“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.“ Philosopher and real estate entrepreneur, William Penn’s words are still timely today. How much overtime do you work each week? Do you find yourself running out of time in your work day and still have a never-ending list of items left undone? We spend our lives wishing the day would hurry and be over because there are too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. We feel a sense of dread toward the end of the work day as we put away the large stack things still not completed.
Our stress levels rise on our way to work because we know what is waiting for us when we hit the door. Each work day holds wasted seconds and minutes that add up to precious hours. If used wisely these hours can be filled with those items currently left undone on your to-do list. I have learned the art of time management through years of self-discipline and experimentation. I work full-time, eight hours days, have a total commute time of three hours each day, write for a weekly blog, am putting the finishing touches on a book, and I have a husband who likes to spend time with his wife. How do I do it and stay sane? Time management! I use each of the recommendations listed here in my daily work and personal schedule. And they work!
I’m sure your desk has stacks of paper waiting for you to review or sign right now. You may have countless emails to reply to, mail to open, or things that need your attention. It has probably been difficult to concentrate with piles of unfinished work staring back at you. Organization is key in making time management work for you. Here are some basics when starting your road to excellent time management. A big source of stress in the workplace is piles of work on your desk that needs attention. I am here to ease the anxiety. Let’s not waste any more time. Take a deep breath and let’s dig in:
1. Look around and admit there is an issue. The first step is admitting there is a problem. Congratulations on taking the first step toward productivity!
2. Sort your priorities. How do you know what you need to do if it is not in a prioritized order? After you realize there is an issue with running out of time, it’s time to get everything in order. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course! That is what this step is about. Start with the top item on the stack and sort everything by importance. If you are more technical, you can set priorities in your email as well.
Important—these are things with short deadlines. If it is a project due within a week it belongs in the important file. (I refrain from using the word “urgent” because it tends to add more stress.)
Needed—these are things with intermediate deadlines. If it is due within a month it belongs in the needed file.
To-Do—these are things that need my attention. They do not have definite deadlines or they are ongoing items.
3. Schedule your time. Now you know what needs to be done and when it’s time to get it on the calendar. This can be done using handwritten lists, a desk calendar, or an electronic calendar such as Google Calendar or Microsoft’s Outlook product. Outlook is my option for scheduling. I have all daily tasks scheduled in the Outlook calendar and color coded by task family. For example, meetings are coded gray, projects are blue, personal time is black, and on-going responsibilities are red. I know by glancing at my calendar each morning how many meetings I have for that day and what times. I have a separate calendar for the personal tasks I complete each day for the blog and the book.
4. Time-block. This is the most important element in managing my time effectively and getting my tasks done. As you can see on my calendar, I have specific times scheduled for return phone calls and emails. If you are able to time-block, I highly recommend doing so. I am focused on one task at a time, and I do not look at email or answer the phone during that time. Time-blocking works well if you set the expectation with your customers. Let them know you will return phone calls and emails at the top of each odd or even hour. My voicemail is set up with this so whoever is leaving me a message knows when to expect a return phone call from me. You can also utilize the out-of-the-office assistant via Microsoft Outlook or another email program to let people emailing you know when they should expect a response. Setting expectations is key in great customer service.
5. Avoid distractions. Concentration cannot be effective with distractions. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I quite possibly could be considered to have an attention problem. Turn off the “You’ve got mail” alert on your email program. Seeing the pop-up on your computer can add to your stress. Additionally, there are so many electronic devices with pretty lights and cute sounds that threaten to grab our attention. When I am working, my cell phone is on silent and it is turned upside down. There is not a vibration, a trill, a song, or light from it that I can see. Don’t be tempted to open your social media page. The various social media outlets are time stealers and wasters!
Once you get going you will start to feel accomplished and less stressed. The mortgage business is stressful enough, don’t add to the stress! Use your time to your advantage.
*This article first appeared in Mortgage Women Magazine on November 2, 2016*