Manage time with tips that some swear by

(Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on time management for risk managers. Last month's Healthcare Risk Management looked at the need for good time management strategies. This month, we provide more tips on time management for risk managers.)

The first key to better time management is to realize that the term actually is misleading, says Barry Izsak, a productivity expert in Austin, TX. You can't manage time, but you can manage yourself.

"We all have time to accomplish our priorities if we identify them and then manage ourselves," he says.

Planning can be a bugaboo for managers, Izsak says. Planning is good, of course, but he says risk managers can not do it enough, or they can overdo it. Planning helps you become proactive with your time if it is done correctly, rather than simply being reactive — running around putting out fires.

"At the end of the day, people should write down, while the day is fresh in their mind, the three big things you want to get done the next day," he says. "There still will be interruptions tomorrow and maybe you'll only accomplish one or two of those things on your list, but even then you're far ahead of the game, better off than if you just came to work the next morning and started reacting to each new event."

Remember that working longer rarely is the solution when you feel overburdened or behind in your work, Izsak says. Better organization and planning can help you accomplish more than simply staying late at the office, he says. Having specific goals for the day, the week, and the month can help you stay on track and get the important work done even if you are periodically interrupted and thrown off track.

"When people work 10, 12, and 14 hours a day, they are just spreading their inefficiency over a long time period," he says. "Focusing on those top things you want to do in the day are really key. Schedule them in your planner just like a doctor's appointment or a meeting with your colleagues. You make those things happen because you schedule them, and so you need to schedule your main goals, too, or they're not going to get done."

Sometimes you must "defend your calendar," says Pamela Dodd, PhD, productivity expert, Orlando, FL. That means sticking with your scheduled activities unless absolutely necessary to deviate, she says. That includes your personal and family time, which can be the most difficult to defend.

Dodd also recommends determining your own "peak time," the time of day when you are most efficient — early morning, for instance. If that is your best time, when you can really churn out great work in high volume, schedule your day accordingly so that interruptions are minimized. Block out that time for your most important or most challenging tasks and really dig in.

Find a way to focus

Drew Stevens, PhD, a productivity expert in St. Louis, also emphasizes that a clear focus on the most important goals is key to making progress.

"If you're just staring at this huge pile of work that needs to be done and the phone's ringing and three people want your attention, nothing will ever be accomplished. You'll be overwhelmed and just respond to whoever's yelling the loudest at that moment," he says. "It is crucial that you seize control of your time and protect it. Don't make it available to just anyone. Keep your eye on the big picture and apportion your most precious resource, time, wisely."

Stevens says there are four key steps to managing your time more effectively:

1. Do not procrastinate. It wastes time when you already have too little. Sometimes it helps to do the things you hate to do first and get them off of the plate.

2. Do little things first so that you can get to the large items and focus on them. It is easy to waste time thinking about the little items that are distracting you from the bigger tasks, when you could just do them and get them out of the way.

3. Prioritize your tasks. Do the things that are most important that day, and do not try to do more than you know is possible. It is better to accomplish your most important tasks than to have done a little bit of work on everything.

4. Make a "don't-do" list. These are the things that interrupt or waste your time. The list will vary for each person, but they may include web surfing or listening to the radio, or letting a co-worker sit down in your office to chat.

Organization can help you feel more in control and minimize the time spent tracking down information or trying to remember what you're supposed to be doing. Tickler files can be especially helpful for an overburdened manager, Dodd says. There are tons of things that you have to remember to do at a certain time or projects that you should check on periodically, so a tickler file can be a great way to make sure those things don't fall through the cracks, she says. Any calendar or electronic organizer will provide a way to plug in reminders, so be sure to fully utilize this option, she says.

Dodd also cautions about an overdependence on "organized piles." Sometimes even organized, neat people can become dependent on placing items in a pile here and another pile there, knowing all the time what the pile contains. But that just invites disaster, she says.

"Sooner or later, you're going to need something important, and you'll have to go tearing through those piles to find it. And you're probably the only one who has any idea what the piles are, so your assistant can't really help," she says. "Take the time to really organize and file things, even if it seems like another burden at the moment. You'll thank yourself later when you have to find that file in a hurry."


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