Practice Tips: Getting things done

by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor
Avoiding procrastination and dealing with interruptions

 The two biggest hurdles in personal time management are procrastination (trying to start a task) and dealing with interruptions (trying to finish a task).

One of the best time-management tools is to understand when you are procrastinating on a task and start to take steps to correct it. How do you start? Recognize that you are procrastinating. Assuming you have already separated your tasks into four categories:

  • important and urgent
  • important but not urgent
  • urgent but not important, and
  • neither important nor urgent

and have decided which of your important and urgent tasks you should be tackling but are not, then you need to recognize that you may have a problem. Self-awareness is the first step to self-correction.

Figure out why you are procrastinating. It could be that you find the task unpleasant. You may find it daunting in scope. Or you keep giving it a low-priority on your list with the hope that someone else will do it. Once you know the why you can take steps to figure out how you will deal with it. Set yourself a deadline. It is always better to work towards a defined finish date than allow the tasks to consume all your time. Task is unpleasant? Promise yourself a reward once it is done. And realize the consequences to you if you don't do it are probably worse than doing the task.

Task too daunting? Break it into smaller parts and do the first part now. Set yourself a deadline. It is always better to work towards a defined finish date than allow the tasks to consume all your time. By setting a deadline, you are making a promise to yourself that you don't have to deal with this (unpleasant) task once the deadline is met. That itself should be a positive reward!

Now that you finally have your job started, how do you manage the inevitable interruptions that are keeping you from finishing? To do this, you must take control of your boundaries and space.

Life is a series of interruptions interrupted by interruptions

— (unknown)

-or-

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

— John Lennon

So how do you handle the unending series of interruptions? First, divide and conquer. Take your day and isolate time to do your most important work — free of interruptions. Make an appointment with yourself in your calendar to work on this project. Change your voice mail message to inform callers that you will be returning calls after a specific time and then stick to your commitment. Then close your door.

Second, when you do take telephone calls — be all business. Cutting out the unnecessary chatter will free up time for returning more calls in less time.

Third, use e-mail. This avoids telephone tag and forces people to be succinct.

Fourth, post frequently asked questions on a web page, wiki, extranet, Q&A document or collaborative web page. Let the FAQs speak to your audience so that you are not called upon to answer routine questions over and over — and avoid the interruptions.

Fifth, work somewhere out of your office if you really have to get something done. It could be in a "war room" in the office or your home or a library. By removing yourself from the sources of interruptions, you craft the space you need to do your important work.

By getting started on your tasks, eliminating interruptions and putting a halt to new work, you will go a long way towards achieving your objectives...

Lastly, and most importantly, learn to say "No." People will continually approach you to take on new tasks ahead of what you currently have to do — to the effect that your existing work load gets further and further behind. Practise saying "no" to the new tasks until your existing work is caught up."No" is the most important word when it comes to handling your time.

By getting started on your tasks, eliminating interruptions and putting a halt to new work, you will go a long way towards achieving your objectives rather than those of others and no longer feel trapped by your commitments.