Claire Lister, MD of Pitman Training Group, offers her approach to proactively dealing with holiday hell

Holiday season is approaching. It’s great to have the excitement of time out in the sun to keep us going and essential to have time to switch off, and enjoy time with family and friends. It’s also the perfect time to recharge and get a bit of perspective.

But… not so great that you feel like you have to do two weeks’ worth of overtime before you go, to make it humanly possible. Not so great to return to a pile of unopened mail, and an inbox bursting within an inch of its life.

Similarly, not so great to be the one stuck in the office whilst everyone else swans off, having disregarded deadlines… So, how can we ease the pain of holiday season? It all comes down to time management and project planning. Here are a few things you could try…

1.Identify your work “personality”
Are you honest with yourself about your work personality? Most people aren’t and have never really taken time to think about it, but if you don’t know your own traits, how can you work to improve your working practices?

Do you picture yourself being totally in control, yet are far from it? Do you realise how you procrastinate? Do you identify that you can only work if you are juggling 10 things at once, yet struggle to finish tasks? Being honest with yourself and identifying your actual ways of working is the first step to taking control of your day. Your work patterns and your personality really affect your approach to managing your time.

2.Analyze your day
Map out your day and your week and see how much time you spend on different tasks. Colour code your diary and all will become clear. Once you can see how much time is spent in meetings, on admin, on reports and on events, you can make a call to see if any of this could be reviewed. Even if it all has to remain the same, at least you can pre-plan your week making sure you allocate enough time to each area. This also makes it easier for colleagues to take over your role, and you theirs, when carrying out holiday cover.

3.Fast-tracking certain tasks
When time-starved, think really carefully about the most efficient way to do things. Is it really a good idea to wander over to Julie’s desk to ask her a simple question, or will you get caught in a 20-minute chin wag? Is it really most productive to email the entire team a question that will mean you get 20 responses and caught in an email chain, when you could just pick up the phone to find out the answer? Be tight with your time – you’ll value it when you get to leave on time.

4. Organise your work space
How productive is your desk/workspace? Is it cluttered, full of distractions? Is it full of piles of papers that stress you out every time you look at them, because they should have been filed weeks ago? Have a blitz and clear your area to make it tidy and less intrusive. You’ll be amazed at the difference this can make to your mindset.

5.Identify people to avoid
This may sound a little harsh but when time is precious you can’t pander to time wasters. Recognise who in the business regularly wastes your time and recognise the problems they cause you – when you’re clear on this I guarantee you’ll find a nice way to say “Sorry, but I just can’t help” rather than bending over backwards to help them with insignificant tasks that will end up adding hours to your day.

6.The art of delegating
Delegating never comes into its own more than when you’re trying to squeeze in extra work. The secret to delegating is providing a good brief. Don’t half-heartedly pass something on without providing full information as it will come back half done and you’ll just end up doing it again yourself. Also, consider carefully who you delegate to – you can’t just fob your work off onto others but, if you are getting involved in projects that others could just as well help with, see if you can get some support. If you have a team, now’s the time to use them – don’t be precious about having to do everything yourself, start to share tasks out.

7.Preventing/limiting interruptions
When time is ticking away you need to ensure you have limited interruptions. Consider putting your voicemail on for a certain slot of the day, so you can get your head down and write those reports. Turn your email off for an hour and focus on completing a task from your list. Book time out in your calendar to complete certain tasks and don’t let people interrupt you when you have got your head down. There’s not much that can’t wait an hour, so ensure those around you know you are tied up, and get them to come back to you later in the day if it’s not seriously urgent.

8.Holding effective meetings
Meetings can be one of the most time-draining, and frustrating, elements of office work. Bad meetings make you feel like you’ve lost hours of your life – but good meetings actually help you get through your task list. Start seeing meetings as an opportunity to progress actions and move things along that are on your list. The secret of this is pre-meeting prep, a strong agenda and a good chair person in charge. Also make sure all who are attending the meetings are aware of the input required from them, so there’s no excuse for sitting back and not having answers.

9.Team project planning
Once you’ve managed to streamline your ways of working to minimize running yourself into the ground as the work piles up, the next challenge is organising others. I appreciate this might not be your job, but if you are going to be left picking up the pieces once you’ve jetted back to reality I think it is your business. If you can ensure that, as a team, you are working with project plans, that have pre-defined deadlines, and details of actions required, it’s easier to keep everyone on track and focused on delivering their part, prior to them taking their break. If people can see how they impact on the bigger picture they usually become more diligent in fulfilling their responsibilities than if they’re just working from their own task list.

10.Managing handovers
Do not pass your handover to colleagues just via email alone, as they’ll have no way of qualifying how urgent any of it is and all that they’ll be left with is a huge to-do list. Ensure you have a meeting to discuss the context of each task, and where possible bring your colleagues into the loop in the weeks running up to your holiday so they understand the bigger picture. It’s also key to acknowledge that your colleague can’t do your entire job whilst you’re away, as well as their own, so you need to prioritise what elements they step in and get involved in.

If you start thinking about all this now you’ll be much better prepared to really enjoy your holiday and to get through the silly season when everyone else is off too. Summer should be about cocktails after work and lunches in the park. Maybe use this as a motivation to get your time management nailed before it’s too late!

All of the above tips are covered in Pitman Training’s Time Management Course, available via flexi-study. More details can be found at www.pitman-training.com.

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Claire Lister is the Owner/MD of Pitman Training Group (www.pitman-training.com). Pitman is a market leader in the PA and secretarial training industry, delivering exceptional results for tens of thousands of students each year. Pitman also provide ... (Read More)

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