Is time on your side?

In the wake of the global financial crisis, the few staff that are left have more work to do and have less time to get it done.

It’s not surprising therefore to read that better time management is on just about every New Year's resolution list. New Year's resolutions, as a rule, tend to go nowhere. But if we are serious about time management, what should we be doing to organise ourselves better?

Helen Coster in Forbes says technology has made time management even more difficult, and I have to agree. While I have been in the process of writing this, I have answered seven emails and skimmed what’s happening in the world by checking out all the newspaper websites.

“The web is like the next-door neighbour who keeps asking us to play when we know we have homework to do,’’ Coster writes. “It and e-mail provide so much distraction on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis that we find it nearly impossible to give our full attention to higher-level tasks. And because there are no defined edges to most of our projects - and certainly not to our workdays - we live in an endless jumble of work and life.”

Most people working in an office do waste some of their day on other activities. That’s not to say they are slacking off, it’s just that a lot is happening and there are lots of distractions.

Forbes suggests several ways of taking the situation in hand. First take control of your email. Keep it short and send fewer of them.

Take a few minutes every day to refocus and get your thoughts in order. It doesn’t mean you have to sit down in a lotus position and chant, you can do it going out for a walk or getting a cup of coffee.

Another suggestion is to make the most of your to-do lists. Every day I have two or three items on a board next to my desk, highlighting stuff that needs to be done as soon as possible.

Eliminate unnecessary meetings and avoid multi-tasking. Our brains simply aren’t wired up to do several things at once. Clear your desk every day, and finally, try to set aside some creative time where you can do some thinking. That means no email and having the phone on silent.

Another big problem lies with how we divide up the time. Things often take longer than we thought and when that happens, it throws everything else out.

Some suggest new ways to schedule activities, estimating how long each task will take and then adding at least fifteen minutes to that number. They suggest scheduling a short break for yourself every hour and a half, no matter what you’re doing. Also, it’s a bad idea to think more than one month ahead. For me, it’s hard enough to imagine what each new day will bring, let alone each month.

How do you organise your time?