10 Tips and tools for harnessing fleeting time

Fleeting timeYesterday, a department head stopped in looking for some recommendations to better manage his email, projects, and calendar. Here are some of the things that I suggested to help manage a fleeting commodity — time.

1. Block off calendar – The idea about blocking off your calendar is to focus your attention on a single task such as answering email, project management, relationship management, or article writing. It typically takes 15 minutes of uninterrupted work to get into the “flow” and a single distraction to get out of it. Blocking off your calendar to focus on tasks such as reviewing email will increase your chance of task completion. If you have the luxury to block off your calendar for meetings and other personnel appointments, you should try to do it. You should also block your calendar to work on projects.

2. Pomodoro Technique – This is a technique that I recently adopted. I have discussed in a previous post. In essence, it is using a countdown timer to measure 25-minute work periods with a 5-minute break in between periods. I have found my productivity increased since starting to use this technique.

3. Don’t file email – I read an interesting post that recommended don’t file your email into folders. According to an IBM Research study, people are able to locate email messages quicker when the message is not placed in a subfolder. Instead, learn to become more efficient at searching. Tagging and categories can also aid in locating messages. Also, off load email messages that you need to retain into a program like Evernote so you can find them easier and weave them into your project or relationship management system.

4. Close your email during the day – Rather than keep your email running all day, open it for processing only two to three times per day. Block off time to focus solely on this task. By having email running in the background, you are constantly distracted. You can better spend your time by focusing on reducing your to-do list.

5. Strive for a zero inbox – Many people advocate for a zero inbox, or an email inbox with no messages. Daniel Gold provides good advice in his article “Five Ways to Control Your Inbox;” he advocates to make one of five decisions on an email message and move on. These decisions are: do it, defer it, delegate it, delete it, or incubate it. While I essentially do this in theory, my inbox is never empty. This is something I personally need to work on.

6. Schedule meetings early in the day – According to time management gurus, scheduling meetings early in the day will result in saving hours of otherwise wasted time. If you have a meeting looming in the afternoon, you will avoid scheduling a block of time to work on a project because you will prepare physically and mentally for the meeting. An early morning meeting frees up your day for productive work.

7. Find a great note taking system – Almost everything we do requires a written record from staff meetings to project management to relationship management. I used to have notes everywhere and in countless formats until I started using Evernote. If I need to keep an email because of the valuable content, I send it to Evernote. I keep all meeting notes in Evernote. I have also begun to tracking relationships with clients and vendors in Evernote. The nice thing about Evernote is its ability to create a master note and subsequently, link other notes to the master note. You can link to notes, images, documents, etc. If you write your notes in a notebook, you can scan them in as a PDF or take a picture and send them to Evernote; the notes are then searchable… depending on your handwriting. Finally, Evernote can be used on computers, the Web, smartphones, and tablets. The flexibility of platforms and what it can capture is fantastic. You can even capture audio notes and webcasts.

8. Tools to automate – If possible, try to automate processes. For example, there are tools like IFTTT that will automate tasks such as when you “Star” an email in Gmail, it will automatically go to Evernote. Here is a list of IFTTT recipes that use Evernote. I recently got a ScanSnap scanner that will scan documents directly to Evernote. I can then incorporate those documents into project or relationship management notes. Set up folders in Dropbox to automatically upload documents to Evernote or print to your remote printer.

9. Find a calendar to share – While typical calendars like Google calendar and Outlook calendar are not project management tools, they can help keep you on task. You can keep an eye on deadlines as well as share calendars with project teams. When possible, I use color to identify my tasks and appointments at a glance.

There is a new program available called Zendone that seems to be a marriage between Evernote, GTD, and Google calendars. I will be exploring it in the near future.

Here are good instructions for using calendars for managing your projects:

10. Learn to say no – Sometimes you simply have to say no. If you do not, you can spread yourself too thin, and simply not deliver your best work.

Well, that is my list for the day. I am now going to set my Pomodairo timer and explore Zendone. If you have some suggestions for better managing your time and tasks, please leave a comment.

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