Taking time to save time Featured

8:00pm EDT June 28, 2005

New gadgets hit store shelves each month, altering the very core of how Americans conduct business. With more devices than ever before, you might think that the American worker would be more productive.

In reality, this is not always the case. We all dread the constant chime of e-mail interrupting our big project or the constant blinking of the voicemail light, beckoning us to respond -- right now. Often, our very job seems to revolve around responding to e-mails, and our actual work is relegated to just a handful of hours -- or even minutes -- each day.

In fact, technology is now allowing a record number of businesspeople to take their work home, logging on into the wee hours of the morning.

As the line between home and work blurs, there is no single solution to making more effective use of your time. However, there are some tricks that can make time management a little easier.

* Disconnect the chime. Many of us have an irresistible urge to check our e-mail the moment that we hear the familiar chime. However, if you're in the middle of a project and are constantly checking e-mail, it can throw your schedule into a tailspin.

To avoid this, turn off your e-mail for part of the day. It may only be an hour, but this allows you to focus on what's important. If coworkers or clients expect instant responses, let them know you are using a new time management strategy and will respond to their e-mail within a few hours.

* Master your phone. With the invention of voicemail and caller ID, it's become easier to decide whether you want to take a call. However, many workers still can't resist the urge to pick up on the first ring, no matter who is calling.

In most cases, there is nothing wrong with screening your calls if you are in the middle of a project. Let callers leave a voicemail message, then dedicate a particular time of day to return messages. If you return messages in bulk, it will be much faster and more efficient.

You might even alert callers on your voicemail that you return calls between certain hours or at certain times of the day.

* Cut the chitchat. While it's great to converse with your coworkers, we all know those chatty people who take water cooler talk well beyond the water cooler. If you are fortunate enough to have your own office, don't be afraid to shut the door when you're swamped.

Put up a sign alerting folks that you are on deadline and can only be interrupted in emergencies. If you work in a cubicle, place a sign on the back of your chair and let coworkers know you simply cannot talk until your project is complete.

* Keep your home and work life separate. Even if you take work home, make sure you set clear boundaries so that you enjoy some free time each day. Exercise or pursue a favorite hobby. Dedicate a family night one evening a week.

Or consider going back to school. Several colleges offer night and weekend classes that cater to busy executives. Do everything possible to set a firm time for your free time.

These are just a few strategies that can help. It's not always easy to implement time management strategies, but the benefits are limitless. By finding strategies that work for you, you can improve your life at work and create a life outside of work.

Eric Ziehlke is campus director for University of Phoenix-Columbus campus. University of Phoenix is the nation's largest private university, with more than 230,000 students at more than 150 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Have other time saving or organizational tools? Share them with Ziehlke at Eric.ziehlke@phoenix.edu or (614) 433-0095.