Time is on Your Side ? Manage it Wisely

How do you manage your time? Or is the more appropriate question do you wish you had better time management skills? I have clients and friends who rely on everything from legal pads to brightly colored sticky notepads to manage their time and appointments ? practically everything in their life. I don't understand why some folks place so little importance on something as important as time management!

As a professional Virtual Assistant, I have numerous clients and tasks I must complete every day. I also have a hectic personal life, full of family responsibilities and my hobbies. Organizing my time is critical to my success and to maintaining my sanity.

Submitted for your reading pleasure, and to enhance your brain, are some of my tips for effectively and efficiently managing one of your most valuable resources: time.

Determine What Works Best for You

We're all different in regards to time management -- what works for you may not suit me or my style. Are you constantly on the go and need your calendar at your fingertips? Or, do you prefer to keep a paper calendar? Do you loath computers and all they stand for, or are you so wired Edison would be jealous? Whatever tools you choose to include in your arsenal, ensure they're tools you'll use consistently.

The Building Blocks of Better Time Management

My time management tools are Microsoft Outlook® and my trusty PDA. Outlook serves all my appointment, e-mail and tasking needs in one easy-to-use package.

Two of my favorite Outlook tools are the Categories and Labels features. Categories allow me to classify my calendar items and tasks in a variety of ways, such as Clients, Potential Clients, Personal, and so forth. In addition, you can also Advanced Find (search) Categories, so no more wasted time looking for a calendar appointment or journal entry for a particular client.

Unlike the seemingly unlimited number of Categories you may setup, you are limited to ten (10) Labels (at least in the 2002 version). Labels allow you to color code your Calendar so you'll know at a glance which items are personal in nature, and which are client related.

Consistency is the Key

Whatever system you have in place or are considering to implement, the key point to remember is consistency. Follow the same procedures each and every time, without fail. Ensure you put good habits into play and more important, follow those good habits!

When I create new appointments or tasks, I use the first few characters to define the "owner" (client or myself) of that appointment or task. For example, when creating items for client Tom Smith, I'll preface all items with TSMITH. When searching for items for Tom, I know if I search for "TSMITH" I'll access all items related to this client. I'll also apply a Label to my appointments, such as TeleCon, PCI (Potential Client Interview), or Personal.

I pad all appointments with a 15-minute buffer on each side. I also schedule breaks during my workday.

My clients appreciate that each Monday I release my "Lori's Schedule" e-mail, a brief note notifying my clients when I'll be out of the office for that week. For example, all my clients know I'm a member of the Editorial Team for a well-known eZine and they know that unless it's an emergency, I am not available during this meeting.

When I interview potential clients, interns and vendors, I keep detailed conversation notes in the memo field for that Contact. I date all telephone conversations and apply color coding (font coloring) to each conversation. All interviews are kept to 30 minutes ? no exceptions. My Desktop timer helps me keep track of the time, and sounds a horn .WAV file when it's time to end the interview.

If I need to follow up with someone, I immediately create an appointment, applying Categories and a Label, and attach any necessary external documents (Word, Excel, etc.). For Calendar appointments, I also keep track of the number of times I've attempted to contact that person. Example: For vendor Lisa Andrews, I'll preface the appointment with LA(2), where the parenthetical (2) means this is my second attempt to contact Lisa. I allow a maximum of three follow up attempts ? no exceptions. Chasing people down is a waste of my time -- time I'd prefer to spend making money and running my business.

You Make the Call

Pet Peeve: Folks who call me and have no clue what they want to say. I've been known to hang up on such occasions, so let's ensure you don't make the same mistake!

A few basic rules of etiquette follow:

1. Peace & quiet rule the day, especially if you're making a business call. If the kids or your husband are home, close the door to your office. If there's a large amount of street traffic, go to an inner room in your home, as far away from the noise as possible. You don't want to shout over the din; instead, make the din disappear.

2. Know what you're going to say! I've advised numerous clients to have either an index card or a sheet of paper with the bullet points of what they want to say. I do something similar ? in the Calendar appointment for the telephone call, I include bullet points in the memo field and make notes during the course of the conversation.

3. Keep it brief. Make your point, get down to business and let's rock and roll.

4. Be on time. Have respect for the person you're about to call. They've set aside valuable time to talk to you.

You've Made Your List, Now Check It the 2nd Time

Spend a few minutes at the end of your day to review tomorrow's calendar. Doing so will get you prepared for tomorrow and will jump start your memory if you forgot to do something. Do you have any faxes still waiting to go out? Did you remember to call the printer and OK the proof? Any prep work you need to do for tomorrow? Take five minutes, review your calendar and to do list and then complete any last minute work.

It's All Relative ? Well, Your Relatives Think So

I know many people who have home-based businesses and at least 75% of them do not have a "family policy" in place. How can you work effectively from home if your girlfriends are calling you all the time, and if Uncle Joe stops by several times a day? Answer: You can't. What to do? Inform your family and close friends that unless it's a dire emergency, the family chit-chat and visits need to be kept to a minimum. For your part, you must ensure you call your dad at the end of the day to check in, and tell your girlfriend Lisa that yes, you can have lunch with her on Thursday. It's all about balance: part work, part play. Too much of the former will make you crazy!

"No" is Not a Four Letter Word (Subtitle: Even if it were, you should still utter it now and then)

Say this out loud, "It's okay for me to say no." Doesn't that feel better? More important, do you believe it?

Do not allow the procrastination or the good intentions of others to encroach upon your time. If you do not have the time today to handle a task, be honest and say so. Offer alternative dates and times when you are available, ensuring you mark these times as "unavailable" on your calendar so you don't book other appointments during this time.

Remember, time is money. Learn how to organize and manage your time--you'll be glad you did!

Copyright 2005 Lori Davis. All rights reserved.

Lori Davis is Director of the Future at Davis Virtual Assistants, a New York-based VA firm. To learn more about Lori and DavisVA, please visit http://www.davisva.com and http://loridavis.typepad.com/davisva/. You may contact Lori at 917.319.8224 and via e-mail at [email protected].

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