These are intimidating times for U.S. workers. Layoffs are looming for many, and employers are on the prowl for ways to cut costs. In an environment like this, it's especially important to be the kind of employee bosses love. In other words, now is the time to be known for your work ethic, your dependability and your knack for managing your time wisely. These tips can help you make the best use of your time throughout each workday.
1Take a moment at the start of your shift to prepare a to-do list. Write down the tasks you need to do, prioritizing them based on what must be done that day and what can wait. If you see that you consistently cannot wipe all the items off your list in a single day, make a point of planning your time in a more realistic way.
2Avoid jumping from one task to another. Group job duties together in order to avoid that harried feeling of doing 10 things at once. For instance, devote a 30- or 45-minute block of time to returning phone and e-mail messages.
3Resist the temptation to stay late. You may be convinced that you need to work late or bring work home with you in order to get everything done. That may produce results for a while, but watch out: You're on the road to becoming overworked and unproductive. Studies show that performance declines by 25 percent after a 60-hour work week. The flip side to this argument: If overtime is expected of people who are going to be allowed to keep their jobs, then work the overtime. Just guard against letting yourself reach a point where you're clearly frazzled and exhausted.
4Make sure you're getting adequate sleep. If you're frequently dog-tired and mentally unprepared to be at work, you won't be able to function at your peak effectiveness. If necessary, force yourself to go to bed an hour or two earlier at night — no matter how much that may go against your natural inclinations.
5Technology can be your friend if you let it. To name just one example: How well do you really know and understand your e-mail program? Chances are that its calendar and scheduling functions can help you immensely when it comes to setting up, tracking and being reminded about appointments throughout the day.
6If you tend to procrastinate, figure out why. Sometimes people procrastinate when they loathe the task. In other cases procrastination happens because of poor organization, poor decision-making skills, a fear of failure, a fear of success or the sense of feeling overwhelmed. Assess the situation honestly and get started on whatever it is you need to do. Don't overthink it; just start. Before you know it, the task will either be behind you or it will of necessity be divided up into a series of smaller and more manageable tasks.
7Know yourself. When do you do your best work? Set aside that time for your most creative jobs and schedule more mind-numbing tasks for other parts of the day.
8If necessary, shift your focus. Concentrate on results, not on being busy. Many people spend their days in a frenzy of activity without properly focusing their efforts. Zero in on completing your most important projects and improving the overall quality of your work.
9Use time gaps to your advantage. Carry work or important reading materials with you throughout the day so you can accomplish something when you find yourself with 10 or 15 minutes of free time. Note: This is different from falling into the chronic habit of bringing work home with you.
10Remember what's most important. Recognize that the most successful people in both Eastern and Western societies maintain a good balance between their work and nonwork lives. As stressful as these economic times are, it goes without saying that family members and friends who love you are more important than a corporation that may not care about you very much. Don't let money worries cause you to give every last ounce of your energies to the wrong place.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time by Jeff Davidson; Mind Tools (www.mindtools.com)