Managing Daily Tasks
This guide has been designed to help you manage the main forms of daily communication in a more time saving and effective manner.
The information below should be used as a starting point to help you think about which tips, if implemented, will help you the most in your daily working life. You will also need to consider your own organisation’s policies and procedures which we cannot take account of here.
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Summary of Contents
Email is a very useful tool when used wisely. However nowadays, we have become bombarded with unsolicited e-marketing mails, copies of emails addressed to other recipients and lengthy emails that may be better communicated by telephone, or face-to-face. Here are a few tips to help you reduce the volume of emails you receive:
- Remove yourself from the mailing list
If you are receiving a lot of unwanted e-mails, ask to be removed from the companies’ marketing list. Most e-marketing emails have an ‘un-subscribe’ reference at the bottom of the email, as they have to by law.
- Remove yourself from the internal distribution list
If you are being copied in to emails addressed to other recipients that you do not wish to receive, contact the sender and ask to be removed, or copied in on only certain critical information.
- Delete unwanted emails
Although most companies now have anti-spamming tools to prevent emails getting through their network server, if you are receiving potential spam or unwanted emails that may threaten your pc or IT system, just delete, especially if they have attachments with them.
- File emails that are needed for future reference
When you realise that the email you have opened could be helpful for future reference, instead of reading the whole email, file it in an email folder under the relevant folder name.
To avoid an overflowing e-mail In Box, treat e-mails in the same way you would the storage of paper
- Determine your action with the email
As soon as you see the email, decide dependent upon the subject matter and whom the email is from, what action you should take. For example:
- Delete it
- File it
- Respond to it (delete or file)
- Identify for future action
- Identify for future action
Where an email will take more than a couple of minutes to respond to, either leave the email in your In Box or file under a folder marked ‘;Action’ or ‘Follow Up’, and/or print a hard copy to reflect on your responses or make telephone contact with the sender
- Create folders to categorise e-mail subject matter
Think about how best you can store needed e-mails that you will need to refer to in the future and produce folders under your ‘In Box’ to easily store and retrieve e-mails as they come in. You could have folder names for each project or key objective you are undertaking and then when the project/objective is completed, you can always store the emails on another medium such as a CD-Rom/DVD.
- Periodically delete or transfer email data in your folders
As with all filing and storage systems, your email folders need regular review.
- Inform email senders of your intended absence
If you are going to be away from email communication for a period of time, inform people of your absence and who should be contacted in your absence before hand to avoid receiving email in the first place, and consider placing a standard reply to those who do make email contact.
To help your recipients receive and make the correct decisions about the emails you send them, follow some of the tips below:
- Before sending email, consider if this is the best means of communication
Remember, the written word can often be misunderstood, so is a face-to-face discussion or a telephone conversation a better option? Be clear about what message you are trying to send and what you wish to achieve.
- Use the subject line to clearly describe the topic of the email
This will not only help your recipient but also help you get the right message across to them, particularly in terms of the action and priority you may wish them to take.
- Include only one subject per email message
This helps the recipient file and retrieve your email and aids overall communication.
- Use headers, bullet points, and action notes that help the recipient quickly scan the email
Just with all written communication, the use of headings, sub headings and bullet points help the reader take the message onboard. A summary at the end entitled ‘Action’ could help the recipient assimilate their next steps.
- Use message settings to highlight the importance level of the email
When an email does require an urgent response or immediate digestion, use the urgent setting on the message setting so that the recipient sees the email with a red flag. Avoid overuse of this option though.
- Avoid lengthy or complicated email messages
Rather than sending a lengthy or complicated email that may confuse or distract the recipient from reading the email, consider an alternative means of communication. Would face-to-face or the telephone be a better form of communication? If email is the only or best way, then consider the use a word document for the detail communication, and summarise the document’s content in the covering email.
- Provide sufficient information to recipient when replying to their email
When replying to an email, attach enough of the old message for the recipient to remember the content of the original email, but delete any unnecessary information or duplication.
