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Too much to do, too little time? Anyone working in a veterinary practice will know the feeling; it seems the amount of work each of us has is far too great to get anything done.
So how can we manage our time to work more effectively? Here are 15 tips to help you stay sane.
Learn to prioritise
Do not try to do everything – try to do what is most important. Ask yourself: “What will happen if I don’t do this?” If the answer is nothing then you can afford not to do it.
Read each piece of paper and email once
Decide quickly whether the item needs action now; reading now, but no action; reading some time; or not reading at all. Then put it in the right place – in the middle of your desk, in your files or in the bin.
Divide your tasks
Divide your tasks into:
- must do now
- must do this week
- nice to do
Make a list and ensure all the “must do now” tasks are done first. Then try to get ahead by doing the ones that have a week left to go. Only then do the “nice” things.
Learn to say no
Give your reasons, but learn to tell people if it is impossible to do what they want. Do not take on too much.
If something might come in useful later, get it filed in the right place – do not cram your desk with piles of paper.
Even if your practice does not have a clean desk policy, it is a good discipline at least to clean your desk before you go home for the weekend – that way you can start every week in an organised way.
Train everyone in your practice to tell you what they want you to do with any information they give you.
A lot of time is taken up with “for your information” email and notes. Do you really need to know? Every communication should start with a statement of what you are expected to do, such as “let me know if this client has paid his bill” or “please tell me whether you think we should go ahead”.
Use an organiser
The personal organiser exists – just – but more efficient is the to do list manager on your smartphone or computer. Uncompleted tasks carry over from day to day, automatically, until you finish them.
Make sure you can concentrate on the task in hand. This may involve changing the way the people around you work. It is vital people respect your need to finish one task before you go on to another – except in the case of situations needing urgent action.
You might need to agree a list of things or people you can be interrupted for.
Set meeting agendas
Meetings waste time, so make sure you have an agenda for all meetings, and that it includes not only the subjects to be discussed, but what the outcome of the meeting should be for each subject. Hold meetings where everyone stands – sore feet will get everyone wanting the meeting over all the sooner.
Do not work stupid hours
A common reaction to too much work is to put in long hours. However, most of us have a physical limit to how much we can do. Beyond that limit, the law of diminishing returns means we get less work done for each extra hour we work.
A 12-hour day is probably the limit for most people. While you are working, keep your concentration fresh by taking a rest, or by changing the type of work you are doing every hour or so. Alternatively, take a quick walk then get back to your desk.
You may find much of your work can be done by people who work for you. If it involves things they are working with every day – for instance, a credit decision on a customer they know better than you do – they may do that work better and more quickly than you could.
But effective delegation is difficult for many. They do not like to give up responsibility and want to keep involved with what their staff are doing. However, if you keep trying to do your staff’s work, you will demotivate them and have no time to do your own work. Learn to delegate – however tough it is.
Set up proper systems and make sure people know them. If your staff have to ask you to do things that should be automatic – such as discounts for a certain level of business – you should make them aware of the right procedure.
If you find your time is taken up with continual firefighting, ask why. Find out the reason and see whether you can avoid firefighting in the future.
You are not superhuman and you cannot solve all the world’s problems. You did your prioritising in step one, but you are still worrying about the things you decided not to do. Stop worrying about them.