This article suggests some time-saving techniques and ways to use time wisely so that tasks can be accomplished more efficiently. Then there will be more time to recharge and enjoy life a little more.
Day planners are available in many price ranges and even in software form for computers. They can make a big difference in planning your schedule and keeping you on track. A day planner should be an appointment keeper and place for telephone numbers, addresses, directions and reminder notes. It can hold the daily list of things to do and even client information.
A day planner not only helps organize your professional life, it can be a great boon to getting you where you need to go and remembering important events and commitments in your personal life, as well.
A daily list of things to do is essential in meeting deadlines and accomplishing tasks. Begin by writing things to be accomplished each day, listing everything you can think of that needs to be done. Then begin the process of prioritizing: Write the letter "A" or the number "1" next to each task or item that must be done that day. These are the do-or-die items -- high priority. Write a "B" or the number "2" next to each task that does not have to be done that day but should be done very soon -- medium urgency. Write a "C" or the number "3" next to items that can be procrastinated without penalty -- least urgent. Write the list first thing in the morning, and move all the items left over from the day before to the new day, or Write the list at the end of the day for the next day, adding items that didn't get accomplished that day. Write down some obvious tasks so you can cross them off right away, such as "Make a list" or "Eat breakfast." This gives you an immediate sense of accomplishment and control to start the day. Be flexible. If you find something has to be done that isn't on your list, don't worry -- just do it. You could even write it on the list, then cross it out! That feels good! For items that have to be done every day, make a list, have it laminated and post it where you or your employees will see it. For items that should be done but do not necessarily have a deadline, such as "Clean off my desk" or "Clean the supply room," here is a great idea. Write down each task on a separate slip of paper. Add some pleasant surprises, like "Go home early," "Go bike riding," "Take a long bath" or "Go out to dinner." Put all the slips in a cup or basket in a three-to-one ratio (three unpleasant tasks for each pleasant task) and set it aside for off days or hours. If you draw a grim job, gambler's honor will get you started on it, and as you accomplish the unpleasant tasks your odds will improve for drawing a pleasant one the next time! As you make your list, note which items can be delegated to others: family, colleagues or hired help, so your time can be most profitable. If, for example, doing the accounting takes you a terribly long time, then hiring a part-time bookkeeper can be a good solution -- you can better use that time making sales or marketing plans. Mark items that require special times of the day for best efficiency. For example, e-mail is easiest to send early or late in the day when more telephone lines are available. First thing in the morning may be the best time for faxing or phoning in orders or reaching a supplier's service department. Reaching the installer for scheduling may be done best early or late. Time on the computer or for filling out order forms should be uninterrupted time -- a time before everyone gets to work or when you can have voice messaging or a secretary take your calls and you know you have one to three hours without being interrupted.
The Biological Factor
Another way to use your time most efficiently is to ask, "Am I a morning person or a night person?" Everyone has a regular cycle of energy and acuity. Make notes as to when you are most accurate and effective during the day, then plan your most important tasks for those times. Next, chart the pattern, as in Figure 1.
Time Log Instructions: For one day keep a log of how you use your time so you can evaluate the way you use it. In one half hour increments, list what you do during this day. Be honest and be as detailed as possible.
Day and Date:
6 a.m. _______________________________ 6:30 a.m. _______________________________ 7 a.m. _______________________________ 7:30 a.m. _______________________________ 8 a.m. _______________________________ 8:30 a.m. _______________________________ 9 a.m. _______________________________ 9:30 a.m. _______________________________ 10 a.m. _______________________________ 10:30 a.m. _______________________________ 11 a.m. _______________________________ 11:30 a.m. _______________________________ 12 p.m. _______________________________ 12:30 p.m. _______________________________ 1 p.m. _______________________________ 1:30 p.m. _______________________________ 2 p.m. _______________________________ 2:30 p.m. _______________________________ 3 p.m. _______________________________ 3:30 p.m. _______________________________ 4 p.m. _______________________________ 4:30 p.m. _______________________________ 5 p.m. _______________________________ 5:30 p.m. _______________________________ 6 p.m. _______________________________ 6:30 p.m. _______________________________ 7 p.m. _______________________________ 7:30 p.m. _______________________________ 8 p.m. _______________________________ 8:30 p.m. _______________________________ 9 p.m. _______________________________ 9:30 p.m. _______________________________ 10 p.m. _______________________________ 10:30 p.m. _______________________________ 11 p.m. _______________________________ 11:30 p.m. _______________________________
Good nutrition also can be a factor for how you feel and how efficiently you use your time.
