Get a Life by Clearing the Clutter
by Dianna Booher

The way you approach your in-box, workspace, and workload has as much to do with how much you get done in a day as does the number and size of your projects. Follow these steps to define and then streamline work habits, patterns, and methods. You'll have more time and energy to complete what's most important. 

Build White Space into Your Calendar 
To schedule your work most effectively, do not schedule enough tasks to consume every working and waking moment. Plan to about 80 percent capacity when you're going to be in the office and about 50 percent capacity just after returning from a trip. That means for a 50-hour work week, schedule about 40 hours of work, knowing that another 10 hours of "stuff" will appear unexpectedly. 

Avoid Work-and-Wait Patterns 
Waiting for approvals, opinions, information, equipment, or resources is a major time waster. Here are some tactics than can minimize, if not prevent, slow-downs:

Get other people's "buy in" on the due dates before you schedule tasks.

Offer to help people do the work or collect the information you need.

Let people know they don't have to have the information "in formal/final form."

Escalate the problem to your supervisor to negotiate the information at a higher level.

Remind everyone involved that you need the information as soon as it's available.

Be Wary of High-Tech, Time-Saving Devices 
High-tech may mean high-time. Before buying any "time-saving" gadget, consider the hidden investment of time in its use: time to select and purchase the appropriate item, time to learn how to operate it, time to set it up and secure it, time to refurbish or repair it, time to insure it and replace it. It's important to recognize that low-tech items like the pencil, ruler, rubber band, stapler, and broom can be real time-savers themselves.

Clutter Your To-Do List, Not Your Mind 
Your mind can hold only aboutseven chunks of information at once. Why push your luck? Do you frequently have flashes of brilliance when you're in the shower, out for a walk, driving the freeway? Write them down immediately rather than juggle them in your mind. Those who make lists stay on target and save time between tasks and ideas without wondering what comes next. Those who don't make lists are at the mercy of events, memory, and mediocrity.

Equip Multiple Places of Existence 
Wherever you need to do work, have there what you need-paper, pen, stamps, phone, calculator, computer, food. With the routine tools at hand, you can FINISH all these petty little projects while you're waiting in the car, in the line, in the lobby. Get a transport system for what you have to carry back and forth. Sorting and packing and then resorting and repacking into your briefcase can be a time-consuming chore. If you have several continuing projects, then have a bag, case, or binder for each. 

Create Systems and Routines for the Daily Duties 
Systems and routines make things faster, cheaper, and better. If you collect the same information over and over, why not compile a form to hand to your customers or employees? If you give out the same answers to the same questions, prepare a flyer for visitors and callers. If you give the same instructions for operating the same equipment, post the procedure near the equipment. If you respond to customers about the same products, create boilerplate letters and proposals ready for customers.

Complete Things 
Bonuses come upon the completion of projects. Signed contracts come at the end of negotiations. Points go on the scoreboard only when the runner crosses the goal line. Incomplete tasks leave you feeling depressed and wasted. One thing completed is worth ten things on hold. And you'll feel energized by the accomplishment.

Work in Marathons 
Marathons serve two motivations: to catch up or to get ahead. When you feel as though you're slipping further and further behind, decide to do a work marathon to catch up. Arrive early. Work late. Send out for food. Don't allow interruptions. Don't rework anything. Work fast and don't look up between projects. Put in three or four days like that, and you'll feel caught up enough to face the world again. On other occasions, you may have monumental tasks before you and want to get a jump start on them. Schedule a marathon and make it a big deal. The exhilaration from what you accomplish will more than reduce the fatigue from the actual work. When you get things done quickly, efficiently, and on schedule, not only do you impress your boss and your co-workers, but you create a sense of accomplishment that satisfies yourself as well. The next time you feel like you just can't get organized, try implementing a few or all of these tips to build momentum.

Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications training firm which offers training in effective writing, oral presentations, interpersonal skills, and customer service communications. She is a keynote speaker and has written 37 books, including Get a Life Without Sacrificing Your Career [McGraw-Hill]. Call (800) 342-6621; Visit

Many more articles on Personal Development, Executive Performance and Communications in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 1999 - 2002 by Dianna Booher. All rights reserved.

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