As a travel agent, your day is busy. You know time management is important. You try to be reasonably efficient and make an effort not to waste time. Each minute of every day seems filled, yet there is always more to do. You want your efforts at time management to make you more productive, not just a reshuffling of the order in which you accomplish your tasks. How to begin?
If you have ever gone on a diet, you know the first step is often to make a record of your eating habits. So too, we want to keep a journal of how we spend our time. A good activity journal will assist you in mapping out exactly how you use your time. You might be surprised to discover as much as an entire hour each day devoted to activities that don’t really contribute to productivity. That same hour can then be applied to getting work done or to personal or family activities. For many of us, an extra hour each day would be a real gift. Let’s see if a good activity journal might help us find that kind of spare time.
Start a journal on a clean sheet of paper each day for a couple of weeks. Record a quick note about your activities along with the time started, stopped and lapsed. Don’t leave anything out. There is the time reading email, opening snail mail, getting coffee, planning itineraries for clients, making and returning phone calls. Record everything.
Now, at the end of each day, highlight the activities with different color markers. Perhaps blue for email activities, yellow for personal time like coffee breaks or talking with your co-workers. Next, assign each of those activities a number 1-5 with 1 being a very important activity that you must do and 5 being a low priority activity that did not contribute to productivity or which you might have delegated to another to accomplish for you.
Look at your time journal and see if you can detect some of these patterns:
1. Doing low priority items first, when your energy levels are highest. Prioritize your day. High priority items first when your energy levels are high. Low priority when you don’t feel like thinking, just needing to do mechanical things. A good example? If you are organizing your desk first thing in the morning, you are using a high energy time for a low priority item. Consider organizing your desk last thing each day in preparation for the next day. You will feel better greeted with a well organized work space first thing. Also, if you are truly a high energy person during the morning, consider starting a half hour early. Many people discover they get vast amounts accomplished before the phones begin ringing.
2. Doing low priority jobs you should delegate. If you work in an office, should you really be the one cleaning out the refrigerator, organizing brochures or other tasks that may well be the responsibility of others? If you work by yourself, are you doing household chores during your workday that should be the someone else’s responsibility?
3. Distractions – Often we let our work tasks function more like distractions than focused activities. How many times a day do you check your email? Constantly through the day? At random times? Set fixed times for email and block out time for reading, responding and filtering junk. Don’t interrupt other important activities with email. Stay on track, one job at a time. Juggling tasks during the day is not as productive. Minimize the number of times during the day that you switch focus.
4. Take short breaks between tasks. Reward yourself with coffee, talks with friends or a walk outside. But limit those activities to 10 minutes then get back on track to the next focused task. Limiting is important or you will suddenly find that cup of coffee cost you a full half hour or that you have been daydreaming and browsing the internet for 15 minutes, neither working nor really relaxing.
5. Look at the low-priority, or no-priority time you spend during each day. Is it possible to group those items together into a once a day or, better, once a week activity?
A good activity journal will help you better understand how you are currently using your time and how you can better organize your day. That’s a good time management first step.