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.

offline, too: AQPC's IT team follows "the headphone rule," for instance: "We try not to interrupt each other if we're using our headphones and are working on something that needs our focused attention."

4. Turn your to-do list into a competition.
Angelo Kinicki, a professor at W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, says that professionals drowning in their to-do lists must get rid of unimportant, unnecessary tasks in order to regain control of their daily schedules. How to cull the herd? Simple: Create competition. "You can do this by making a list of all your work projects or key milestones, and then rank them from most to least important," Kinicki says, adding that overworked professionals must also prioritize personal time with the important people in their lives. "Try to eliminate some of the lower-ranked items."

5. Manage tasks, not time.
If you've ever been frustrated by an organization where people seem only to measure their work by the number of hours they spent in the office -- rather than what they actually accomplished during those hours -- take note. According to career coach and leadership consultant Melanie Klinghoffer, too many people try to conform to the theory of "time management" when it doesn't suit their personality and working style, leading to disappointment and burnout. She recommends managing tasks instead of time: "The sense of completion after completing tasks motivates [people] and increases energy levels, which in effect allows them to reclaim their schedules," Klinghoffer says. She also recommends taking brief breaks when working on specific tasks or projects, even if the "break" involves knocking out a smaller, non-digital task like dropping something in the mail simply by taking a brief walk. "Short breaks are especially helpful to IT professionals who need to break away from electronic devices and other machines," Klinghoffer says.

6. Try single-tasking.
Count Mazin Abou-Seido, director of IT at Halogen Software, among the believers of a task-focused approach to work. Just don't fall into the multi-tasking sinkhole. "Don't be fooled into thinking multitasking is a valuable skill," Abou-Seido says. "Try single-tasking. It's a great skill to have and can actually help increase your productivity. Focus on doing one task at a time. Once you've completed it, move on to the next."

7. Leave for lunch.
The fictional corporate raider Gordon Gekko once said: "Lunch is for wimps." But Gekko went to prison for insider trading, so perhaps he's not the best source of career advice. Want to stake out some space in your schedule while avoiding the afternoon doldrums that plague offices everywhere? Make a point of going to lunch. "One of the most important things I've done for myself as of late is take a true lunch each day," says Michael Fienman, an attorney who runs his own firm, Fienman Defense. "I leave my desk, walk around for a bit, and stretch my legs. I come back feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and focused. The afternoon lull is a very, very real thing."

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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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