Systematize and Simplify
by Dr. Donald E. Wetmore
During thirty years as a Time Management speaker and consultant, I have learned and shared a lot of simple practices that help my audiences to increase their daily results. A lot of time is wasted because we don't have a system in place for many of the repetitive tasks we do so that we have to pay over and over again, with our time, for the same results.
So here's one neat tip: systematize. (I don't think this is really a word, but hey, if no one invents new words, how will our language grow?) Systematize is the simple procedure of creating a routine way of responding to a myriad of tasks that will free our time for more important things. We can systematize in all areas of our life. Here are a few places you may wish to begin.
- Standard text documents. I have dozens of documents in "My Documents" section of my computer. These include a lot of the articles that people request through our website and standard letters I send out for business and personal contacts, standard information documents (like directions to our office). Most of the information I need to send to respond to my emails is there or easily modified and tailored so that I don't have to type out a lot of repetitive information.
- A single calendaring system. Some people use as many as a dozen ways of tracking their appointments and scheduled events and their "To Do" list items. There's a calendar for work and one for personal things. There's stuff lying out on the desk reminding us what needs to be done. The dentist appointment card is on the bathroom mirror and the dry cleaner claim slip is hanging from the visor in the car. The softball schedule is on the refrigerator and we have several other commitments in our heads. Boil this all down to a single system. I use Daytimer products, but whatever product you feel comfortable with is fine. Just make it a simple, singular, master system from which you take control of appointments and scheduled events and your "To Do" list items.
- Clean up the messy desk or work area. Studies have shown that the person who works with a messy desk spends, on average, one and a half hours per day looking for things or being distracted by things. That's seven and a half hours per week! ("Out of sight, out of mind." And the reverse of that is true too, "In sight, in mind".) And, it's not a solid block of an hour and a half, but a minute here and a minute there, and like a leaky hot water faucet, drip, drip, drip, it doesn't seem like a major loss, but at the end the day, we're dumping gallons of hot water down the drain that we are paying to heat. If you have ever visited the office of a top manager, typically, that person is working with a clean desk environment. Many would attribute this result to that person's access to other staff members. While there may be some truth in that conclusion, in most cases, if we went back some years in that person's career, they probably were working with a clean desk back then which gave them the focus they needed to become promoted to where they are today.
- Have adequate supplies. Some people spend a lot of their productive time looking for a pen or a pad of paper or staples for their stapler. Have enough pens, pencils, yellow markers, "sticky notes", writing pads, fax paper, printer cartridges, updated telephone directories, staples, "Wite Out", report forms, index cards, paper clips, rolls of adding machine tapes, etc., etc.
- Make your physical surroundings workable. Move the fax machine closer (or further away!) from your desk. Have the most frequently used and needed files within arm's reach and the less frequently required items further out. Have adequate space at your desk to do what you need to do. Remove some unnecessary items, if necessary, to make room.
- Set up a functional briefcase. I travel a lot and am out of my office at seminars or meetings with clients requiring that I tote along a briefcase. In addition to the stuff I need for where I am going, I have my briefcase stocked with a lot of neat things like a calculator, a pocket map of the United States, basic office supplies (writing pads, pens, yellow markers, small stapler, paper clips, stamps and a few envelopes), blank checks, a few deposit slips, a paperback book I have been intending to read, and at least one project I can work on if I get stuck in traffic or am waiting for the meeting to begin. It gives me more choices.
- Schedule maintenance. The equipment you use, your car, stuff around the house, and oh yeah, you. You know your car needs to be serviced. Why wait for a breakdown to get it done and spend more time on what could have been accomplished in less time. (You still need a tune-up, but now you have to wait for the tow truck to arrive.) Regular medical and dental checkups save huge amounts of time in our future by fixing small conditions before they become major costly issues.
- Catalog contacts. Develop and maintain your contacts list so that networking can enhance your future with the contacts you make. A computer-based program such as ACT is excellent, but even a simple 3x5 card system will work. Keep track of a growing list of contacts, help them at every turn and they will be there to help you.
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