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Time Management II - Touch it just once

Last month I started my time management series by writing about setting daily goals and making sure you get the most important things done each day.  However, we all deal with mountains of small things that have to get handled along the way.  Each one may not be high priority, but if you don't keep up with it, you'll soon be snowed under.

One technique that I use is to try to 'touch' each item only once.  Back in the world where everything was on paper, you could find yourself shuffling papers around on your desk, spending a few minutes on one pile before you moved onto the next.  However, this is inefficient because you have to remind yourself where you were on each item before you can make progress.

Instead, try to handle something just once.  If it's an email, read, resond and file (or delete).  Somethings require more review or a more detailed reply.  If so, schedule a time for you to do that and file the item until that time.  Don't keep going back to it, reading it, and saying "oh, I really need to work on that."  Instead, pick a time to do it, and stick to it.

Once you get caught up on the torrent of communications, it's easier to stay caught up.  I try to set service metrics for myself on how long I will go before responding to an email and for dealing with paperwork.  This may sound like overkill, but this is how you would do things if you were somehow able to outsource all this work (hmmm, perhaps a start-up idea).  I try to keep up with my email throughout each day.  I respond to every message within one business day (usually much faster).  If I can't really answer a question or provide a detailed response in that time, I set an expectation for when I will get it done (and then pick a time on my schedule when I'll work on it).  If something comes up that keeps me from meeting that commitment, I let the requestor know.  If I know that I will be out of touch for more than a day, I set an 'out of office' message on my email.

I treat each of these interactions as a commitment, including a commitment to myself to keep up with communications.  Keeping commitments builds trust, and trust is the foundation of great business relationships.  So, keep in touch by just touching it once.

Here are some nice time management tips, along with the obligatory Dilbert cartoon.

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