By Dirk Zeller

Anyone can conquer time management, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes your days feel like a video game, where you’re in constant threat of being gobbled up on your course to the finish line. But instead of cartoon threats, your obstacles are your own shortcomings (poor communication skills, procrastination, and the inability to make wise and quick decisions), time‐wasting co‐workers and bosses, phone and people interruptions, and unproductive meetings.

Communicating effectively

Communicating effectively is one of the best ways to maximize your time. One of the biggest time‐wasters on company time is, no surprise, talking with co‐workers. But what may be a surprise is that the abuse isn’t a function of weekend catch‐up discussions that take place at the water cooler or the gossip circle at the copy machine.

Rather, it’s the banter at the weekly staff status reports, the drawn‐out updates of projects that never seem to conclude, the sales presentations that get off track. It’s all the meetings that could be as brief as ten minutes but somehow take an hour or more.

At your disposal, however, is an amazing weapon for taming these misbehaving encounters: your words. With a few deft remarks, you have the power to bring these meetings to a productive close.

Some situations are most appropriate for each of the primary communication methods — face‐to‐face, verbal only, and written. You can communicate your message and pose questions strategically, succinctly, and successfully so that your communication ends in results, action, and decisions — whether you’re leading a meeting or simply attending it.

Circumventing interruptions

Interruptions creep into your workday in all sorts of insidious manners. Besides the pesky co‐worker stepping into your office with “Got a sec?” interruptions come in the form of unproductive meetings, phone calls, hall conversations that drift into your office and distract you, even the “you’ve got mail” icon that creeps onto the lower corner of your computer monitor.

You now have more of these interruptions than ever before. You get sidetracked by instant messaging and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The list of five‐minute‐here‐and‐there interruptions is endless.

Additionally, most poor time managers interrupt themselves by trying to do too much at once. Study after study supports that multitasking isn’t the most effective work style. The constant stops and starts disrupt a project, requiring startup time each time you turn back to the task.

Being a good time manager at work depends on how you create, craft, and implement your interruption system and strategy. Each day, interruptions cost hours of lost productivity for businesses.

Getting procrastination under control

Sometimes, it’s tempting to use interruptions as an excuse to postpone a project or a task. How nice to have someone else to blame for not getting started! And before you know it, you’ve found so many good reasons not to do something that you’ve backed yourself into a really tight 11th‐hour corner, and the pressure’s on.

Say you’re writing a 400‐page book and you have ten months to complete the project. You have almost a year to put this thing together. Looking forward, your task requires you to complete 40 pages per month — little more than a page a day. That’s too easy! You can afford to put it off for a while. Wait for a couple of months, and then you’ll need to produce 50 pages a month. Still doable. But at some point, doable starts to morph into impossible.

But when? When you’re down to four months and pressured to crank out 100 pages per month? Or do you wait until the last minute and find yourself struggling to complete nearly 15 pages per day?

Procrastination has a lot of causes, but most of the reasons to procrastinate leave you headed for trouble.

Making decisions: Just do it

One of the easiest things to put off is making a decision. Even sidestepping the smallest decisions can lead to giant time‐consumption.

Think about it: You scroll through your email and save one to ponder and respond to later. You revisit a few times and still can’t bring yourself to a commitment. So you get more email from the sender. To stave off making a decision, you ask a couple of questions, which requires more time and attention. By the time the issue is resolved and put to bed, you may have invested five times more attention than if you’d handled it at once.

Many factors create the confusion and uncertainty that prevent you from making sound but quick decisions. Often, part of the struggle is having too many options. Most people have a tough enough time choosing between pumpkin and apple pie at the Thanksgiving table. But every day, you’re forced to make decisions from choices as abundant as a home‐style cafeteria line. Having options is usually a good thing, but too much choice is overwhelming, even paralyzing.

Being able to handle email, paperwork, and tasks leverages your time. Being able to decide on a course of action, whether you handle an issue or delegate it to someone else, creates a surplus of time.