With the volume of information that exists today, too much time can be eroded into other more important tasks by reading everything that has been sent to us. The more quickly and effectively you can scan through these documents, the more time and focus you can bring to the key objectives of your role. Here are a few tips to help guide your reading:
- Read the first and last paragraphs
Often the writer will introduce the idea in the first paragraph and summarise the document in the last paragraph, or there may even be an executive summary at the beginning.
- Check its relevance
If it doesn’t apply to you, discard it or pass it on to someone who will find it useful.
- Focus on the key information
Seek out key phrases, captions, sub-titles and chapter headings within the document.
- Scan through the document
Highlight any important points but continue through to the end (return later to the highlighted points).
- Use a pacer to help you speed-read
Use a pen, finger or ruler for example down the right hand side of the text to help encourage your eyes to move forward at a quick pace. Try to build up a pace and momentum to reading the text. You will find with practice that your reading becomes quicker.
- Avoid verbalising the text
Research shows that when we read the text out aloud or in our heads, our talking slows us down as we only read at the pace our voice can take us. Those that speed read effectively, use their eyes to determine the pace of reading.
- Check on dates or action points that may come from the document
Any reference to a date can help you determine the timeframe in which you need to read and/or take action on the document.
- Read the detail later
Read those highlighted or important sections when you have a spare moment or where you have been able to schedule some reading time in your Weekly Planner. Carry documents with you on your travels to utilise any spare moment, such as train or plane journeys or waiting to meet someone.
- When you finished reading the document, take action
In same way as email or any other form of written communication, determine whether the document needs to be stored for future reference, passed onto someone else, or whether you can destroy it.
If we are not careful, we can spend far too much time in meetings at work, so careful consideration needs to be made before accepting an invitation to a meeting. The following tips may help you in determining your approach to attending meetings:
- Determine whether a meeting is required
Before scheduling or attending a meeting, ask yourself, ‘Is this meeting necessary?’ If the main objective for the meeting is to disseminate information, there are much better venues than a meeting: e-mail, voicemail, intranet or memos are all better venues for getting information to colleagues.
Holding a meeting is a good idea if you are attempting to do any of the following:
- Reach consensus on an issue
- Create learning or understanding
- Respond to questions
- Hear others’viewpoints
- Generate ideas
- Find solutions
- Resolve conflicts
- Make progress on a project
- Determine how much of the meeting you need to attend
Review the objectives of the meeting and each subject/topic heading on the agenda and/or speaking to the chairperson, then you should be able to attend the specific parts of the meeting that your input is required.
- Determine if you are the best person to attend the meeting
From reviewing the objectives and agenda of the meeting in advance, you can determine whether this could be an opportunity for a colleague to attend in your place as part of their development, or they may be better informed than you to attend.
- Ensure you have sufficient time to plan for the meeting
The most productive meetings are where participants have had to prepare in advance. You will be better prepared and the meeting time should be reduced if you have the right information to hand and you have had time to think the issues through.
- Avoid back-to-back meetings
Back-to-back meetings do not allow for transfer or reflection time from one meeting to the other, and as a consequence, you can loose your effectiveness at the follow on meeting.
- Arrive a few minutes before the scheduled meeting start time
To ensure the meeting starts on time with your input, ensure you arrive a few minutes before hand and encourage the chairperson to start the meeting as scheduled. Once people realise that meetings start at the scheduled time, they tend to arrive on time or earlier to ensure they get their input!
- Confirm at the beginning of the meeting the finishing time
Clarity of the time allocated to the meeting will help in the effectiveness and running of the meeting.
- Keep your contributions as focused and brief as possible
This will help to keep the meeting to time.
- Leave at the scheduled finish time of the meeting
Once the meeting attendees realise that you only attend the originally allocated time of the meeting, they are more likely to stick to the agenda and key points, and not overrun the meeting. Remember, another time slot or follow up discussion can always take place if the matter is really important.
The telephone can take up a great deal of our time if not utilised in the most efficient way, and can cause great distraction to us focusing on our key tasks and priorities if we allow it. Below are some tips for managing telephone calls effectively.
