A/E/P and environmental consulting firms are really in the business of selling time— something there never seems to be enough of. That’s why it’s important that we all use our time wisely.Here are my hints for more effective time management. I use every one of these:Process the stuff that hits your in-box fast. When I see one of our folks with an overflowing in-box, or one that looks like it needs structural reinforcement to support the weight that it’s carrying, that tells me something. Either a) the employee is not processing the material that is coming in fast enough, or b) he or she is using the in-box as a “to-do” box, and looking through the same old memos, papers, and publications every time something new comes in. Neither situation is acceptable. The best practice is to pull the stuff out of the box, and deal with it immediately. That means read it, react to it, file it, or pitch it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone who wants to interrupt you that now is not a good time. Anyone who is good at what they do or who is in a managerial position is probably faced with this situation 10 or more times each day. Certainly, you may deal differently with an employee than with a client. But you have to remember that you alone control your schedule. It may not be in either the client’s or the staffer’s best interests for you to give his or her need less than your full attention. Remember that procrastination is the enemy. The converse to point #2 above is that the more things you put off, the more you’ll have to do later. If you can deal with a problem then and there, do so. It will be one less thing you will have to deal with in the future, and may allow you to be more responsive to those future issues. You can dispense with a lot of stuff immediately. Work at work and do “home” stuff at home. I think the worst thing of all is to take work home every night. If you are at work, work. If you are at home, do personal things. Compartmentalization of your time is a more efficient way to use it. If you work at home and don’t take care of your personal needs then, you’ll more than likely be dragged into those “home” duties while at work. Keeping work and home duties separate helps you be happy and productive. Make a “to do” list and accomplish everything on it. I know it sounds corny, and it’s been said time and time again, but having (and using) a to-do list can help you get more done. I always know what I have to do for the day. And what I don’t get done, I make sure to put on the next day’s list. It works. Keep a clean desk. Whoever said: “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind” is simply rationalizing for his or her own sloppiness and disorganization. You get more done with a clean desk. You can focus on the task at hand with no distractions. You don’t waste time looking for things. Use your car time wisely. That’s the best thing about a cellular phone— you can use time spent commuting or traveling to and from clients’ offices that would otherwise be wasted. The money you spend on cellular phone time that you can’t charge off to a client’s job is peanuts compared to the benefit. Check in often if you travel or spend a lot of time out of the office during the day. That way, you can avoid the build-up of questions and problems that tend to eat up all of your time when you return to your office. Call in and deal with as many of these situations as you can before you come back. Don’t solve the same problem over and over again. Too many managers allow themselves to get dragged into the same situations repeatedly and, as a result, don’t have time to deal with new problems. If a branch office hasn’t done what it should for the past eight years, change the manager or shut it down. If an employee keeps wasting your time with the same complaints, solve his or her problem or explain that you don’t want to hear about it any more. Walk fast, talk fast, and work fast. Like David Letterman, I probably wouldn’t have a personality if it weren’t for caffeine— thank goodness, free coffee is one of our benefits! I can’t stand to see an employee ambling through the corridors on “slow”— someone who plasters him- or herself against the wall when I approach from behind. That’s usually someone with a job performance problem. Lead by example. Do everything quickly and the people who work for you will probably pick up the pace, too.Originally published January 16, 1995
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