Task Management

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Your desk is piled high with to-do’s. It’s easy to stall out when you don’t know where or how to begin. Follow these guidelines to increase productivity and tackle your projects big and small!

Do the hardest thing first. When you arrive at the office, you may be tempted to first check your messages, rifle through the day’s mail,or plow through some easy administrative tasks. Instead, try doing the hardest, most challenging (or least enjoyable) thing earlier in the day. You’ll be attacking it when your energy level is high and your mind is clear. By carving out a chunk of time each morning to tackle heavy-duty projects, you’ll also avoid the procrastination often associated with large jobs. Then, save your easier tasks for later in the day, when your energy level is lower. Another way to look at this is to set your mind to “proactive” in the morning so you’ll have time for the “reactive” moments that are sure to pop up throughout the day. For example, if you begin your day attending to your “must-do” tasks, you’ll feel more comfortable stepping away from your desk when afternoon emergencies materialize. You’ll know that your most pressing projects have been handled. Remember, it may not always be easy to start with the hard stuff, but you’ll get the momentum going when you start it out right, and you’ll feel accomplished all day long.

Clear the clutter out of your brain. The average desk worker spends three hours per week sorting piles trying to find the project to work on next. Take the first step to getting your work under control — clear the clutter out of your brain by taking pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and allow to-do’s and brilliant ideas to become more concrete. You’ll relieve your brain of remembering tedious details, allowing new, creative thinking to develop. Free yourself from having to remember mundane but necessary tasks: Create a running list of phone calls to make, things to discuss with your assistant or coworkers, supplies to get, and other small-detail tasks. Create another list for brainstorming, creative planning, and “someday” ideas. Avoid storing lists in multiple areas, which will only confuse you. Centralize them in one place, such as your planner, in a spiral-bound notebook, or on your computer or PDA. Another benefit to making a list of all your responsibilities is that you may find some jobs that you could delegate to others. Are there any you hate doing, or do you know someone else who could do it quicker or better? Sometimes we say “yes” because we want to appear productive and energetic. But it’s important to know how much work you can realistically handle.

Plan for tomorrow at the end of today. Take 15 minutes at the end of every day to create tomorrow’s to-do list. This habit of planning will give you the gift of focus, allowing you to get a jump-start the next morning. In a sense, you’re creating a map for the following day. By writing down everything that needs to be accomplished tomorrow, you can prioritize so urgent needs get done. When you walk in the door the next morning, you won’t have to waste time shuffling papers and trying to figure out what to do first. The process of writing (or typing) down your thoughts will help you relax at home as well — you’ll think about work a lot less knowing it’s all down on paper. It’s also a great exercise that allows you to reflect on the great work you accomplished today, so you can leave work feeling proud.

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