Reclaim Your Schedule In 2015: 7 Tips - InformationWeek

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12/30/2014
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Reclaim Your Schedule In 2015: 7 Tips

Were you overworked, overtaxed, or simply "over busy" in 2014? Take control of your schedule and reduce stress in 2015.

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Ask 100 random professionals, "How's it going?" and you'll hear a common refrain: "Busy." Or, perhaps some variation of same: "So busy. Really busy. Very busy. Super busy. Insanely busy." Busy, busy, busy:

That's the norm for IT pros and just about every other line of business these days, in just about every industry. The problem with "busy" is that the word itself offers no qualitative value. Busy can be a great thing: plenty of customers, hard work, and high-quality results. But it can just as easily become synonymous with "inefficient," "ineffective," "unreliable," and plain-old "unhealthy" -- for individuals and organizations alike.

A tell-tale sign of the latter: Calendars that fill up like an advanced Tetris grid. With people increasingly asked to take on additional responsibilities and "wear multiple hats," in the parlance of corporate America, work schedules quickly resemble existential crises more than productive roadmaps. And IT pros, especially, know that modern devices and applications turn phrases such as "close of business," "end of day," and "work-life balance" into the deflating punch-lines of jokes you've heard way too many times. If this sounds like you and your job, it's time to do something about it. A new year is around the corner.

[Have your heart set on a 3D printer? Read 3D Printers: Why Nobody Needs One For Christmas.]

If you've been "bad busy" in 2014, now's as good a time as any make changes. InformationWeek asked a range of businesspeople -- IT professionals, career and organizational experts, and others -- for their advice on working smarter in 2015. Here's their advice on building better schedules for greater productivity, efficiency, and health.

1. Channel Sun Tzu.
Fred Kirwin, business intelligence analyst at Eliassen Group, oversees the tech recruitment firm's data warehouse and database development. As a result, he doesn't often get to turn off his various devices, so advice to that effect doesn't help him. Instead, Kirwin found a different approach to keeping a sane, productive schedule. "The best way to do so is to get your boss to allow you to focus on two or three specific tasks for a period of time," Kirwin said. "That way, you can work in a somewhat linear fashion, while also having the ability to put out the inevitable problems that can occur when you are working for a relatively large enterprise. Sun Tzu said it best in this regard: 'In trying to defend everything he defended nothing.'"

2. Run mini-sprints.
Developers and similar IT professionals who must work on new projects while simultaneously supporting existing systems know the tug-of-war that often occurs between the two -- a conflict that sometimes pushes people from busy to burn-out. "My developers and I are guilty [of] getting distracted by drive-bys and random user requests for assistance," says Kelly Bedrich, director of IT at American Quality & Productivity Center (AQPC). "When we need focused development time, we've been reserving a dedicated block of time on our calendars and finding a nice out-of-the-way conference room." The ground rules: No email, phones, or instant messaging. "Just work on one specific problem and accomplish a task you identified before you started." Bedrich says.

3. Make status indicators meaningful.
AQPC uses Skype for messaging. No matter what communication tools your organization or team uses, Bedrich offers this advice: "Make it a cultural norm to use the Away or Do Not Disturb settings." You can use status indicators

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Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/30/2014 | 3:22:27 PM
Take your time and use it

Very good advice though I know it's not possible all the time. In some corporate cultures it's hard to implement steps that allow more control over the day however I always use a specific technique to help myself manage the day. I block time on my calendar in the morning and afternoon every day that I do not take meetings. These blocks of time help to get focused work done and also help alleviate the overtime meeting issue that causes the entire day to back up. These windows of time help to accomplish project goals and avoid the avalanche of work that always follows hours of conference calls or meetings.

ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/31/2014 | 8:50:50 AM
Re: Take your time and use it
Mini sprints and single-tasking feel cut from the same cloth -- a recognition that we aren't very good multi-taskers. Single-tasking = Quality, Multi-tasking = Quantity.  
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 10:09:45 AM
Re: Take your time and use it
I think these are valuable tips that apply not to the work place environment but to our personal lives as well.  By organizating our tasks and what tasks we accomplish we can truly have more productive days.  If we get to the wrong pattern of lifestyle it damages our personal lives.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 12:09:59 PM
Re: Take your time and use it
Do any of you use pen and paper when planning your time or mapping out your schedule? I still tend to use my pen and trusty planner.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 1:55:00 PM
Re: Take your time and use it
@freespirit - I do.  I am partial to jotting things down - for some reason it helps me remember them better.  In fact, that is how I used to study in college - by rewritting partial segments of my notes from class.
KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
1/5/2015 | 4:43:14 PM
Re: Take your time and use it
I still use pen and paper regularly for organization/scheduling/to-do lists. I prefer it. (And I'm not that old.) While I'm not sure I can explain why, pen and paper keeps me focused and eliminates some of the inefficient stuff that would creeep (or surge) in if I went entirely digital. I do think one reason why speaks to the task (instead of time) management tip, in that it naturally points me more toward tasks (ie actually getting things done) versus time (which can be frittered away in all sorts of ways.) -Kevin
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/31/2014 | 10:25:12 AM
Lunch
Many of us are gulity of eating lunch "al desko" as a rule. The getting up to walk advice is sound.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 12:04:21 PM
Re: Lunch
Managing tasks, not time is a good tip. I like to do checklists I get satisfaction from completing tasks and checking them off of my list.
freespiritny25
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freespiritny25,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 12:08:29 PM
Re: Lunch
Laurianne, Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of eating lunch at our desk. It's unfortunate that unrealistic deadlines impede on us walking around or going out to eat for lunch, even when we do fairly well with managing our time. Sometimes, the deadlines we are given are not practical without working through lunch or working after hours.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 11:57:58 PM
Re: Lunch
I agree. I think walking to an outdoor spot to eat within reach of the sunlight would also be good.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 11:56:51 PM
Meaningful status messages
I have found status messages are helpful. People really do try to leave me alone when I mark my status as busy. Unified communication is only as good as its ability to help employees get stuff done.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2015 | 2:58:50 PM
Communication Management
As a programmer, I find the cost of changing gears to be massive. There are studies that say it takes about 15 minutes to get back to where you were after being interrupted nad having to change gears. When having those 'busy' days, at the end of the day, I feel like I have been busy busy busy, but maybe wrote 2 hours worth of code. And its kind of a trap too, because it feels like I took care of people, handled everything that came my way, and I feel like I was good little busy bee. But its an illusion, I really didn't get much done at all.

I worked at a place where the main DBA had people streaming in to his office all day, asking for this and that. He was very well liked, and a very sharp guy. He didn't get jack donem and had to work off hours a LOT just to get any work done at all.

For me, communication management is the key to being productive, and relatively sane. IM? I don't use it. Turned off ICQ in the late 90s and never went back. Another thing that helped a LOT was turning off the email notification sound. There is still a little mail icon of course, but it turns out that the sound stressed me out big time, and made me lose focus. I still get to most emails within a few minutes, but can do it at more strategically sound times.

Reducing communication overall has helped a lot too. Over the last couple years, I have placed a dramatically higher emphasis on low maintenance clients. The difference between low and high maintenance clients is massive. I find it highly preferable to have a low maintenance client that may pay a little less and not have as much work for me over a high maintenance client, regardless of how well they might pay.
KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
1/5/2015 | 4:55:00 PM
Re: Communication Management
Thanks for the input. Sounds like you've found an approach that works for you.

Curious if anyone out there who doesn't have the option to turn IM off entirely has any advice (in addition to the tip here on making status messages meaningful in your office) on keeping it from being a constant interruption.
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