Why Office Hours Aren’t Just For Professors

time management office hoursOffice Hours: you know, that thing you swore you’d attend in college but never really did. Professors have office hours to give students a chance to get a hold of them outside of class. How do YOU communicate to your colleagues when you’re available for questions? Why not try this…

One of my favorite things about running time management workshops is that I always learn something in the process. This week I spoke to NHS Phoenix and had a blast meeting some truly fabulous people. One man shared that he puts his availability in his email signature. For example: “I return phone calls between the hours of 2 and 4pm” or “I return emails three times a day, at 8, 12, and 3.”

I love this concept because it gives people a reasonable expectation when they can expect to hear from you, so they don’t get upset with their communication isn’t immediately returned.

If having regular hours like this doesn’t work for you, maybe giving a broad time frame would work better. For example, “I try my best to return all communications within 24 hours.” While that might seem obvious (of course we want to be prompt with our communications) it reminds people that they can’t really be upset if they haven’t heard back from you 20 minutes later.

So what are your “office hours?” Remember, people need to get a hold of you, and if you haven’t conveyed when communication is convenient to you, people will be left to guess or assume, and you know that they say about assumptions.

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How to Write Lightning Fast Emails

time management fast emailWhat’s the number one time management problem I hear when doing time management trainings? Email management. “My email consumes my day!” “I spend all day answering emails!” “How can I be faster at email?” One way to help cut down on your email time is to spend less time writing them. Answer these three questions before starting an email:

1. What is the action item?
I’ve seen emails that are 4 paragraphs long in which the sender doesn’t mention the action she/he would like to see the recipient take until the very last sentence. No need to be unnecessarily curt in your messages, but don’t make it difficult for the recipient to find out the intent of your email. In an email that’s to-the-point, they’ll spend less time reading and you’ll spend less time writing.

2. What is the subject?
Too often I see emails with blank subject lines. A descriptive subject helps your recipient know exactly what to expect in your message. Think of it as a one-line summary, which helps make the body of the message shorter and easier to act upon.

3. Is it necessary?
Because email is so easy, it’s tempting to get into the habit of sending more email than you really should. If your message is not truly necessary, don’t send it. It takes up your time and clogs up your recipient’s inbox. Besides, people are far more likely to overlook an important message from you, if they are used to seeing a flurry of unimportant ones.

Finally, don’t forget that email in general isn’t always the most effective means of communication. Sometimes a phone call, in person meeting, or hand written letter is more appropriate. When you use email efficiently, you’ll minimize the time you waste staring at your inbox.

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3 Reasons the New Gmail Compose is Great for Time Management

Time Management EmailIf you are a Gmail user, you found that your inbox looked a little different last week. Gmail rolled out a new interface that changes the way you compose messages. Instead of using the whole screen to compose a message, a small “compose box” now pops up in the bottom right corner.

I (along with the rest of the world) enjoy complaining about even the most miniscule adjustments to popular free websites, so this monumental change to one of the most basic functions of Gmail sent me into a bit of a panic. However, after living with the new compose box for a few days, I realized it’s actually helpful to our time management. Here is why:

1. It encourages shorter messages

When you have the whole screen to write a message, you feel obligated to fill it. How many times have you received a lengthy email requiring you to wade through tons of extra information just to get to the purpose of the message? The new smaller compose box feels much more like a chat window, encouraging shorter, more to-the-point communications. This saves time for both the writer and the reader.

2. It’s easier to reference other mail while you write

When composing a new message, I frequently have to reference previous emails, which was not easy to do in the old format. You had to save your current message as a draft, close it, open up your inbox again, and then return to the draft. Now, you’re able to keep your new email open while browsing your inbox for older messages, which is so much easier.

3. You’re less likely to forget about half-written drafts

In the old Gmail, if you were interrupted while writing a message, you saved the incomplete message to your “drafts” folder to come back to it later…assuming you remembered to come back to it later! For me, placing a message in my drafts folder was a pretty good sign that it would be quickly forgotten about. With the new compose box, you can minimize your drafts and they stay at the bottom of your inbox as a reminder to come back and finish them.

…and one reason it’s not

On the whole, I like the new compose box and think it makes my email experience quicker and more streamlined. There is, however, one big time management detriment I’ve discovered: it’s more difficult to stay focused. When the compose box took up the whole screen, it was easier to stay focused on the task at hand. Now that I can see my inbox while I’m writing, it’s easier to be distracted by incoming messages. If you notice your focus start to shift, click the “pop out” arrow on the top right of the compose box. This makes the window bigger and you can easily cover up your inbox until you’re ready to face it again.

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Fluff is for Bunnies, Not for Email

Efficient communication is an essential component of time management. However, sometimes we pad our communications with so much “fluff” that the main point is lost or hard to find.  This wastes both our time and the reader’s time. We have enough to do in our busy lives that we cannot afford to wade through extraneous information looking for the main point. With a few simple steps, we can streamline our communications and save everyone time.

Steps to Efficient Communication

1. Shorten your greeting.

When we’re typing emails or leaving voicemails, it can be tempting to start off with a flowery greeting. After all, we can’t see the person we are speaking to so we want to convey our tone with words instead of body language. However, these extra sentences just add bulk to your message. Stick to a brief, simple greeting and get on with your point!

2. Don’t Overwhelm Your Reader

When your email or memo appears cluttered and lengthy, people are far less likely to read it. They see its length and don’t want to take the time to read it all now, so they put it in the “later pile.” Before you send a business email, ask yourself: “What is the main point I want this message to convey?” If there are superfluous sentences that don’t support this main point, delete them. You wouldn’t want your reader to ignore an important email because it looked too long, especially if the main point is actually very short.

3. Organize Longer Messages

If your message truly is lengthy and necessary, then organize it into headings and bullet points so it’s easy to navigate. If you need your reader to take action from your email, make that explicit in both the greeting and the closing. Make directions simple, clear, and to the point.

4. Don’t Hit Send

Before you hit send on that email, ask yourself if you really need to send it. Email is such an easy form of communication that it can be quickly abused. Does the person you’re sending this message to really need this information? Or will it become one of countless other messages in his or her inbox that gets deleted?

Time Management Karma

Keeping your business communications short and to the point not only saves you the time of crafting an overly long and complex message, but it’s also a good way of practicing “Time Management Karma”: treating other people’s time the way you want yours to be treated. We all struggle to stay on top of our emails and phone calls. Sifting through the mountains of information we receive every day can be daunting. Don’t add to someone else’s mountain with unnecessary information.

Besides, if people know that you don’t send excess, un-needed information, they are far more likely to open your email in the first place.

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Upcoming Event!

Check out The Time Diet’s next free presentation for students at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ on Monday September 10th 2012 at 7:00pm. Time Management for Student Survival

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