1. Take time to plan.
Look at your calendar first thing every morning and frequently throughout the day so that you can envision what lies ahead, complete necessary preparation for the next event and spot any problems. Notice the gaps between appointments and decide in advance how to use that available time to accomplish your most pressing tasks.
2. Coordinate with your to-do list.
As you look at your task list, batch similar kinds of action items, like phone calls or brief emails. Then schedule blocks of time to work through each batch. For example, if you have to make a lot of phone calls, schedule one-hour blocks for quickly getting through your call list.
3. Match your day's schedule to your body clock.
Many people find that they are more efficient at some times of day than at others. If your mind is sharpest in the morning, then you may want to tackle your most challenging and important work then.
4. Push for shorter meetings.
Would you have more time for your top projects if you didn't have to go to so many meetings? Chances are that some of your regular meetings take longer than they should. And if you're frustrated by the wasted time, other participants probably are, as well. So even if you aren't chairperson, you may be able to convince your colleagues to experiment with quicker meetings. For example, if a meeting normally takes an hour, propose restructuring so that it lasts only 45 minutes.
5. Resist distraction.
Once your plan for the day is in place, your next big challenge may be to avoid being hijacked by phone calls, email, visitors and your own compulsion to multitask. To be more efficient, you may need to overcome old habits, like checking email every 10 minutes or answering the phone every time it rings. Your log will help you notice where your plans tend to go awry. Sometimes honoring your commitments means learning how to fight off other requests and temptations.
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6. Renegotiate your schedule as you go along.
The demands you face change constantly, and life does get in the way of your carefully planned agenda. Your goal is not to be a slave to your calendar but rather to be impeccable in the way you use it to manage your commitments. When you're faced with the unexpected, you often can renegotiate dates and deadlines.
7. Align your time and priorities.
Your well-kept calendar can provide a clear picture of where your time goes. As you look at it, regularly ask whether the distribution of your time is consistent with your priorities. Is most of your time going to your most important activities? Are you saying yes to requests when your list of current objectives suggests that you should decline? And are you building in time for things that really matter to your personally, like working out at the gym and other ways to take care of yourself? As you schedule, remember to honor not only the promises you make to other people but also the commitments you make to yourself.
8. Say no.
A chunk of your day may be devoted to activities that feel urgent but aren't really very important. Maybe you agree to attend meetings or undertake projects not because they matter to you but because you want to be nice, because you like to avoid conflict or because yes is just your knee-jerk response. If so, you probably should get better at saying no. And saying no gets easier with practice, as you find ways to tactfully decline proposals and opportunities that aren't consistent with your priorities. One useful technique is to pause before you say yes, in order to ask yourself what you'll give up if you don't say no. For example, if a coworker invites you to a meeting that sounds kind of interesting, hesitate before saying OK, and think about what else you could do with that hour.
This excerpt was adapted from Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, by Beverly Jones.
© 2016 Beverly E. Jones. Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO published by Career Press. All rights reserved.
Beverly E. Jones is president of Clearways Consulting, an executive coaching business based in Washington, D.C.