Thriving in the Workplace All-in-One For Dummies
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Time is money. We’ve all heard it before but these days it bears repeating. Yes, it’s always been important for workers to make sure that they’re doing the right things and staying on task, but in shaky economic times it’s a matter of survival (your own, career-wise, as well as your company’s). Yet nearly all of us are guilty of sabotaging our performances to some degree because we fail to go on the offensive against two specific threats: disorganization and poor time management.
Well, that’s true, you might agree. I know that I sometimes get my priorities mixed up, and that I lose one minute here and there. But I’m just a regular Joe—not an efficiency or organizational expert. How can I improve the way I spend my time?
Enter Thriving in the Workplace All-in-One for Dummies® (Wiley Publishing, Inc., April 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-57525-3, $29.99). Comprised of seven books in one handy volume, this comprehensive reference gives people of all ages, in any job, and in any type of workplace the information, tips, and action plans needed to boost professional value, increase visibility, and manage stress.
It’s all expert advice—very expert. Thriving in the Workplace All-in-One for Dummies® is written by a team extremely well-known authors, including Mary Brounstein, Michael C. Donaldson, Peter Economy, Allen Elkin, PhD, Sue Fox, Kevin Johnson, Malcolm Kushner, Susan Manning, Mark McCormack, Bob Nelson, PhD, Vivian Scott, Dirk Zeller, and Zig Ziglar.
Read on for some ideas to help you take control of your time and boost your own hourly value:
Learn to live by the 80/20 rule. Generally speaking, only 20 percent of the things you spend your time doing produce 80 percent of the results you want to achieve. Yes, you read that correctly! To maximize your productivity, then, you need to identify the key 20 percent activities that are most effective, and prioritize them.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Prioritizing definitely falls into the “easier said than done” category. If you want to tap into your productivity’s full capacity, though, you’ve got to know exactly what’s in front of you and what’s coming—and you also need to know in no uncertain terms which ones should be done in which order.
Divide (and conquer!) your documents. For many workers, the amount of papers and emails that cross the desk on a daily basis is nearly overwhelming—and figuring out how, when, and if you should address them can take up more time than the actual tasks themselves. Wether you’re dealing with physical papers or electronic documents, you have four options: Act on it, file it away to be acted on later, delegate it to another, or toss it.
Make your desk a “no parking” zone. This may come as a shock, so brace yourself: your desk isn’t a storage area or a catch-all…it’s a workspace! The more pictures, notes, boxes, tools, and so on that park themselves on your desk, the greater your odds of being distracted. Let’s face it: clutter is never conducive to good thinking.
Ask very specific questions. We’ve all experienced data overload—you might have felt as though your head would explode if you tried to cram one more number, date, spec, or explanation into it! When you ask a question, make sure to communicate precisely why you need to know the answer, and what its purpose is. For example, instead of asking, “What is our company’s current payroll burden?” you might ask, “What is the average monthly amount we’re paying in pretax salaries (no benefits) in all our U.S. operations? I don’t need a breakdown, just one number.” You’ll find that one number much easier to deal with than a 92-page listing of employees and a breakdown of their salaries and benefits!
Guard your domain against time encroachers. Try closing your office door for starters, or putting a post-it on your cubicle that says “Busy—do not disturb!” Reach out to co-workers and collaborators so that they don’t drop in on you. Schedule as many meetings ahead of time as possible. Discipline yourself to check your email once every hour (if realistic) instead of every five minutes. Remember—it’s your time…so make sure you’re in charge and not at the mercy of others!
Make pre-emptive “appreciation strikes.” Unless you work in a vacuum, you’ll inevitably have certain clients or contacts who suck up a lot of your time and energy because they want to be involved in every step of the process, say, or because they’re just friendly by nature. To cut down on their well-meaning but workflow-disrupting interruptions, employ a pre-emptive appreciation strike. Send a handwritten thank-you card for their business or for their birthdays. Make a (brief!) call to them on a regular basis.
Plan your procrastination. The secret to successful procrastination is to do it deliberately, based on the time you have and the status of the tasks. Take a look at what’s on your plate and choose the tasks that are the least time-sensitive and least at-risk, and then postpone them for a bit.
Capitalize on the carrot-or-stick principle. The nature of humans is to move away from pain and toward pleasure, so when you’re setting up a prioritized plan, use the carrot-or-stick approach to motivate yourself toward accomplishment. For example, promise yourself a latte and a scone after you turn your proposal in to your boss—or on a larger scale, plan a Caribbean vacation as a reward for completing your freelance writing project!
Check in with yourself every Friday. One way to determine how effectively you’re managing your time is to check your results by tracking them on an ongoing basis. Each Friday evening, perform both a weekly review that focuses on the past week and a periodic review of where you stand in relation to your overall goals.
In the end, we all have the same amount of hours in our days—but we don’t all use that time equally well. However, if you take control of managing your time and organizing your resources, you’ll be assured of using them in a way that you really want to—and you’ll reap a return that fulfills your life and attracts successes. It all boils down to this: Know what your time is worth. And invest it wisely!