When you have repetitive commitments, and most people do, there is an excellent opportunity to not only keep up with your work, but to get ahead of it. Do you have monthly reports to prepare? Weekly meetings to attend? Articles to write? Books to read? List all the tasks you are committed to do on a regular basis.
For example, I write two church devotionals every week, a column for a local newspaper every two weeks, post an article on my time management blog every second week, issue a quarterly time management newsletter, submit four e-books to a publisher each year, and so on. Most people know well in advance what must be done.
At times in the past, I have been under stress writing an article at the last minute, searching for items to include in my newsletter, trying to think of a topic for my column, or dreaming up a photo for the article I was about to post, and so on.
What you must do is build an inventory of material that you can draw upon when needed. You do this by using the short segments of time that you get when you finish a task ahead of deadline or find yourself traveling by train or waiting for a virtual meeting to start or waiting for a bus to arrive or waiting in a doctor’s office, or whenever. There are plenty of wasted minutes they can be redeemed if you are prepared to take advantage of them.
The largest chunks of time I get available are those times when I take less time than scheduled for important tasks.
There are probably different ways of doing it, but I simply label folders on my computer desktop bearing the names of the tasks. For example, I have a folder marked “Column articles” where I file the articles that I write in my spare moments. When I need an article for my bi-weekly column, I revise the title of the file copy by adding a number, so I know it has been submitted. The numbers, 1, 2, 3, etc. tell me how many articles I have now had published – and those without numbers are yet to be submitted. It relieves pressure to see those articles without numbers. It represents future work that has been completed in the present.
Similarly, I have a folder labelled “Newsletters” containing another level of folders, each labelled with the title of the topics that are included in each newsletter – Articles, Time Tips, Quick Facts, Quotes, and Trainer’s Corner. Whenever I write a time tip, read about an interesting fact, spot a quote, or hear of a training idea – all related to time management, I add it to the appropriate folder. When it’s time to issue a newsletter (currently quarterly) it’s a simple matter of copying items from each folder and assembling the electronic newsletter. A large task minimized through being proactive.
I do the same for my blog articles, training sessions, and church activities and so on. If it’s a repetitive task, you can always work ahead.
If you get behind in any of your work, all your work will suffer. When you are in a time bind, every interruption, every additional request or even a coffee break becomes a stressor. Things left undone themselves become a source of stress. Regardless of some people’s claim, we do not work better under stress; we simply work faster. And speed in turn produces errors and omissions.
If you are not proactive, your job, and the tasks and activities that it includes, will control you rather than the other way around. You become so busy fighting fires, reacting to the demands of others, solving problems that should never have occurred, playing “catch-up,” and making amends for missed meetings, forgotten commitments and late assignments that you get even further behind.
Proactive means “acting beforehand.” By acting in the present, proactive people assure themselves that things will go smoothly in the future.
I have written three e-Books on the topic of proactivity that are listed on the Bookboon website: How to Keep on Top of Your Job, How to Become a Proactive Person, and The Proactive Manager. It’s an important topic in this fast-paced, digital age where everything seems to be happening at the same time.