work on something which requires concentration for instance, plan when others can disturb you – by opening your office door.

Commit to start and end times. Look at the clock. Promise yourself to finish your meetings on time – or invent another one to go to and leave! Respect the end times of your slots reserved for your breaks, catching-up, checking emails and returning calls.

5. Leverage bite-sized chunks of time to help you stay on course

Some projects can seem overwhelming so make a start by blocking a first chunk of 20-30 minutes: this could be about planning, reflecting on project priorities. Make this time chunkinga recurrent appointment and continue steadily working at your project.

Also, and in addition to the five minutes at the end of each day, regularly set aside a 20-30 minute chunk of time to reflect on what you are doing. Are you focusing on the right priorities? Could you work on something else?

 

So there you have it, five tips to help you get rid of the time vampires at the office! Any thoughts about some of those techniques? Would you have any tip you could share? If so, by all means feel free to comment below. Conversely, if you have a question or comment, you can of course email me by clicking here.

If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.

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Comments

  1. Alexandra,
    These are great tips that will help anyone be more effective each day. May I suggest two more:
    6. Before leaving the office each day, take 15 minutes to review the day. What went well? Why? What didn’t go well? Why? What will I do differently, next time? These lessons learned can help increase the frequency of our best habits and decrease the less effective. Then take 5 more minutes to review tomorrow’s schedule to make certain the you have all needed documents, etc. ready for any meetings. Then you can relax, knowing you are completely prepared.
    7. If, like me, you are ADHD [and a remarkable number of successful IAs and executives are], divide tasks into those you enjoy and those you do not. Break each task in the latter category into bite size chunks [I find that, if I know I only have to focus on a task for 15-20 minutes I can do it no matter how much I dislike it]. Complete the chunk and then turn your attention to a task you enjoy and give yourself an hour on that task before returning for another bite of the distasteful task. Continue this until you’ve completed the distasteful task. This strategy will help avoid the often disastrous effects of procrastination and got me through a PhD and each year’s tax preparation.
    Thanks.

    • Alexandra says:

      Hello Karl and many thanks for your comment. I am happy to see that you are using some of the effectiveness techniques I advocate — your 15-minute daily review nicely dovetails with my recommendation to take 5 minutes at the end of the day to wrap up the day just gone and prepare the next — that’s part of the 18-minute technique. You also clearly like the chunking approach I recommended as my last tip and you also nicely validate that chunking will allow all us to engage in a multiplicity of tasks while actually avoiding to multi-task!

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