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Time Efficiency


July 1, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Although our new technologies offer wonderful opportunities to improve our efficiency, equally, they offer chances to fritter away time in ways never before seen. Checking on sports scores, reading ne…

Although our new technologies offer wonderful opportunities to improve our efficiency, equally, they offer chances to fritter away time in ways never before seen. Checking on sports scores, reading newspapers online, chatting with friends and coworkers — these are known time-wasters. But what about legitimate duties that waste our time? There are so many tasks that we perform during our workday that cost us valuable time for little return. They may be required, but they act as a drain on our time regardless. It behoves us to perform them in the most efficient manner possible, so that we may get on to our more productive tasks.

The electronic age has ushered in whole new categories of time wasting duties. Now that we have computers that can automatically fill in forms at the click of a button, we do not spend less time on them — we just have more forms! Paperwork is still one of efficiencies greatest enemies. It is a necessity in any company, from smallest to largest, as it permits tracking of customers and work. It is possible to improve your handling of this task with a few simple measures:

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* Set aside a block of time to do paperwork. Much of it is essential, but not time sensitive, so doing it at a set time once per day or every second day is an efficient way of handling this task.

* One guideline is that you should only handle a piece of paper once — I do not follow that because some paper can be put off. I take it once to prioritize (do immediately or do when convenient), then again at the appropriate time to perform the task.

There are numerous guidelines on handling email regarding courtesy and etiquette, but what we need is more efficiency.

* Delete, delete, delete! Many of the emails you receive are from having filled out a form on the internet. Be ruthless — you do not need to open the email about the conference in Zimbabwe to know you will not be going.

* If you do need to read it, do you need to save it? If so, file it immediately; if not, delete it. A crowded inbox is our enemy.

Meetings! Ask anyone in any company and they will tell you that meetings are their biggest time waster. There are several keys to making meetings productive for all:

* Have an agenda and stick to it. If it is not your meeting, encourage the organizer to make one.

* Avoid sidetracking, by either yourself or others — make an effort to stick to the topic.

* Ensure attendance by the key people. There is no point to a meeting which the key decision makers do not attend. Invite key people several times, if necessary, to ensure their attendance.

* Start meetings on time. It is a disservice to those who arrive on time to wait overlong for the stragglers.

* One manager I know holds his morning meeting standing up — everyone stands. A secretary takes notes and distributes minutes as people leave the room. They are short and effective meetings.

I work in a home office, which allows me to sit at my desk and get my work done quickly and efficiently, without interruptions. When I meet with customers and colleagues at their offices, our meetings are often interrupted by people who have wandered in. Most of these are legitimate visits by people that may need my host’s advice/assistance/input and these interruptions are often short and to-the-point. However, it is the other type that takes up the time — the co-worker who wants to tell you about his weekend or his new car. Whether legitimate or idle, visitors prevent you from doing your tasks.

* There is nothing wrong with closing your door when you are particularly busy — having an open door policy does not mean that people can interrupt whenever they feel like it.

* Some sources recommend making up stories to tell untimely visitors — I prefer honesty, so just politely tell them you are busy and schedule a time to meet them at your convenience.

* Remember that you are a member of a team, so some interruptions must be tolerated to ensure a smooth running operation.

Overall, the key to controlling time wasters is good planning. Start each day with a review of the tasks you expect to accomplish and use this time to make a ‘to do’ list. Leave time for unforeseen duties, as there are always such! If any task on your list is not achievable in one day, try to break them into smaller sub-tasks that are. If possible, group them according to priority. I use ‘to do’ lists for common tasks, such as packing for a trip to a mill or getting ready for a conference. This ensures that my preparations are complete and I only have to think about such minor tasks once — if I forget anything, I add it to the appropriate list for next time.

* I use a small Palm program (ShadowPlan) to keep track of my ‘to do’ lists. It is hierarchal and also works on my desktop computer. It is small, efficient and easy to use, and it allows me to check off items as I get them done.

* Work on the high priority items first, but do some easy low priority items as well — it gives you a sense of satisfaction to get a few extra tasks done.

Despite feeling overworked, most of us do have the time to get our work done. The keys are to work efficiently and prioritize — it may all have to get done, but it does not all need to be done today.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is a freelance writer. He can be reached at dan.davies@shaw.ca


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