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From quick fixes to major changes, here are a dozen ways you can get organized and find time you didn't know you had.

Fam Pract Manag. 1999;6(3):66

Whether you're reading tabloids or professional journals, you'll find a plethora of articles telling you the “top 10” ways to accomplish some objective. Like so many of us in the “bullet-point generation,” you may find yourself looking hopefully to these lists of “how-tos,” searching for help with your increasingly extended lists of “to dos.”

You'll probably see even more top-10 lists this year as we're exhorted to do everything better so we can be “prepared” for the 21st century — as if humanity will have to take some giant collective leap into the next millennium and may not make it. But the fact is that aside from assuring yourself that you'll be able to use your computer and be paid for your care when the year ends in “00,” your life in Y2K will largely continue to be a quest for sane management of your personal and professional spheres. Anyone who has practiced medicine during the last 10 years knows that health care is in a state of flux and that technological advances will continue to challenge us to use time more wisely. The next millennium promises more of the same.

12 for the price of 10

To help you cope, here are my top 10 (plus two) tips on how to manage your time and balance your life, for now and for the “great unknown” of Y2K.

1. Think snippets. If you're waiting for blocks of time to do something you want to do, you're waiting for a bus that's not coming. Blocks of time are a myth now. When you find yourself thinking, “There's not enough time to start something,” instead ask yourself, “What can I finish in 12 minutes?” (or whatever the length of your snippet is). Write a memo, pull the files you need for a bigger project, dash off an e-mail, make a quick phone call (but tell the other person you only have three minutes) — or decide to sit and relax.

2. Get control of meetings. If you've organized a meeting, don't wait for anybody. Start on time, and end in less than an hour. Have an agenda, and assign a time limit to each topic. Make the minutes of the meeting action-oriented by noting who agreed to do what and by when.

3. Hire a personal assistant. You have a staff to help you professionally, and your personal life is no less important. Personal assistants take your clothes to the cleaners, shop for birthdays and holidays, plan your parties, get your shoes repaired, wait for the repair people and take Spot to the vet. In a real sense, hiring a personal assistant is buying time for yourself.

4. Think simple. What can you live without? Discuss with the important people in your life what things or commitments are costing you more in time than they're giving you back. Then get rid of them.

5. Lose “wait.” Procrastinate less. Why do we procrastinate? Generally because we don't like doing something. Here are some quick remedies: Do it, ditch it, barter it, buy it (pay someone to do it) or delegate it (responsibly).

6. Send boring e-mails. E-mail is the perfect medium for outlining and bullet-pointing your communication. Don't waste time being creative.

7. Don't be a sap. Never use or accept ASAP. Asking someone to do something “as soon as possible” may sound action-oriented, but it's not. Give the person a deadline, and say exactly what needs to be done by that date.

8. Bargain for more time. When someone gives you a deadline for completing a task, ask, “Is this the longest amount of time I can have?” People will nearly always give you more time, especially if you set a track record of meeting the deadlines you do agree to.

9. Sign up. Put up a sign in your office that says, “Fifteen minutes of planning gives you eight hours of productivity.” That's the return on your investment when you plan effectively. Once your sign goes up, live by it.

10. Plan by the week. Daily to-do lists are only as good as your weekly plan for using your time effectively. Daily lists keep you in urgent mode. Think twice before you buy an organizer or electronic scheduler that doesn't have a weekly planning component.

11. Prepare for calls. Before you make a phone call seeking information, jot down all the questions you want to ask. Saving yourself from “I wish I had remembered to ask ...” is a simple but profound time saver.

12. Leave town empty-handed. Take off without skis, golf clubs, kids, pagers, work or books so you can do the most beneficial time-saving activity of all — retreat. Your task is to ask yourself three questions:

  • “What do I want to accomplish by the end of my life?”

  • “What am I doing now to make that happen?”

  • “What's my plan to make it happen?”

Your answers will show you where to invest your time when you return home.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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