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Beat the Clock

Increase your productivity with these time-management strategies.

You are now entering another dimension--a dimension where time slowly freezes and then melts at warp speed. A place where daydreams derail deadlines, clocks exist only to be ignored, and "schedule" is just another word for something else to lose.

Welcome to the Home Office Zone.

Working at home can do strange things to your sense of time. A few minutes on the phone somehow turns into half a day; an hour flies by as you scramble to prepare for a meeting with a client. Distractions beckon at every turn, breaking your concentration and fragmenting your focus. With no schedule imposed and enforced by a supervisor or other workplace entity, it's easy to drift through the days without accomplishing much.

Then, before you know it, another week has passed--and your to-do list has doubled in size. As the owner of a homebased organizing service since 1986, I've tackled the home office time warp for both myself and many of my clients. What I've found is that the solution--and the toughest challenge--is creating an effective, easy-to-maintain schedule. Without one, all the time management tips in the world won't save you from vanishing into the Home Office Zone.

Structuring a Schedule
Working productively at home requires more than just a home office with a door you can shut (although I recommend that, too). You also need to create a schedule with built-in distraction controls. Developing a flexible yet focused framework for your days and weeks is crucial. How do you do it? The trick is to figure out two things: what your recurring tasks are, and the best days and times for you to perform those tasks.

For example, I'm not a morning person, so I've structured a daily schedule to accommodate my lack of a.m. energy. My typical day is shaped around what I call the "Four Cs": Calls and Correspondence in the morning; Clients and Creative Work later in the day. If you're a morning person, I'd recommend doing just the opposite--schedule your appointments and projects for earlier in the day to make the most of your peak energy time.

Two Types of Time
To create an effective schedule, it's helpful to think in terms of two types of time: project time and maintenance time. Project time should be prime time. When working on projects or meeting with clients, you want to be in top form and at your peak energy level. Maintenance time, on the other hand, is "workhorse" time--that necessary but undervalued, and often under-scheduled, time that needs to be spent on tasks like returning phone calls, answering correspondence, and doing preparation and follow-up.

I have a saying: Life is 5 percent joy, 5 percent grief and 90 percent maintenance. Think about it: 90 percent of what we do is stuff we have to do over and over and over again. And when you don't schedule adequate time for maintenance, your business suffers.

For example, two of the top complaints about businesses are unreturned phone calls and unsent materials. The result: lost credibility and lost business. The cause: not enough maintenance time set aside for business communications. The solution: Figure out how much time you need to block out each day for communication maintenance.

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