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Gain Control of your Time
by Janet Attard

How many times have you gotten to the end of the day and thought to yourself, "Where did the time go? I didn't accomplish a single thing!"

Everyone has days like that now and then. But if you find that projects are piling up and most of your time is spent putting our fires instead of completing important tasks, it's time to make some changes in the way you use your time.

Each of us has the same 24 hours a day to accomplish whatever we want to get done. The key difference between people who achieve one goal after another in their lives and those who never seem to get anywhere is that the achievers have learned to control the way they use their time. You can too. Here are nine simple steps you can use to make time work for you.

Calculate the cost of your time
What's your time really worth? How much money are you wasting when you surf to that cool web site a friend told you about? Or what about the time gabbing with your friend on the phone? How about the time you spend looking for files on your computer or your desk? The easiest way to motivate yourself to make better use of your time is to calculate the cost of your time.

If you run your own business or if you are an executive or manager who controls the use of other people's time, calculate the cost of their time, too. Add up all the cost figures before you schedule that next meeting or ask someone to do a task that doesn't accomplish your department's goals.

Record your activities and interruptions
How is it that you can be busy all day without finishing any of the tasks you wanted to get done? The best way to find out just what is keeping you from accomplishing tasks is to keep a time log for a week. Make a notation each time you start and stop any task, even for what you think will be a brief moment.

Be sure you actually print out the time log and fill it in each time you start and stop any activity. If you wait until the end of the morning or end of the day to record the information on a computer, you won't remember everything and won't have an accurate record of how you use your time.

Analyze the time sheet
At the end of the week analyze your time sheet. Identify what actions and activities wasted time and interfered with accomplishing your goals during the week. What was the longest you spent working on any one task? What things interrupted you most often? What tasks did you spend the most time on? Are they the things that help accomplish your goals? Were they all necessary? Did you have to do all of those tasks yourself? Write down your answers. Then plan to eliminate time wasting activities one by one.

Create an action plan
You wouldn't leave on a vacation without knowing where you are going and what roads you'll take to get there. You need to create a similar road map to help you accomplish your business and personal goals. If you don't plan your days, you will spend your time putting out fires, wasting time on non-important tasks and meeting everyone's objectives except your own. To avoid that problem, take 15 minutes at the end of each day for planning. Plan your schedule so that you allow time to work on both the immediate tasks you need to accomplish and the long-range projects.

Before you add any task to your daily schedule, consider how it contributes to your short range and longer-range goals. Consider how time consuming the task will be, if it really needs to be done, and if it really needs to be done by you. Schedule the most important task for your most productive time of the day. Work at the task until you complete it, then move on to the next most important task. If you don't finish everything by the end of the day, move the task to the next day's schedule.

End procrastination
If you have a project you are putting off, break it down into small steps. Schedule a time to start the first small step and DO it. You'll be amazed how much easier it is to get the whole job done if you break it down into manageable pieces.

Don't sweat the small stuff
Don't spend an inordinate amount of time making decisions about minor issues. Balance how much time goes into the decision-making process against the potential cost or consequences involved.

Establish a quiet hour
That's a time of the day that no one is allowed to disturb you. Use your quiet hour to tackle the top priority items on your schedule. Don't answer phones, read E-mail, surf the Web or let coworkers interrupt you. If necessary arrive at work an hour early or leave an hour late or work through lunch. But don't pick up the phones during those hours. Salespeople know that's often the best time to catch a decision maker without getting stopped by their gatekeeper.

Screen incoming calls
Pick up only those calls from people you want to talk to. Let everyone else leave a message.

Tame the E-mail monster
Reading and answering electronic mail has become one of the leading time drains of the electronic age. It's not unusual -- especially for Internet workers -- to log on and find 10 or 20 or even 100 E-mail messages waiting. How can you cope?

Start by removing yourself from any E-mail lists that aren't essential. Then, set up an extra E-mail address or two. Give out one email address only to people who are important and whose mail you must read. Give out the other email address to everyone else. If you are fortunate enough to have an administrative assistant who serves as a gatekeeper, assign the assistant to answer all mail coming into the non-important E-mail box. Let them weed out the things you must see from the routine matters they or someone else can handle.

Reduce the number of times a day you check your E-mail. Although most people expect prompt replies to E-mail, prompt doesn't have to be immediate. If necessary, turn off the sounds or messages that alert you every time new E-mail arrives. Check the mail only at set times each day -- times you determine based on your schedule.

When you do answer or send E-mail, make your messages complete. E-mail that doesn't clearly communicate your message and/or what you need done will lead to misunderstandings or confusion and may generate a slew of additional E-mail.

Forward E-mail to your staff only if they have the full authority to handle it.
If they in turn will have to forward the mail to someone else, who will then forward it back to you, handle the issue yourself right from the start. You'll save multiple E-mails for yourself and for all the people on the food chain below you.

Be selective which mail you open. Use the "From" heading and the subject heading to decide whether or not to open email. Need still more ideas for curbing the E-mail monster? Click here.

About the author
Janet Attard is the owner of Attard Communications, Inc., which provides editorial content, online community and web development services. She is the founder of the award-winning  Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets.  She can be reached at (631) 467-6826 or by email at

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