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To achieve work-life balance several very effective tools can assist you in starting and maintaining a distinct work and home mode. One very useful technique involves time management. There are many time management tools out there and essentially, they all work… if you follow them.

Time management tools may fail for many people because instead of implementing an entire system and staying with it, they pick up a diary system, or a computer system, or some other sort of time management idea, use it for about a month and then they stop using it. Six months down the road, they have regressed back to their old ways and are no longer managing their time well. The following tools all work extremely well.

“Getting Things Done”

The first tool is a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. One of the key ideas it proposes is to concentrate on the next action. Define the next thing that you can do to move an idea or some work forward. If you cannot think immediately of what your next action should be, then procrastination tends to set in.

What “Getting Things Done” helps you do is divide all your work into projects. Projects are simply groups of actions. Once you define a project, at your next designated planning and thinking time, determine what your next actions will be to advance that project. You may have twenty projects that you have written down in separate files or folders, but the best way to move your projects forward is to concentrate on one project at a time. Get things done that are related to that project up into the point that you cannot move it forward any further then move on to the next project.

Time Chunking or Time Blocking

This just means that I block out some time just for a particular project in advance. I go into my diary typically on a Friday night and I look at the next week. I start designating time, or pre-blocking time for certain activities that I need to accomplish or certain projects that must get done before the end of the week.

Top Six

All you need to do is just look at the top six items you have prioritised and then have a list of everything else that you would like to get done. As long as you concentrate on getting the top six tasks done first, then you are free to do whatever you want for the rest of the day. Again, this comes back to the philosophy that you are only productive for two or three hours per day.

The key is to maximize your productivity time to work on things that are important. For this, you need to be able to identify what is important. What do you have to get done? Block out the time to do those things. Once those critical items are accomplished, you are free to do all the other stuff.

E-Mail Management

E-mail is one of the greatest time wasters I encounter in my day. Despite its convenience and value, it can be disruptive. The instant communication aspect of e-mail infers that as soon as a message comes in, you are expected to open it, address it and respond. If you have blocked out time to focus on an important task, this intrusion can be distracting. In reality, e-mail is often just busy work. It may relate to other issues you should address, but should not take priority.

My suggestion is to cut down the number of times you retrieve e-mail to only twice per day. For example, you could check e-mail first thing in the morning when you come in, and again when you get back from lunch. Limit yourself to only two times a day to retrieve, process, file and address issues in your e-mail. Allow yourself a specific amount of time for e-mail, then go and do your top six items.

There are certain situations where you must check your e-mail frequently, such as if you are working with an associate on a project and are e-mailing back and forth to coordinate your work. In such cases, look only at the e-mails that concern your project and either filter or disregard the rest until your designated e-mail session. The key is to stay focused and keep your priorities organised.

There is a book out at the moment called the “4-Hour Work Week,” in which the author Tim Ferris suggests that you only look at email once per week. He suggests that he is more productive looking at e-mail once per week than he would be looking at it once per hour.

There is a basic assumption underlying this philosophy. If you only need to look at your e-mail once per week, chances are you have a team of people that keep your business functioning for you. In such cases, you don’t have to be there making decisions and adding to the mix of e-mails. You can achieve this independence from e-mail when you have your business systemized. The more that you can systemize your business, the more you can keep work moving through your business without you having to be present. The side benefit is the reduction in the amount and urgency of e-mail you receive.

About the Author

“Murray Priestley has 25 years of commercial and asset management experience having served in board, CEO and senior executive positions with a number of global public and private companies.”