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February 28, 2009

Learn to love your diary and you will discover how much you can get done in just 10 minutes.

By Kath Lockett.

A lot of valuable work time is wasted through procrastination, i.e. putting off doing the work facing you and not prioritising tasks properly. It (almost) goes without saying that people are often smarter about putting off tasks than they are when they finally do them.

Procrastination can also make the culprit look extremely busy. If you feel as though you are constantly on the telephone, shifting papers over a messy desk or continually tapping away at your laptop, it is easy to start believing that there simply isn’t enough time to get everything done. You may start with the intention of getting some real work done, but then the emails roll in, meetings have to be rushed to, the message-bank is full and there’s just no time left. Despite this, most people tend to overestimate how long or how complex a task is going to take, especially if it’s one they dislike or have been delaying.

The simplest thing a procrastinator – or anyone who struggles to find time to tie up loose ends – can do is to make friends with their diary. A diary is more than just a place for scribbling down meeting times; it should also be used to block out chunks of time to do your own work. Book yourself the first hour of the day as an appointment. Treatthis hour as respectfully as you would any meeting with your boss or an external client and stick to it.

Don’t waste this hour lingering over your first coffee or losing yourself in emails. Don’t check your email in-box at all until you have planned your first hour as six, 10-minute, quick-and-dirty chunks. It is surprising what you can achieve in 10minutes.

What takes far longer is thinking up excuses for not doing the work, re-reading papers and documents without taking any action and putting them back into the in-tray.

Forget multitasking (or should that be called multi-distracting) and use 10minutes to focus on one task at a time and get it finished before starting on the next one. These are often the jobs that people enjoy the least, so by doing them first you are getting them out of the way and everything on your plate will be more enjoyable. After a few days of these hour-long self-appointments, you’ll find that you’re in the groove of getting the little-but-important stuff done and feeling much less stressed and anxious about your workload.

Here are some of the things you can achieve in 10 minutes:

* Draft a response to a letter.

* Find the information sought by a colleague.

* Return several phone calls.

* Clear your desk by filing or disposing of documents that don’t need action or reading.

* Leave at least three informative phone messages – i.e. your name, job title and unit, any information you can pass on, and the best time and number to call you back on.

* Photocopy, post or scan an important document.

* Delegate a task to a trusted colleague.

* Respond to three urgent emails.

If these 10-minute tasks are done one at a time without worrying about the next job or straying into reading non-essential emails, you will find that your first hour at work will be a very productive one.

Note that responding to emails is listed as the very last task on the list. Emails are a necessarily evil and there may be some urgent ones requiring your attention, but they can also cause too many temptations to forget or put off doing other tasks by getting lost in reading non-essential messages, re-reading old emails or getting bogged in reply-forward discussions that seem to include the entire office as participants.

Kath Lockett is the author of Work/Life Balance for Dummies, published by John Wiley & Sons, rrp $34.95

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