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Seven tips for getting control of your time

Posted on February 07, 2007

By Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE

In a world where “too much to do and too little time” is a common manta, there’s a felt sense that everyone and everything has more control over our day than we do.  While we might be at the beck and call of others, there are still areas where the culprit is none other than ourselves.

Using the word “control” as an acronym, here are ways to gain some relief from self-induced pressure.

Can the clutter.   Do you walk into your office and instantly feel a sense that you could be buried in the mess?  Papers are piled on the desk, on the floor, and in tiered boxes.   Note that if this were your natural style of organization, you’d feel pressure by having items out of sight!  But if you’re like a great majority of people, clutter only adds to the time spent in finding what you need.  Do you use everything that you have on display?  Can you find items when you need them?   If you’ve answered “no”, proceed to the next recommendation.

Out with excess paper.  Examine what surrounds you.  What can you throw out, give out, leave out?  If you are months behind in journals and other publications, scan the table of contents and keep only those items that you KNOW you’ll need.  Throw the rest away.

No, not, never, not now.  Say it. Practice it.  We frequently nod our heads “yes” like a wind-up toy because of guilt, fear, or a sense that obligation.  Ask yourself why do you say “yes?” Perhaps even a “not now” would suffice.  I am convinced that if we do not put limits on our time, it will vanish with our unknowing permission.

Talk up. To curtail long conversations or meeting, learn these sentences. “I would like to be able to talk with you but I have another engagement.  Can you please tell me your request (situation, concern, etc.) in 25 words or less?”   First, you won’t be lying with your opening statement.  You will always have another engagement—even if it’s with the report in your computer.  Second, you have indicated a willingness to respond. You have merely put a concise cast to the conversation.  It’s amazing how “25 words or less” can increase the speed and fluency of conversation.

Read only what matters. And a bunch of it doesn’t matter. Tell people to take you off global e-mails. Learn the art of skimming. Train your assistant to skim and then report back to you only what he thinks is most important.

Operate early.  This can mean everything from getting up early to doing things early.  If you pack for a trip, don’t wait until the last minute.  Prepare, in advance, your suitcase, your briefcase.  The only things that need to be added are last minute items.  Create artificial deadlines that are in advance of the true deadline.  You’ll always feel more in control.

Lighten up. Perfect isn’t perfect.  Look for and relish the unexpected.  There is serendipity when we allow ourselves to surrender to events and times over which we have no control.  The bad weather that keeps my plane grounded allows me to complete a piece of writing I could not have finished.  The shop that closes just as soon as I approach the door lets me walk down the street and find other stores that I had never noticed before.

Getting in control is ultimately about getting clear on our work habits, our priorities, and our values.


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