i was in a training session recently with a few folks who had some concerns with the proposed new method of doing things. their main complaint, and one that i’ve heard from many others, was: “this is just another place i have to do work. i already have to check 4 web sites, and my email, and my voicemail — including my voicemail at home — and my txt messages…”

on the surface, it seems like a valid complaint. who wants to check 5 web sites, and all the rest, rather than the previous 4? but the problem isn’t really the amount of work you have to do, it’s that you have a problem managing your time.

no one says you have to answer every email as soon as it enters your inbox, or that you have to answer your phone and txt messages. that’s a choice that you’ve made. instead of looking at the amount of work you have to do — or the number of sites or information/communications channels that you have to monitor — start looking at the way you organize your day.

  • manage your inbox. microsoft outlook gives you the ability to create rules for incoming messages, so why not use some? parse your incoming messages into certain folders, or create and make use of categories — then, once your messages clean themselves up automatically, create a schedule. only answer “project team” emails a handful of times each day. answer “corporate communications” emails once a week. answer “daily status” emails once a day. whatever you choose, stick to the schedule unless there’s an urgent need. email is not real-time; spoiler: it was never intended to be!
  • screen your phone calls. utilize your voicemail… heavily. client calling? don’t answer it. boss calling? don’t answer that either. “WHAT?! are you crazy?” no, i’m not — here’s why: you should always have a plan when talking on the phone with someone. because you don’t have visual communication, your words are all you have, and you need to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. the client has a question, and your boss needs a status; this is vital information to have before engaging in a conversation with them so that you can prepare. not only do you seem more intelligent, but you’ll also spend less time on the phone. unless you know why the person is calling, let your voicemail answer, and — again — create a schedule for checking your voicemail. check every day before lunch (people hate to chat when they’re on the way out the door in 15 minutes for qdoba) and sometime in the afternoon. but whatever you do always remember, return every call every day because people hate silence.
  • make information work for you. in a world of RSS feeds and yammer, information comes to you if you let it. if you’re checking 4 web sites a day for work, why not use an RSS reader or add RSS feeds to outlook instead? you don’t need to be checking a site if there’s no new information, so don’t. using tools like blogs and micro-blogs such as yammer and twitter (if adopted by your project team) can help you collect information in the same place, categorize it, and push notifications. information will come to you if you do your part to build a platform that will support it.

the points above can be simplified into two simple rules: 1) automate what you can, and 2) create a schedule for dealing with that which you can’t. if you’re feeling overwhelmed, chances are you don’t have a work problem — you just have a time management problem.

it’s not easy to do. it takes complete buy-in and discipline, but if you can master your schedule you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

oh, hold on a second… i’m getting a phone call…