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Efficiency experts share details on making 2006 a productive year for you and your business

What to do with clean slate?

Every year, the average executive loses approximately six weeks of productive work time looking for lost items. On a dollar cost average basis, that equals about 10% of their annual salary.

“It’s a sobering thought, but true,” said Stephanie Davis, founder of Jackson-based Let’s Get Organized! Inc. “To have a productive 2006, you must be organized. Run your home like a business, and run your business down to the bottom line.”

One of the best tips for self-motivation is to calculate your hourly pay rate, suggested Davis.

“Once you know how much your time is worth, it will become more valuable to you,” she said. “ The result will be you managing time rather than time managing you.”

Jackson-based Gretchen Cook, author of “Organize Your Life: Skills You Need To Conquer In the Areas of Chaos in Your Life,” said productivity begins with setting appropriate and realistic priorities.

“Something I have learned through the years working with folks on improving organization is that as long as they cling to the myth they can get it all done, they will not set clear priorities,” Cook said. “If you have 24 things to do in a 12-hour day and are convinced you will get them all done, you feel as if you don’t really have to set meaningful priorities because you think you’ll get it all done by the end of the day. By admitting to yourself you simply cannot get everything done, you are then able to set priorities, beginning with the question, ‘Out of all of this, what matters the most if I don’t get it done?’”

Once priorities are established, the next step involves dealing with those lingering items that are on your list, but are never a priority, Cook pointed out.

“My advice? Admit you aren’t going to do the task and delete it or delegate it,” she said. “For example, if you despise the thought of giving up a football weekend to address leaf-clogged house gutters, hire someone to do it and be done with it. Don’t just move it from your to-do list from week to week until spring is here. Or, ask yourself, ‘What is the worst thing that will happen if I never do this task?’ If your answer is mild or no consequences, then skip it altogether. In other words, if you can live happily without addressing a nagging task, maybe you can just cross it off your list. On the other hand, if the consequence is ‘IRS agents will come into my home and seize all my belongings and throw me in jail,’ then you probably ought not skip that one!”

Structure your day to be more productive, suggested Davis.

“More than 40% of a person’s work time is spent in meetings,” she explained. “The time allowed to facilitate what comes out of a meeting is between 30% and 35%.”

Because managers tend to schedule early Monday morning meetings to start out the week, Davis suggested moving them to the afternoon, with a definite five o’clock ending when workers are motivated to leave the office. “Also, limit the number of people in these meetings,” she suggested. “Don’t bring in food or schedule a meeting around lunchtime because it’s an eater of time.”

Before leaving the office, and before going to bed at night, spend 10 to 15 minutes mapping out the next day’s activities because “if you’re in a disorganized state, your confidence is lower,” said Davis. “It’s a mental game. There are all kinds of tools to help you take control of time to increase productivity, but if you don’t make your time productive, those peripheral devices are not going to be effective for you.”

Contentment is the mindset needed for better organization, based upon the realization that enough is enough, Cook pointed out. “We live in a time of over-abundance,” she said. “Almost all of us have too much of everything. Too many clothes, books, appointments, social obligations and weekend activities. The list goes on and on.

This ‘too much’ is the catalyst for most of our disorganization and stress. Being over-obligated leaves you stressed out and tired. When you are stressed, you let small things slip, until those small things build up and add to your chaos.

“The key is understanding that you do not need more to be happy. When we accept our many blessings as what they are — blessings — we are in a position to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. Once we learn not to yearn for more of everything, we are more able to find peace with those things we do have in our lives.”

How to apply this philosophy? When in doubt, throw it out, said Cook.

“When we are faced with too much, the cure is the elimination of the excess clutter,” she explained. “Clutter can be junk at the office, broken equipment in the garage, unused and obsolete files, and especially papers. We keep way too many of the zillions of papers that seep into our lives. Clutter can also be intangible: distracting relationships, memberships in organizations that no longer interest us, hobbies we no longer enjoy.

“You know you are experiencing doubt when you have to create scenarios in your mind about the usefulness of an item, such as, ‘Hey, this bookcase is in good shape. All it needs is a little bracing and some paint. It might be useful in the store room.’ When you have to convince yourself an item is useful, odds are, it’s not.”

Managing time efficiently and effectively often makes a difference in stepping up the next career ladder rung. When Dr. Marjorie Taylor, director of the Greenville Higher Education Center, was named one of Mississippi’s 50 Leading Businesswomen in 2002, she said that being extremely organized was her best character trait. “My ability to organize and prioritize multiple responsibilities has enabled me to achieve success,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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About Lynne W. Jeter

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