- Set aside regular time each day for communication
Set a regular time each day when you will deal with telephone and email communication. Others soon learn to recognise your work habits and try to fit in around your time frame.
- Establish procedures for handling sales and marketing telephone calls
If your role involves receiving numerous sales and marketing calls from potential suppliers, establish a procurement procedure outlining your preferred written communication approach for handling sales and marketing surveys and literature. Schedule some time in your weekly/monthly schedule to then review this literature and follow through where appropriate.
- Field telephone calls
If you are fortunate enough to have an assistant or secretary, get him/her to field phone calls and callers. In this way, you only spend time on the telephone speaking to those you really need to.
- Divert your telephone
If you don’t have the benefit of an assistant, explore a reciprocal arrangement with colleagues whereby you divert your phone to others so that they can take messages for you when you need to work on a task uninterrupted. You, of course, do the same for them at other times.
- Use voicemail
If this is not possible, use voice mail or an answering machine to collect your messages. Be clear in your voicemail message to explain the likely time frame for returning the caller’s phone call. It also helps to have another number that people can ring in the event of an urgent enquiry.
- Update voicemail message each day
To help manage your telephone communication, ensure you update your voicemail message each day to inform all callers of your likely return. In the event of unplanned absence or sickness, ask a colleague to update your voice-mail message for you.
When picking up the telephone, consider the following tips to make the telephone call as effective as possible:
- Greet the caller with a short, professional welcome
After stating ‘good morning’ etc, state your name and ask how you can help, e.g. ‘good morning, Jo Smith speaking, how can I help you?’ This will help avoid any ambiguity or misunderstanding should the caller have dialed your number incorrectly, as well as being customer focused.
- Clarify the purpose of the call
After initial rapport building discussion, ask the caller the purpose of the call by saying ‘how you can I help you today?’ This ensures that you spend your time on the call as effectively as possible.
- Arrange a convenient time for further discussion if needed
If the telephone caller needs more than a few minutes of your time and you need to focus on other priorities, ask the caller if you can schedule a convenient time to discuss this further, e.g. “this sounds an important situation that we need to devote some more time to. When would be a good time to discuss this in more detail?”>
When making telephone calls, consider the following tips to make the telephone call as effective as possible:
- Introduce yourself, the purpose of the call, and check whether convenient timing
Remembering and respecting other’s time, be focused in your initial message to the person you are calling by introducing yourself, explaining the purpose and nature of your call, and asking them if they have X minutes to discuss the matter, or whether the timing is convenient. For example ‘Good morning John, this is Sue from Accounts. I need to review one of your entries on your expense form for last month so that I can process payment for you this week. Is now a convenient time?’
- Arrange a more convenient time to call back if needed
Agree the most convenient time to discuss the matter further if the timing is inconvenient to the person you are calling or more time is needed. If the person is going to find telephone communication difficult in the next few days, consider and agree an alternative communication method such as an email or passing over a copy of a document for them to read.
- Consider the best time of day to make telephone contact
Consider the normal work patterns of the person you need to call, and use this information to determine the best time of day for them, e.g. some people like early morning calls before 10:00 a.m. when they then start their key tasks and attendance at meetings.
- If person unavailable, establish the best time to call back
If you get through to another person, try to establish the best time to call back or leave a message with them with your contact details and availability, the subject matter and the preferred time frame for response. This helps the other person prioritise their tasks.
- Don’t be kept on hold
Being kept on hold wastes your valuable time; even if the music is pleasant!
- Batch your telephone calls
Allocating some time for making telephone calls will make you more focused and quicker on each of the telephone calls. You are also more likely to get into the right frame of mind for having telephone conversations and therefore come across more positive and professional.
- Plan your telephone conversation
Jot down some key points you want to make prior to picking up the telephone call. This will avoid omitting critical information and help you focus the call.
We hope these time management tips are helpful to you in managing time more effectively with the daily communications you
About the Author
, MCIPD is Company Founder of KSL Training. Kim has 30 years training and HR management experience in the Retail, Hospitality and Pharmaceutical industry.