I’m not generally a fan of time management literature, but during a recent trip to the local library, Kerry Gleeson’s The Personal Efficiency Program: How to stop feeling overwhelmed and win back control of your work caught my eye (published 2009 by John Wiley and Sons, 4th edition). Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m working more and getting less done, and I’ve been hearing similar buzz from other freelancers (“I feel like I could work 24 hours a day and it wouldn’t be enough,” “I feel totally and constantly overwhelmed,” “I’m at my desk all day but I can’t seem to get anything done,” etc.). So, I decided to give PEP (as Gleeson calls the program) a try.
I opened this book with a few motivations in mind:
- My e-mail inbox is out of control. Although I have a well-designed system of folders and filters, I currently have 496 messages languishing in my inbox.
- Lately I’ve felt more stressed about work than I’d like to feel.
- I feel like I’m doing less and taking more time to do it. For example, I somehow managed to publish the first edition of my book when I had a lot less available time than I have now. Still, I just can’t seem to finish the second edition.
The foundation of PEP is the mantra “Do It Now.” For example, many of us check e-mail every few minutes, but we take a long time to respond to or act on the e-mails that we’ve read. This creates a bad situation: the e-mail is hanging out waiting for a response, and we’re using mental energy thinking about responding or acting, or feeling guilty about not responding or acting. Then, because we don’t act or respond, we start getting more e-mail (“Did you receive my message?” “Have you thought about a good time to meet?” “Did you get a chance to read the article?” etc.). It’s not hard to see how this leads to stress and overwhelm. So, instead of obsessively reading e-mail, Gleeson advocates setting aside blocks of time to process e-mail. Then, you take action using one of the 4 Ds: Do it now (respond to the e-mail or act on it right then), Delegate it, Designate it (schedule a block of time to respond to or act on the e-mail) or Discard/file it. Gleeson advises checking e-mail only two or three times a day; personally I’m not there yet because I receive too many e-mails that need a fast response. For example, my European clients are only in the office until around 9 or 10AM Colorado time, so I need to respond to them right away. However, I’m trying to set aside 15 minutes every hour or hour and a half for e-mail, and I’ve decreased my backlog from about 10 messages per day to one or two.
PEP also pushes you to schedule, plan and log your time more than most of us do. Here again, I think it’s worth a try. My normal time management system before reading this book was to scribble a list of to-dos for the day in my planner in no particular order and with no particular time frame attached to them. Inevitably I would end up finishing the really critical items (i.e. work deadlines) and copying everything else over to the next day (and so on and so on and so on). Now I’ve switched to using the calendar feature of my e-mail program (KMail) and I’m amazed at how much it has decreased my stress level. Although my day is highly scheduled, I find that I can actually concentrate on what I’m doing because I’m not thinking about what else I should be doing. Instead of working on a translation while thinking “I really should have answered that message,” “I really need to work on that quote,” I can put it out of my mind because I know I have a block of time set aside for that task.
I think that effective time management has a lot to do with your personality type; for whatever reason, I’m quite good at meeting deadlines that someone else sets and not so good at meeting deadlines that I set for myself. So, I find that PEP is a good fit for me because a very detailed time schedule makes me feel that “someone else” (i.e. my scheduling program) is telling me to stick to that schedule. I also like the fact that Gleeson focuses not just on getting more done at work, but on working smarter so that you have more time for your family and leisure interests. Overall, I think that this book is worth a look if you need to take better control of your work day!