Time management tips: 5 beliefs that limit productivity

Productivity—both at home and at work—depends on multiple factors, not the least of which are time management and organization. Compiling to-do lists and wrangling the email in your Inbox are two basic time-management skills that promote productivity and organization.

In this article, productivity professional and expert organizer Sally McGhee examines—and dispels—common mistaken beliefs about obstacles to productivity, lends advice on how to organize your Inbox, and offers time-management tips.

1. There’s too much information coming at me too fast.

Belief: My email is overwhelming me. I can’t keep up with it.

Reality: The volume of email isn’t the issue. How you process and organize the volume is the issue, and if you’re not careful, the quantity of data might drive you rather than vice versa. If you flex your organizational muscle, though, you can get a handle on the ever-increasing influx of data and information and transform this belief. For starters, learn four ways you can take control of your email Inbox. When you do, you can reduce the number of messages in your Inbox by as much as 80 percent.

2. I have to keep everything.

Belief: I have to keep everything. You just never know when you might need it!

Reality: On average, you can throw away 50 percent of stored information—with no ramifications. But if you’re a “keeper” (you know who you are), there’s nothing quite as satisfying as laying your hands on that file that no one else can find. Locating it justifies all of your filing and storing efforts. You might recognize yourself in one of these statements:

  • I got badly burned when I couldn’t lay my hands on an important document. Now, I’m afraid to let go of information.
  • I want to be able to justify the decisions I make, so I keep everything.
  • If my system crashes, I want backup information.
  • I felt so good when no one else could find “that document.” As a result, I decided to keep everything so I could continue being helpful.

At some point you made a decision about keeping all your information. That decision has been driving you ever since, but it may not be appropriate in your current situation.

The truth is that most people use only 15 percent of what they file, and this makes filing the other 85 percent ineffective. By clarifying what is useful and letting go of the rest, you can develop a streamlined, functional filing system, make it easier to find what you do keep, and save valuable time and energy that you can direct to more meaningful tasks. Learn nine tips to help you manage your files better.

3. Organization cramps my freedom and creativity.

Belief: Being organized blocks my creativity, and there’s nothing spontaneous about it.

Reality: Organization actually fosters and supports creativity and spontaneity. For instance, the non-stop flood of reminders spinning around your head can disrupt your creativity—reminders such as:

  • Call Kevin for his birthday.
  • Review the Profit & Loss spreadsheet.
  • Review Microsoft PowerPoint slide deck.
  • Decide on a Valentine’s Day present.

Imagine if you could clear your mind of all these lists and transfer them to Microsoft Outlook. You can do this by creating an Outlook task for each item. Storing your tasks in Outlook can create space for new ideas and creative thinking. You can create a task out of any Outlook item, such as an email message, contact, calendar item, or note. Those items then appear in Tasks. Create a task in Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007, or Outlook 2003. Then, organize your tasks in the task list so you are at your most productive.

Example of a task listCreate a task list to see all the commitments you have.

Of course, a task-laden or otherwise booked calendar curbs your spontaneity, which can be frustrating. However, if you preplan, you can block out large chunks of time in which you have no organized events or commitments, and you’ll have more freedom to do something on the spur of the moment.

A booked calendar leaves no time to be spontaneous, which can be frustrating. However, if you pre-plan, you can block out large chunks of time with no organized events, and you’ll have more freedom to do something on the spur of the moment.

To get control of all the “stuff” in your life, set up a system for storing reference information, turning action information into tasks, and scheduling tasks on your calendar. After you’ve set up your reference system, you’ll find that it supports your creativity and spontaneity. The best result is that you can close your system, knowing that everything is taken care of so you can relax and let go!

4. There’s not enough time in the day!

Belief: I just don’t have the time to do all the things I want.

Reality: Time is not the issue. The issue is deciding what you can do given the time you have.

As you know, managing your time with Olympian skill doesn’t create more hours in the day. We all have the same 24 hours, so the issue isn’t managing time—it’s managing what you can do with the time you have. You can’t do everything, but you can do anything, as long as it fits into your calendar.

If you keep your to-do lists in multiple locations—in email, on a paper calendar, in a notepad, in an Excel spreadsheet, in addition to in your head—you might want to leverage Outlook to consolidate, centralize, and prioritize these lists. Start by creating tasks, as described in step 3. When you create a task, you can set reminders, set the task to recur at a chosen interval, track its status, and more, so you always know what to do and when to do it. Tasks also appear in the To-Do Bar in Outlook, together with other Outlook items, such as email or contacts, that have been flagged for follow-up. The To-Do Bar appears in all views of Outlook:

Outlook 2010 To-Do Bar with tasks listedLearn six ways to streamline your tasks in Outlook.

5. It takes too much time to become productive.

Belief: I don’t have the time to set up a system. I’ve got too much to do.

Reality: You can save one to two hours a day by implementing a system to manage your information—a significant return on the initial time investment.

According to some statistics, workers typically spend two to three hours a day in email and 60 minutes a day finding and filing information. After setting up an information-management system, they still spend one to two hours a day in email but spend just 10 minutes a day finding and filing information—a savings of nearly two hours a day, or almost 12 weeks a year!

Take a moment and consider the time you spend:

  • Finding and filing information.
  • Writing a to-do list and then rewriting it a week later on another list, and then another.
  • Opening an email, reading it, closing it, and then coming back to the same email to read it again tomorrow.
  • Going to the store and realizing you don’t know, for example, the model of the hardware you need to pick up.

These are just a few examples of how we waste time by not having a way to coordinate scheduling, allocate resources, consolidate communication, and store and access information. Take the time to set up your system. You can’t afford not to.


Source: Microsoft at Work

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