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Opinion: 7 time management tips for crazy-busy people

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An honest answer to, “How’s your day?” in business circles generally includes the words stressed, overworked or crazy-busy.

Due partially to technology, we end up playing while working and working while playing. What’s more, our rest and leisure and jobs get meshed together until the lines that should distinguish them don’t anymore.

Our brains don’t know how to turn off, because we place them in a constant state of being on. We’re constantly thinking about work, social media, making connections, family obligations, and kids’ schedules, etc. No wonder doctors on nightly news implore us to get more relaxation and sleep.

Usually, the tricks in time management books and articles emphasize the basics of setting deadlines, breaking down large tasks, replying to emails at noon and keeping to-do lists. They’re undoubtedly helpful, but aren’t most of us already doing these things?

Consequently, to make any significant improvements to how we prioritize or accomplish important tasks isn’t likely to result from another routine efficiency tuneup. The next level to conquer involves identifying and incorporating new habits.

Here are seven efficiency-yielding tips that go beyond most time management fundamentals.

1. See your summit. Plan your day or week, but keep your eye on your organization’s summit. Your summit is the one goal or priority that must be achieved above all else. Get clarity on your summit, identify which activities can get you there and then align time from that vantage point.

2. Take a peripheral view. Maintain your to-do list, but also keep a won’t-do list. Business strategy author Michael Porter said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Knowing what your business won’t do or won’t pursue is a key to not overinvesting in outlying opportunities or initiatives.

3. Be adaptive-proactive. It’s important to adapt to changes in the business environment, but remember the demands such change can have on your time. When leaders take the initiative to make prioritization decisions, they limit the results if they don’t also decide what time trade-offs are necessary.

4. Schedule with a scalpel. Time creep occurs when activity that shouldn’t rob too much of our time ends up doing just that. The “everything’s urgent” approach to time management is a common limitation on organizational and personal efficiency. Your schedule should align closely with critical issues and goals.

5. Collaborate efficiently. Recently, I attended a meeting set for 25 minutes; I attended, in part, to see if it could be done. Surprisingly, it ended on time, and I admire the leader for his approach. Unfortunately, collaboration often wastes time because meetings are poorly organized or facilitated, discussions drag on and people leave unclear on follow-up responsibilities.

6. Never trash scraps of time. If you have five minutes between meetings, use that time to start or finish an email, make a quick phone call or update contact information. Those few minutes quickly add up to over 20 hours a year of additional productivity.

7. Manage interruptions aggressively. Studies show that it can take several minutes to get back into the flow of work after an interruption. Obviously, we can’t prevent interruptions altogether, but we can control them better by letting people know when we need undisturbed time.

Recognizing what needs to improve is an important first step to incorporating new habits. But then, it takes meaningful action to get more work done in less time with new control over a crazy-busy workload.

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and SalesRevenueCoach.com. He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at mark@salesrevenuecoach.com.

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