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Making improvements in your time management and organizational skills can lead to more hours available to get real work done. But since even small improvements can involve changing long-established behaviors, which can be difficult, it's a good idea to identify one or two small changes to make first, so you can experience positive results quickly. Once the small changes begin to pay off, you can tackle larger changes. Here are five quick tips that you can put to use immediately.
1 . Reduce meeting time. Many meetings are unnecessary and counterproductive because people have to prepare for and attend them instead of getting actual work done. So before you schedule any meeting, first ask yourself if it really needs to happen. Next, consider that even necessary meetings can often be reduced in frequency or duration—for example, a weekly firmwide meeting could be changed to a biweekly one, and 45 minutes will usually suffice for most 60-minute meetings.
2 . Leave time in between meetings. When you schedule meetings back to back, it means that you are running out of one meeting without capturing all your thoughts, and rushing into the next meeting before you are ready to focus on that subject. This results in lost data on both sides of the equation. Running and rushing also accelerates your mental exhaustion and reduces your overall effectiveness. So leave at least 15 minutes open between meetings (plus realistic travel time). These precious minutes will allow you to collect and record the information from the last meeting before entering the next one, and that will help you be more focused.
3 . Coach versus instruct. When you manage others, the best thing you can do both for them and you is to develop their abilities to do their job with as little supervision from you as possible. Accomplish that by coaching them on how to get the result you need versus instructing them on each specific step to accomplish that result. The difference is subtle but important. If you help them figure out how to succeed on their own, you won’t need to look over their shoulder along the way. Thus, you’ll have more time to do the work that only you can do best.
4 . Maintain a designated work area. Take everything off your desk and put it all behind or beside you. See that wide open space in front of you? It’s called your desk! And front and center on it should only go the one thing you are working on right now. Multitasking is far less efficient than single-tasking. Creating a designated work area on your desk allows you to focus on the single thing that needs doing at the moment.
5 . Assess your workload twice a day. Most people hit the office at a dead run these days. Stop! There are two times in the day when it’s vitally important to assess your workload—the first thing in the morning and at the day’s end. So, instead of starting your day in e-mail, first survey what is already on your to-do list and only then check your e-mail. Similarly, spend the last five minutes of your workday assessing what’s on your plate for tomorrow. This will allow you to prioritize and organize your workweek appropriately.
Paul H. Burton , a former attorney and software executive, works with individuals and organizations to create more productive working environments.