Feature Article: Efficiency at Work – Stephanie Whittaker

Special To The Gazette, May 29, 2004

Everyone complains that time is the one commodity that’s in too-short supply. In fact, time is fixed; there are always 24 hours in a day. It’s what we do with those hours that can lead us to the conclusion that we simply don’t have enough time, says Mark Ellwood, a time-management and productivity consultant with Pace Productivity in Toronto. Here’s his advice on how to use your time at work for maximum productivity and efficiency.

Begin your day by drafting a to-do list and cross off tasks as you complete them
“A to-do list orients you to the past, present and future,” says Ellwood. “And it will prevent you from getting to the end of your day and wondering what you’ve accomplished. In the future, it gives you a plan for the upcoming day. As for the past, you can look at it at day’s end and know what you’ve done. And In the present, it reminds you of what you should be doing now.”

Block off time for important tasks and keep those times sacrosanct
“You can decide that between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., you’ll work on your budget plan. Try as much as possible not to be interrupted by putting your calls on hold. If someone asks you for your attention during that hour, ask if it can wait until 11 a.m. Keep in mind, we’re already pretty good at blocking off time for lunch. This is the same idea,” he says.

Give people fewer ways of getting in touch with you

It’s not necessary to issue a list of phone numbers and e-mail address when one of each will suffice, says Ellwood. “That way, you won’t have to spend time checking all your messages in various places.”

Start meetings on time
If you’re leading the meeting, start punctually and don’t recap for stragglers who arrive late. If you’re attending the meeting and the leader is the one who’s late, begin without her. “The only exception to not starting meetings on time is if there’s a fire in the building,” says Ellwood.

Take control of interruptions in your day rather than letting them control you
“When someone says: ‘Got a sec?’ say: ‘Sure, how about in half an hour?’,” says Ellwood. Also, ask what it’s about so you can prepare yourself. And if someone tells you a long story, interrupt that person and ask him or her to summarize and get to the point.

Stop procrastinating
If you’re a procrastinator, try to understand why you’re avoiding a particular task and visualize yourself at the end of the work with a successful outcome. “Chances are, you’ll realize the work wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be,” says Ellwood.

End office clutter
Use stick-it notes to apply expiry dates to documents and dispose of them in your recycling box so they don’t accumulate. You’ll save time looking for files in piles of clutter.

Create folders for papers so you can locate them quickly
“If you label things — projects, items for the boss, miscellaneous — you’ll have quick access to them,” Ellwood says.

Organize your workspace so you’re less at risk of interruption
If your desk faces a busy corridor and people are always stopping to chat, turn your office furniture (if possible) in another direction.

Manage your manager
“Advise your manager once or twice daily, say at the beginning and end of the day, what you’re working on,” Ellwood said. “Don’t go running in throughout the day with regular updates.”

Be assertive with other departments
“Help others make commitments to deliver on what you need,” he says. “Beware of comments like: ‘I’ll try to…’ Help them make a commitment to your schedule by setting dates and times.”

Delegate work
“Even things you think you can’t delegate,” says Ellwood. “Beware of your justifications for not delegating — ‘He’s not ready to assume this responsibility’, or ‘She’s not capable of doing this work’.”

Go home on time
“You owe it to yourself to have a balanced life,” says Ellwood. “If you have a specific time when you know you’ll go home, it’s amazing how you’ll find time to get work done within your self-imposed deadline.”


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