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Career Make-Over

Time Savers Are Lifesaver for Harried Worker

April 01, 2001|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Years ago, Kim Dushinski, a book marketer in Golden, Colo., thought she'd tamed the time-management beast. She used color-coded day planners and enjoyed well-structured workweeks.

But those well-organized days are long gone.

"Today, I'm juggling projects, doing each of them part of the way. I'm experiencing time-management chaos. I feel like an outsider in my own life," she said. "This is not who I am."

Time management has become an essential skill for workers juggling mounting paperwork, increased responsibilities, incessant interruptions and ever-looming deadlines. But many of the most overwhelmed workers devote little effort to mastering time management, claiming they have no time for it.

These entropy victims end up battling escalating in-box memos, e-mails, phone messages, to-do items and appointments. They have more projects than time. And, like Dushinski, they wonder whether relief is possible.

Debra Habr, president of Iowa-based Hunter Coaching International, offered Dushinski a series of pointers to help her get reorganized.

"Time management always translates into self-management," she said.

Habr asked Dushinski to pinpoint her three most important goals, then concentrate on completing them one by one. She also suggested that Dushinski carefully review her list of activities each day and ask whether any could be delegated or eliminated.

She advised Dushinski to enlist co-workers and friends to encourage her to meet deadlines.

Are you, like Dushinski, feeling overwhelmed by a time crunch? Time-management experts offer the following tips for you:

Keep Track of Your Time

"If I don't manage my own time, everyone else will abuse it for me." That's what Annette Veech, business communications lecturer at Olin School of Business in St. Louis, reminds people.

Keeping a time log of activities for a week is a good tool for determining your efficiency, said Gene Griessman, author of "Time Tactics of Very Successful People," (McGraw Hill, 1994).

Noting how much time you devote to each activity will uncover what Griessman called time wasters--interruptions, unimportant tasks and preoccupations--and reveal time thieves--acquaintances who consume your work time.

Record Your Goals

"Until you determine what matters most to you, all the digital tools are worth squat," said Hyrum Smith, vice chairman of Franklin Covey Co. and author of "The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management" (Time Warner, 1994).

When you write your goals, make sure they're extremely specific and attainable. If they are elaborate and require long-term preparation, break them into bite-size activity chunks, said Dawn Reno in "The Unofficial Guide to Managing Time," (IDG Books, 2000).

Itemize Your Daily Activities

Each week, devote at least 10 minutes to planning and scheduling steps toward your career goals, said Smith. Each workday morning or, preferably, the evening before, itemize your daily tasks and write them down, said Griessman. That will free your mind for problem-solving.

Maintain these lists in one place, a computer file or day planner. Don't haphazardly scribble to-dos on paper scraps that can easily get lost.

Prioritize Daily Activities

Once you've listed daily activities, determine whether each is urgent, important or trivial, Reno said.

To decide, Griessman suggested asking several questions about each task. Will it help me reach an important goal? Does it have a looming deadline? Has it been mandated by my boss or an important client? Will it advance my career? If I don't do it, will it have any negative effect?

Estimate how long each task will take. Don't underestimate (a very common mistake) or you may throw off your entire day's schedule.

"That's how many people create their own overwork, stresses and crises," said John Drake, author of "Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More" (Berrett-Koheler, 2000).

Instead, "underpromise and overdeliver" by allowing yourself ample time for each activity's completion, suggested Habr.

Stay Focused and Alert

When working on tasks, don't let your mind wander to past or future problems. Schedule your most challenging projects during your body's peak hours, those times when you're most energetic. Begin by tackling routine activities and graduate to more complex ones, said Smith.

If you're a tortoise, a person who prefers to see a single project to its completion, carve out ample time for each undertaking, said Eileen Roth, author of "Organizing for Dummies," (Hungry Minds, 2000). But if you're a hare, someone who prefers to devote blocks of time to several concurrent projects, create a schedule that allows you to juggle.

Take regular breaks, said Saul Rosenberg, a Corte Madera, Calif.-based psychologist.

"Working in short time periods and taking breaks is the best way to learn and perform," said Rosenberg. "When this isn't done, productivity goes down, not up."

When you begin to tire, turn to low-priority, nontaxing projects.

Face Procrastination

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