An unproductive working day: you make your way into the office with a vague notion of what is going on that day. Slope off to the kitchen to get your caffeine fix and then return to your desk to peruse your emails. The next thing you know it is 10.30am. You've a) not answered that many emails, b) are on your way to a meeting that you haven't prepped for and, c) will now have to sprint across town to your lunchtime meeting. The first steps of excelling at any job (and avoiding that madness) is to learn the craft of managing your working day. Follow our top tips for cracking this life essential:
1. Plan your day before you start it
This could be before you go to bed, on your morning commute, with your mug of tea in your hand at 8.45am, whatever works for you, but ensure you make it a routine and don't skip it out even if you are pushed for time. Take time to write down your main objectives. Having spent several years studying you should know by now when you are at your most productive. Some people can zip through admin first thing in the morning or others prefer to schedule their meetings first thing. Try to plan your day to play to your strengths.
2. Prioritise. Prioritise. Prioritise
You'll go mad trying to do everything at once. Not sure what is most important? Seek advice. There is no shame in admitting you've got too much on and your line manager would much rather know well in advance of conflicting deadlines than 20 minutes before that you're not going to get everything done.
3. Figure out how you best keep track of everything
To-do lists work for some people but for others they become comically long and, ultimately, useless. Consider using online tools to help you. There are lots of free online tools that are free. A personal favourite of the Bright Network team is 'Trello' as they help you prioritise in a visual way, you can collaborate easily with others and they notify you when things are due.
4. Buy a notebook
Even if you prefer to work off a tablet/laptop, there will be times when you just need to write something down so you don't forget it. Keep it with you wherever you go and ensure you check it a few times a day that you've not missed anything. If it works for Richard Branson, it might be worth thinking about!
5. Manage your diary
It isn't there just for other people to put things in. There is nothing weird about blocking out time in your diary for certain tasks (e.g. expenses) and then adding to the appointment as you go through the week so that you never forget to do it in that block. You should also build in preparation time for meetings / calls / follow ups / travel. If you don't, you'll end up chasing the proverbial tail as you run from one place to the other without having prepped.
6. Talking & thinking
Depending on the work that you do, you will have to accept that you could spend around 50% (at least) of your time talking about your work, thinking about your work, before you actually get anything done. This is not a bad thing so long as you make sure you're using the time effectively. Plan your meetings ahead of time so that you clearly know what you want out of each one. That way you can make the most of your conversations when you have them. Try to avoid being dragged into meetings / discussions that you know you won't be able to contribute to or benefit from.
7. Reassess half way through your day
Having cleverly spent half an hour on the way to work planning what you're doing, you don't want to lose your momentum by not paying attention to what's actually happening that day. Are you really going to get everything done in the time you allocated? Has your boss asked for something which now trumps everything else? You need to be flexible, react accordingly and prioritise.
8. Manage your inbox
You don't have to read every email as it comes in. We recommend that you schedule times of the day to do a 'sweep'. Creating email folders to help sort through your emails can be a lifesaver. Filing systems may vary but if you have a lot of 'non-urgent' emails that need your attention, pop them into a folder and schedule half an hour / an hour a week to blitz them. Every email should be either deleted, filed or sitting in your inbox awaiting action.
9. Be technologically adept
Fact: Printers always go on the blink when you have a tight deadline. A weird law of the universe but inevitable. Rather than having a meltdown while trying to figure out where you'll buy yellow toner at 9pm, make sure you build in at least a few hours before the end of office hours to check all your technology is working like a dream. And perhaps keep some 24 hours print shops in your bookmarks (just in case).
10. Do not disturb
And finally, if you really can't be disturbed, take yourself away from your desk, put your VM on and let your colleagues know. This happens to everyone once in a while and you'll find that the more you follow steps 1-9 the less it'll happen to you.