It's 8 p.m., and Mary is still at the office. Sighing as she answers her final email for the night, she thinks back over the day.
"This isn't the job I was hired to do," she grumbles. "Instead of the project and people management I love, all I'm doing is babysitting and dealing with one crisis after another."
If you're a manager, you may have been in this situation. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be enough time to get things done. But other people do it, and so can you.
"Have you ever wondered how some extremely successful people not only get it all done, but also have time for vacations, trips and golf?" says Kathy Gillen, president of executive coaching company The Gillen Group in Elk River, Minnesota. "It's because they have managed a way to figure out how to manage their time."
Let's face it: There isn't a day that goes as planned for most busy managers. That's what management is -- juggling tasks to achieve a common goal and ultimately better the whole organization.
"When's the last day you didn't have a high-priority phone call, an urgent email or a stressed-out colleague begging for attention?" says Tom Gegax, founder of Gegax Management Systems in Minneapolis and author of By the Seat of Your Pants: The No-Nonsense Business Management Guide. "Getting pulled off-course is in every leader's job description. That's why enlightened managers must have a strategy for dealing with daily interruptions."
The Six D's
Gegax bases his time-management principles on the "six D's": don't do it, delay it, deflect it, delegate it, do it imperfectly and do it.
"When something pops ups, rather than robotically just doing it, I start with the first option," Gegax says. "If that doesn't apply, I move on to the second. I keep cruising down the list until I reach the appropriate action."
For instance, many seemingly urgent tasks disappear if you don't do them or delay them, he says, leaving you more time and energy to focus on the tasks that matter.
And while some flare-ups need immediate attention, your involvement isn't always required. Carefully consider whether to deflect the situation to another department or delegate it to a subordinate, Gegax advises.
If you do opt to tackle the problem yourself, Gegax cautions against automatically shifting into "perfectionist mode."
"A large number of my projects could hardly be described as perfect, yet were successful nevertheless," he says.
Of course, reserve the final D -- do it -- for the tasks you've determined will keep you moving toward your goals.
The Multitasking Trap
Multitasking may seem like a way to productively "juggle" numerous tasks, but it actually prevents you from getting things accomplished, says Laura Stack, president of Denver-based consultancy The Productivity Pro and author of Leave the Office Earlier. She offers these tips on how to better manage your time and stay focused:
- Batch: Email kills your concentration. Turn off the notification function on your email program. Set aside a specific number of times per day to check and deal with your email.
- Prioritize: Don't get sidelined by interruptions. If you're working on the last-minute details of a report for a meeting that starts in 30 minutes, don't accept a drop-in visitor's request to "ask you something really quick."
- Control Self-Interruption: Many times, you interrupt yourself. You're sitting at your desk when all of a sudden, your brain starts talking to you. "Oh, I need to tell Chris this," it says, and you pick up the phone or dash off an email to "blurt" out whatever you were thinking about before you forget. Instead, get yourself a three-ring binder, some loose-leaf paper and A-Z tabs. Create a sheet of paper for each person with whom you communicate frequently. When your brain reminds you of something, simply turn to that person's communication log. Jot down the thought or idea, and then go back to what you were doing. When that person's log has several thoughts saved up, call the person and set up a meeting or phone conference.
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