For five years (2003-2008) Jill McGillen wrote a weekly work advice column for several Northern California newspapers. Many of those questions and answers on communication are included below. Feel free to browse the Q&A archives below.
If you want to read more of Jill’s work advice, she is now writing columns for Examiner.com.
I have trouble setting priorities at work. I always seem to get distracted and do not accomplish my work on time. One of my 2004 resolutions is to become better at prioritizing. Do you have any suggestions? – F
Some suggestions to help you prioritize to reach 2004 goals:
- Start your day with the important tasks.
- Learn the difference between urgent and important.
- Important tasks are linked to achieving your goals.
- Urgent tasks often result from procrastination.
- Don’t switch priorities – it is harder to get back on track then to stay on track.
- Learn to say no.
- At the end of each day, make a list of the important tasks that must get done the following day. Allocate the time to complete the tasks and stick to your schedule.
The biggest challenge is to figure out what is important. After you have done that, make sure you promptly finish the important tasks. Once they are done, you will be energized to stay on course. Success spawns success.
I am extremely busy every day but I never get enough done. I am terrible at prioritizing. My main problem is all the interruptions throughout the day. I could probably become better at controlling my schedule. However many of my interruptions are not in my control. Between meetings, conference calls, faxes, e-mails, voice mail, cell phone I feel like I am caught in the torrent of technology sometimes. Do you have any quick tips for ensuring a productive workday? – R
Technology has both helped and hindered the workday. All of the time saving devices you mention: faxes, e-mail, voice mail cell-phones, etc. can be distractions that keep us from the real work that must be done. And multi-tasking has become a requirement for most jobs. There is a belief that we are more productive if we are working on many tasks at one time. In fact when the mind is overtaxed, errors occur and tasks can take longer. In other words multi-tasking may be over-rated. And we sometimes fool ourselves into believing we are getting many things done. In fact, we may not be meeting deadlines due to all the distractions. Whether you are in the midst of multi-tasking or in a meeting, always ask yourself this important question: “Is this what I should be doing at this time?” If not switch to what you need to do.
Start your day identifying the things that absolutely must get done that day. Work on these projects in the morning. Do not stop until they are done. Schedule meetings, phone calls, checking voice-mail, faxes etc. for the afternoon. Discuss your strategy with others in your office. My guess is that you are not alone in your frustrations.
Ask everyone in your office if they would be willing to try “un-interrupted work in the mornings” for one week. And monitor the results. I bet the outcome will be an eye-opener. Remember, technology is supposed to support you, not the other way around.
New Year Tips for Efficiency
Here are “time-less” tips to begin an efficient new year:
- Make an agenda and stick to it.
- Consider alternatives such as e-mails or conference calls.
- Do it, Delegate it, Delay it or Dump it.
- Schedule regular work sessions for paperwork and correspondence.
- Learn to say “no.” Do it firmly, logically and tactfully.
- Understand the 80-20 Pareto Principle: 80% of the value comes from 20% of the work. Concentrate on the high value 20%.
- If you can’t oversee the delegation, don’t delegate.
- Ask for solutions when presented with problems.
- Allow enough time for interruptions in your daily schedule.
- Socializing is like aspirin. A little helps a lot, but too much can be harmful.
- Do the toughest job first.
- Break complex tasks down into smaller steps
- Focus on one step at a time.
- PLANNING & SCHEDULING
- Prepare for a productive start tomorrow. Leave in the evening by setting up for the next day (agenda and materials needed).
- Don’t let others’ last minute emergencies become your own.
- Write down your goals.
- Identify the small steps needed to complete the goal.
- Begin immediately and reward yourself along the way.
- Use the SMART goals method. Make your goals be S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, R ealistic and T ime bound.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Above information is from the Time Mastery Profile, Wiley Publishing.