Post mortems are also useful for meetings. Rather than listening to everyone complain about meetings, enlist their help in improving them! At the end of each meeting, discuss what was good and bad about the meeting and how future meetings can be improved.
Leave your voice mail or answering machine on, then return calls all in a row. Use a headset or speaker phone so you can move about your office and multi-task.
Keep note cards in your briefcase so you can use waiting time to send thank-you notes to people who've helped you. Or drop the newsletters and magazines you've been meaning to read into your briefcase -- you can even read while waiting on line at the post office.
If someone repeatedly cancels appointments at the last minute, try to avoid dealing with that person. Unless they're crucially important, drop them. If it's a client, ask yourself if your time wouldn't be better spent courting new clients. (Even if it's your biggest client this is still worth considering.) You may be willing to humor them, but if they waste so much of your time you can't develop new business, where will you be if this client dries up?
If you meet with people outside your office, leave if they keep you waiting more than 10 minutes. You can do this with just about everyone besides your boss. Or a less drastic approach is to meet them in your office instead of off-site, so if you're kept waiting you can work while you wait. Better yet, see how many of your meetings can be held on the phone instead of in person.
Private work sessions
Schedule hunks of time to tackle work that requires concentration. Treat it like a real appointment--if anyone wants to schedule something for that time, say politely "I'm already booked, sorry." During your work session, let voice mail pick up your calls and resist the temptation to check your e-mail every 15 minutes.
Put specific subject headers in all the e-mail you send; when recipients reply your header will carry over. The result: your archived e-mails will have useful, specific subject lines such as "Agenda for April 3 staff meeting" and "Question about Smith account" rather than vague, useless headers such as "Agenda" and "Question." Some e-mail management programs permit you to change headers on mail already sent to you, so if you get a message with an ambiguous subject line, you can change it.
Your secretary, if you have one, should process your mail. Not only does it save you time, it also helps your secretary become familiar with your work.
If you're afraid you'll forget that 2:00 p.m. phone call, set an alarm in your computer. This frees up your mental energy.
Do It Now
Whenever possible, dispatch routine tasks and requests immediately. Anything that'll take two minutes, do it right then.
Keep your briefcase open beside your desk, ready to receive any files you need to take with you to work off-site, whether at home in evenings or on an upcoming business trip.
When quitting for the day, jot a few notes about where you left off and what your next step is. This will make it easier to get your momentum back quickly at the next work session.
Better yet, avoid the temptation to shift from one half-finished task to another. Try to complete things before moving on to the next task.
Use Your Planner
Jot down tasks and reminders in your planner (be it electronic or paper) to "empty your head." Then, when you sit down to plan, schedule these actions into open time slots. You'll prevent many crises by planning ahead.
Take Care of You
Remember that an important part of time management is taking care of yourself. If you don't take care of your health, you'll lose far more time in the long run than you'll save in the short run by skimping on eating well or sleeping. Especially when you're pressured at work, schedule leisure activities (aerobics class, night out with your spouse, etc.) just like you would schedule business meetings or doctor appointments.
Many people return from vacation and are so overwhelmed with an overflowing in-basket and voice-mail box that before long they're stressed out like they never had a vacation. You can't do everything all at once; so make a list, set priorities, and do the most important tasks first. Some people prefer to return home a day early from a two week trip so they can get unpacked, do the laundry, and stock the house with groceries.
About the Author: Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She helps clients streamline their systems and procedures, form optimum work habits, use technology efficiently, and manage information overload. Her specialty is helping people who've already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. In 2001, Jan was the office productivity expert for staples.com. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is currently on the board of the Tri-State Chapter (NY, NJ, & CT) of the National Speakers Association.