Exercise is important to schedule as well -- even though it does take time. You'll have more energy to work more efficiently if you feel good. Remember, it takes time to feel great. Start slowly, work into a routine of at least 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a week.
Figure 1 9 a.m. to noon High gear noon to 4 p.m. Fairly alert 4 to 6 p.m. Low gear 6 to 10 p.m. Fairly alert after 10 p.m. Resting
Exercise time can be used productively, too. Clearing the mind can allow for problem solving. When you're "not thinking" it is amazing what great thoughts can come into your mind that can answer design dilemmas, relationship problems or be a better way to do something.
A cellular or portable telephone can be a big advantage in helping to use time more efficiently by scheduling appointments or installations, retrieving and responding to messages, and keeping in touch with customers, co-workers and family members. Because they cost more to use than the office or home telephone, use cell or portable phones wisely. Remember, each dollar spent on expensive phone calls has to be earned back. Also, shop around for the best service at the best price, and don't forget to read the fine print.
A hands-free telephone is one with a headpiece and separate phone unit that attaches to, say, a belt. If your work is not on the go but in a workroom or office, a hands-free phone can become indispensable -- allowing you to work at anything you need to with your hands while carrying on the conversation. This example of managing two tasks at once is a skill many efficient people have mastered.
A pager is an inexpensive way for people to send messages and request return calls, although it is less convenient than a cellular or portable telephone. Voice messaging or an answering machine is indispensable, particularly if messages can be retrieved from a cell phone or remote telephone.
Facsimiles, or simply faxes, have become a preferred way to communicate orders or important information almost instantly, anywhere. It is much faster than stamping and addressing envelopes, waiting for the mail and hoping the item reaches its destination and the person opens the mail! However, it is a good idea to telephone the person who was to receive a fax transmission to ascertain whether the fax reached his or her hands and attention. Faxing orders can save processing time.
E-mail is fast becoming a prime communications device -- it's the ability to send letters through the telephone line using your computer and a modem. The software to handle e-mail and the computer address or mailbox to receive it typically are part of an Internet service package so a fee is attached. E-mail sent to you can be down-loaded or printed out. It is very likely that many companies and suppliers soon will accept orders via e-mail.
A notebook or lap-top computer are becoming more commonplace. Imagine a time when all your notes will be entered into a portable computer and translated into orders, and all the calculations will be accomplished with keystrokes! Accuracy will increase and duplicate efforts can be eliminated. The orders can then be e-mailed or faxed directly.
Using Limited Time Efficiently
Limit the visit time in the customer's home. Avoid the urge to criticize, condemn or complain with fellow employees. Control the unproductive chit-chat. Keep the office and supplies organized to minimize time needed to look for things. Streamline personal duties and obligations; organize and group errands, plan meals a week at a time.
Rewards are the reason for hard work. Although the work can be a reward or an end unto itself, often a personal reward is necessary for balance and to feel that one's personal life is worthwhile. Down time can and should be as important as productive time because it is time to do what you love to do. Here are some ideas:
Cultivate a hobby, a sport or a fun exercise; schedule a getaway; or take a real vacation (one that does not include work). Small indulgences are things that make life a little sweeter and more enjoyable. They can be as simple as a leisurely bubble bath or an evening at a good restaurant and the movies, a massage or taking time to read a good book. Even listening to self-help or motivational tapes in the car can be a great small indulgence.
Evaluating Your Time
One way to get started with better time organization is to evaluate how you are typically using time now. The Time Log that accompanies this article is one way to evaluate your time. After you have completed it, ask yourself: What things did I do today that were a good use of my time? Was there anything I did that was a complete waste of time? What? What things did I do that could have been done more efficiently?
Editor's Note: The next step in taking control of your business is to organize your workspace, which Nielson will cover in the September issue of Draperies & Window Coverings.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.