One of the most common complaints that I heard as a university administrator revolved around the concept of, “How am I supposed to do all of these tasks? There isn't enough time.” Truth be told, I didn't overwork my teams: I simply raised the bar and ask them to cut out the unnecessary items that occupied a good portion of their day.
When was the last time you stopped to think about how much time evaporates between tasks? Upon introspection, one can often find some efficiency to be gained. A typical workday in an office (on no particular day of the year) might consist of everything from checking emails, returning phone calls, administrative tasks, meeting, and focusing on a handful of projects. If laid out on a calendar, our hypothetical day might look like this:
When looking at the day in greater detail, perhaps the layout of meetings and tasks doesn't make as much logical sense. Did you place those items on your calendar or did others?
For example, is a meeting really worth an hour of your time tomorrow? Isn't there a better use of time? The answer is always yes.
Here’s a suggestion: Unless the individual requesting the meeting is an administrator or a direct supervisor, always choose a time that is conducive to how you work best. If you happen to focus more in the morning, clear your calendar of items from the moment you arrive at work through a time in which you think you’ll be finished (if the only thing you’re doing is focusing on project tasks), say 8 am through 10 am. Go as far as to schedule a placeholder in that time slot and indicate that it will be used for producing work during that time. Then begin your social day at work. Return phone calls, attend meetings, interact with co-workers, etc.
Transitioning is an art form. The trick lies in the planning. I once read a book entitled, Time Management for System Administrators, from O’Reilly. One of the first points made in the forward of the book: “If you tell yourself you don’t have time to read this book, you need to read this book.” It was an excellent point. Like most business books, there are always a few nuggets of information that can be gleaned and taken away. Time Management illustrated to the importance of a simple task list. Now, when I was primarily a developer, I’d always kept a list of things that needed to be done next, but there wasn't necessarily ever a method to what I wrote on that notepad. After reading the text, I began keeping a small 5”x 8” notepad on my desk. Before leaving work every day (and to this day), I write down the most important items that I need to accomplish the next day. I categorize these as my top priority. Just below the top items, I include things that also need to be done (i.e. submit expenses, review notes from a meeting or a quote from a vendor, etc.). Then I write down the names of the individuals that I needed to contact (emails that I received late in the day or voice mails that needed to be returned). On the last few lines, I note the meetings I have and the times. Every day, there is a complete day on the notepad.
Two things that I find important about the task list: it provides structure and goals, and it’s proactive. I stopped arriving at work waiting for work to find me. Now, would my day always go the way that I planned it out? No. Each day, I had a new interaction that would result in a request for additional work (which I kept in a different spreadsheet).
Segment the Day and Work in Increments
Another trick that I developed and began practicing was to review <insert smart phone here /> in the AM prior to arriving at work, and then don’t look at it again until a break in the day. The way I saw it: if there’s an emergency, someone will find me.
It is also necessary to focus on smaller increments of time when planning out the day. This would make a day more manageable and tasks more attainable.
- Divide time into 5-10 minute chunks
- Limit the scheduling of meetings
- Address all open items when meeting with an individual (consolidate talking points)
- Get up and walk around
- Return phone calls when moving between meetings or places
A New Approach
Once I began to function in this fashion, my calendar stopped looking like a burden and started rewarding me with accomplishments. More and more, I’d leave the day feeling a sense of accomplishment, as I knew I was able to deliver on the important pieces that were helping move the business forward.
Below is an example of what my work day looks like:
- Before arriving at work: review email, scan for those that require input or those from key administrators
- Once in the office, began working off the task pad.
- Return phone calls
- Attend meetings (always later in the day when productivity slumps)
- Send emails
- Perform any additional administrative tasks
- Generate tomorrow’s list
Change the way you work, and others will adapt to how you work. Set an example, and make a point to promote your new habits when your supervisor notices an uptake in productivity. Deliver on your own expectations.
Lastly, always focus on the list of high-priority items first. Those tasks or projects should always be in the forefront of your goals for the day.