When you sit down at the desk, make sure you are working to your maximum efficiency, with the help of Cary L Cooper.

The Sunday Times.

Time, like money, is a limited resource that can be used to good or bad effect. However, although it is possible to make more money, unfortunately you can’t create more time-there are only 24 hours in a day. As Elizabeth I was supposed to have said on her death bed: “all my possessions for a moment of time.”

The inability to manage time effectively is often a big source of stress for people working independently, whether teleworkers at home or micro entrepreneurs. Although frequently we may blame others for wasting our time, the biggest culprit is usually ourselves.

Time wasters fall into a number of categories. First, there are “the mañanas“, people who cause themselves time problems because they procrastinate, preferring to think about work rather than doing it. When things move on their desk, they don’t leave it, merely change location. Habitually, such individuals postpone decisions so that, consequently, tomorrow always becomes the busiest day of the week. Procrastination often stems from boredom, a lack of confidence or reluctance to seek clarification. As a result, indecision becomes the safest option. Here are some tips for “mañana” types:

Break up overwhelming tasks into smaller jobs. Set a deadline for completing the entire task and work on it a little bit every day.

Draw up a “to do” list of all the tasks you need to complete in the short term (i.e. within the next week), medium term (i.e. the next month) and the long term. Then each day, draw up a list of things that you need “to do today”. Regularly review your “to do” lists and incorporate items into your daily lists

When planning your work schedule, attempt to balance routine tasks with the more enjoyable jobs.

Combat paper shuffling by resolving to handle each piece of paper only once. Read it, act on it, file it or throw it away.

There are also “the disorganized”; these individuals are instantly recognizable by the mounds of paper that form barricades around their desks. Disorganized individuals frequently miss or are late for appointments, and spend a large part of their day in “hide and seek” type activities: hunting for files on their cluttered desks, for messages and telephone numbers put on scraps of cigarette packets strewn throughout the office.

Psychologically, disorganized individuals perceive their problems as stemming from work overload, but it is usually associated with their mismanagement of their in-tray. Although outwardly they give the impression of being immensely busy, they actually achieve very little. Typically, such individuals subscribe to the view that creative minds are rarely tidy, rather than to the more logical and likely outcome that a cluttered desk reflects a cluttered mind. Here are some helpful hints for the “disorganized”:

Plan your workload every day by prioritizing your work. Set up a system by color-coding files, investing in a weekly, monthly and yearly planner chart.

Create a “to do” list at the start of each day and review it at the end of the day.

Stick to one task at a time and make sure you finish it.

Identify your prime time for working, when your energy levels are high, and during those periods carry out your complex tasks. Save the trivial routine tasks for non-prime time.

Make sure all messages, notes and telephone calls are recorded in one place.

Then there are the “poor delegators”, individuals who waste a considerable amount of their time doing work that could be easily and more effectively done by somebody else. Typically, this is because they lack trust in others, lack the ability to say “no”, think they can take everything on and so take on too much. Poor delegators tend to expect perfection in themselves and others, and often have difficulty separating the trivial from the important.

For these individuals, working from home and on their own, there is a need for them to set up a network group of people who might help them do some of the trivial, routine or less important tasks, so that they can get on with prime tasks. Being able to delegate some of your business tasks to others is important for the homeworker of the future. Some of the following might help in this process:

Remember, delegation does not mean abdication.

Having delegated a job, leave the person to get on with it.

Always take time out to explain exactly what is required; poor delegators are often also poor communicators. Check that the other person is clear about what he or she needs to do, and ask if the person anticipates any problems.

As soon as you become aware that a deadline is unrealistic, renegotiate, delegate, or let someone know.

Avoid taking on unnecessary work that does not fulfill your objectives, or that could be done by others, by learning to say “no” politely and assertively.

In addition to the problems of various types of time wasters, it is important for all people working independently from home to manage interruptions. It has been estimated that one hour of concentrated work is worth four hours of interrupted time. Interruptions take time in themselves, but they also disturb concentration so that, having dealt with the interruption, it then takes further time to refocus on the original task.

Managing your time and workload are important for those working from home, particularly if we want to adhere to Woody Allen’s philosophy: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work–I want to achieve it by not dying.” (End of article.)

Sam Smith
Sam Smith is an independent Missionary, that has spent 7 years of his life in Africa, trying to spread Jesus' message of love in any way possible. He has been involved with non profit companies distributing educational material, youth counseling, IT education and humanitarian aid work in medical camps. He believes in Jesus in the simple way that the Bible speaks about, without going so far as to "belong" to a denomination, but just wants to do his best with likeminded people to make the world a better place.