- Limit the time you spend online. The Web is most people’s #1 time waster. Yes, it is a wonderful tool for research, blah, blah, blah. But how often do you catch yourself mindlessly surfing from one page to another with no clear objective in mind. Before you know it, you can eat up several hours a day. The key is to put a fence around this activity and limit your time online. Set a timer for yourself if you have to.This is true for Web surfing and it is also true for email. Unless you are in a customer service position where you have to be “always-on,” you should check email no more than two or three times a day.
- Touch email messages once and only once. Okay, let’s be honest. How many times do you read the same email message over and over again? Guess what? The information hasn’t changed. That’s right. You are procrastinating.I Consider making a personal rule: read each message once then take the appropriate action: do, delegate, defer, file or delete it.
- Follow the two-minute rule. Make your to-do list very short – never longer than about thirty items. Do everything immediately. If you need to make a phone call, rather than entering it on your to-do list, just make the call. If you can complete the action in less than two minutes, just go ahead and do it. Why wait? You will be amazed at how much this “bias toward action” will reduce your workload.Conversely, when you don’t do it promptly, you end up generating even more work for yourself and others. The longer a project sits, the longer it takes to overcome inertia and get it moving again. The key is to define the very next action and do it. You don’t have to complete the whole project, just the next action.
- Stop attending low-impact meetings. If there’s one thing we can probably all agree on, it’s that we go to too many meetings. Either the meeting organizer isn’t prepared, the meeting objective isn’t defined, or you can’t really affect the outcome one way or the other. Every meeting should have a written objective and a written agenda. If you don’t have these two minimal items, how do you know when the meeting is over? Could this also explain why meetings seem to drag on and on until everyone is worn out? If the content of the meeting is irrelevant to you and your job or if you don’t feel that you really add that much to the discussion, ask to be excused.
- Schedule time to get your work done. This is crucial. As the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” If you don’t take control of your calendar, someone else will. You can’t spend all your time in meetings and still get your work done. Instead, you need to make appointments with yourself. Yes, go ahead and actually put them on your calendar. Then, when someone asks for a meeting, you can legitimately say, “No, I’m sorry, that won’t work. I already have a commitment.” And you do—to yourself!
- Cultivate the habit of non-finishing. Not every project you start is worth finishing. Sometimes we get into it and realize, “This is a waste of time.” Fine, then give yourself permission to quit.
- Engage in a weekly review and preview. Part of the reason our lives get out of control is because we don’t plan. Once a week, you have to come up for air. Or—to change the metaphor—you have to take the plane up to 30,000 feet, so you can see the big picture.I generally do this on Sunday evening. I review my notes from the previous week and look ahead to my calendar.