Far too many professionals show up at their offices each morning, bright-eyed and ready to work, with no real plan or agenda for what they’re trying to accomplish. Or, they come in with a plan or to-do list, but without the tools they need ready at hand. The result is that they spend their first hour or two of the day — the time that most of us are more energetic and productive — figuring out what should be on the schedule — or worse, looking for files, office supplies, and whatever else they need to actually get moving.
In this way, lots of professionals lose what could have been their most productive time, simply because they weren’t ready to use it productively. And they may never get any of it back; often, by the time they are clear and focused on what they would like to accomplish for the day, other distractions have given them new priorities, or frustrated them to the point that it is hard to remember what the critical action items were.
Having this sort of thing happening occasionally is just part of modern working life. Go through it too often, however, and you will quickly find that you are not accomplishing what you need to do in order to get ahead in your job and career. With that in mind, here are a few tips to regaining control over your schedule and giving yourself a few more extra hours every week:
1. Make tomorrow’s plans today. If you can get into the habit of writing out a schedule, or at least prioritizing your projects and tasks for the next day before you leave the office, you will have everything you need to hit the ground running in the morning. This does not have to be a long and agonizing process; simply figure out what you most need to finish for the next working day and place that first in your “Daily Action” folders, along with a schedule of when you will do grouped activities. Be sure you have any materials or information on hand that you would need to get started.
While planning for the next day might sound like one more chore to do before you finish work, and something that you don’t have time for, it can actually be a relaxing exercise. That’s because, by knowing where you are headed the next working day before you leave the office, you can take a lot of worries off your mind. There’s a lot to be said for “leaving work at work,” and making a plan you can pick up on in the morning is a great first step.
2. Don’t over-schedule. Try this with both the number of items on your list and the time increments you set. If there are too many things on your list, then you won’t have a good chance of getting them done, and your plans will become less and less meaningful. In the same way, you are virtually guaranteed to run into distractions, so build time in your calendar to deal with them.
3. Put the important items first. This is a frequent topic for me, as well as other time management experts, but that’s only because it’s so important. If you can begin your day by doing the most important things first, then the rest of the items in your “Daily Action” file will take care of themselves. A lot of your success in business will depend on your ability to start and finish large, important projects, even when there are more “urgent” tasks constantly pulling your attention away. Setting aside time to finish what you most need to will instantly make you more productive than most of your peers.
Losing a few minutes here and there by failing to plan out your day and get ready to tackle your most important work might seem like a normal, harmless part of a professional’s routine. Break that habit for even a few weeks, however, and you’ll quickly see what could be possible when you start the day off focused and ready to work.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Denise Landers is the author of “Destination: Organization, A Week by Week Journey.” She helps businesses and individuals accomplish more with productive office systems. Reach her at (602) 412-3876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.