From 9 to 5, it's easy to get caught up in mundane “busy” work which distracts you from more important projects. And there's nothing more frustrating than ending your day and realizing that you didn't accomplish what you intended to. The key to improving your efficiency and boosting your productivity is synchronizing your to-do list, paper management, and prioritization systems.
Let's start with where you put to-do's as they come into your life. Do you drop everything all mixed together in a stack on your desk? And then find later that the one item you really needed to take care of was buried under 20 other pieces of paper? Rather than simply piling everything into a single “in-box” tray, consider setting up a series of action files in a rack or box on your desk — one for each type of to-do.
You might have a folder for “to file,” one for “to read,” one for “to contact” — whatever makes sense for your job. When you receive a new stack of paper, take a second to sort it into the appropriate files, according to the next step you need to take with each item. At this point, getting things done is just a matter of emptying one folder after another. And when you need to hunt up a specific bill or memo or a letter that requires a response, you know exactly where to look for it.
Once you start to focus on a particular type of to-do, stick with it — hopping back and forth from one activity to another is a big time-waster. If you file a piece of paper then make a call then send an email then file another piece of paper — your brain has to switch gears at each step. Instead, try to complete all of one type of to-do before moving on to the next task — make all of your calls, then do all of your filing, then send all of your emails. You'll find that you move faster and get more done in a shorter amount of time when you're in a groove!
A lot of folks are great about creating to-do lists, but never seem to get around to marking any of the items off! If you face this sort of challenge, try actually scheduling each to-do on your calendar. Commit a chunk of time on a specific day to each item on your list and you will be amazed at how quickly you get it all done. And throughout your day, take a second every once in a while to ask, “Is this the best possible use of my time at this exact minute?” If not, stop what you're doing and direct your efforts toward another activity that is going to give you a bigger payoff.
Also remember that not all to-do's are created equal — nor do they all take the same amount of time. Some items can be completed very quickly (like bookmarking a website, filing a business card in your Rolodex, or entering an important number in your cell phone.) When a to-do crosses your desk, ask if it can be completed in 30 seconds or less. If so, just go ahead, do it, and get it over with — one less thing to have to worry about later! But there is one corollary to the previous rule. It's not always the best use of your time for you to tackle a to-do right when it comes in. Let routine items that have no set deadline and that take a bit longer pile up (in a folder, not in a stack) for a few days, then tackle the whole batch at once.
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
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