Everywhere you look these days, highly stressed workers are struggling to do more with less. Often, it’s because their employers have slashed spending and trimmed the payroll, leaving fewer people to do the same amount of work. But even employees in thriving sectors of the economy—the auto industry, telecommunications and high technology, to name three—aren’t immune from time pressures. At companies that are growing rapidly, workers are frequently hard-pressed to keep pace with the expanding volume of business.
That certainly describes Mary-Ann Merrick’s situation. She’s a member of the product engineering group at Wescast Industries Inc. in Wingham, Ont., 150 km west of Toronto. Wescast, North America’s largest supplier of cast-iron exhaust manifolds for cars and light trucks, has been on a roll lately, with 1996 earnings forecast to reach $26.8 million, up 51 per cent from 1995. That growth, however, has put extra strain on Merrick, 35, and her co-workers.
“Awhile ago, I started to feel overwhelmed with everything happening at our company,” Merrick says. “I needed time to focus on all my new projects, but I didn’t want to ignore day-to-day production. I was putting things off from one day to the next and forgetting to block time out for myself.”
To learn how to use her time more efficiently, Merrick enrolled in a two-day course at the nonprofit Canadian Management Centre in Toronto. Her instructor was Harold Taylor, a time-management consultant whose book, Making Time Work for You, has been translated into five languages and published in 14 countries.
Here are a few of Taylor’s tips and how they made a difference for Mary-Ann Merrick: Toss out as much correspondence and paperwork as possible.
There’s no faster way to increase productivity than to get organized. Start by emptying the in-basket and ending the “pack-rat” syndrome. “I find it works best when I clean out my files every so often and get rid of
everything that doesn’t belong there,” Merrick says. ‘When correspondence comes in, I file it immediately or make sure it gets done by the end of the week. It keeps me from falling further behind.”
Keep a log of your telephone calls.
Making notes when you’re on the phone eliminates forgotten messages and followups. It also creates a record that you can refer back to when things go wrong. For example, says Merrick, “I always keep a log when I phone someone to say I’ve done something. That way they can’t call later and say I didn’t do it. It’s a good way to avoid misunderstandings.”
Schedule “appointments with yourself” to complete priority work.
Blocking off time in your daily planner for specific projects reduces the risk that you’ll be thrown off your schedule by someone else’s lack of planning. Says Merrick: “I use a week-at-a-glance planner and book appointments with myself to do the things I really need to get done each day. That way, when someone asks if I have time to meet with them, I can say, Well, I’m busy then but this time is free.’ If you leave your schedule wide open, anything goes.”
To avoid interruptions when you’re on the phone, turn your back to others.
When your days are filled with interruptions, it’s essential to concentrate on one task at a time. A useful trick is to have your phone in a position where your back is to the door. “I like this one a lot. When someone walks in, they can’t make eye contact and distract me from my conversation,” Merrick explains.
Say no more often.
Have as much respect for your own time as for other’s. “At first, you feel really guilty saying no, but I’ve tried it and it works,” Merrick says. “Recently, someone asked me to join a new work team. I wanted to help, but if I say yes to everyone, I won’t have time to do what really needs to get done.” And by focusing on her priorities, Merrick finds that she can accomplish more—with less stress.
4A while ago, I started to feel overwhelmed with everything happening at my company’
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