Top Time Traps and How to Overcome Them

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Many professionals face this common dilemma each day: Too much work to do and too little time in which to do it. In fact, according to a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, two-thirds of chief information officers polled said their IT teams have more on their plates than 12 months ago. What does this mean for the average IT professional? You must become a master at time management and pay particular attention to anything that might cause you to lose valuable minutes and hours. To work more efficiently, make sure you’re not succumbing to the following time traps:

E-Mail Prioritization
Although e-mail has saved many people time by fostering the quick and easy exchange of information, the volume of messages many IT professionals receive can be overwhelming. A typical inbox might include questions from end-users, correspondence from colleagues, and messages from software vendors about product updates and developments.

Although you can’t afford to disregard e-mails entirely, you need to have a system in place for prioritizing incoming communications. Briefly scan the content of messages, responding immediately only to the most urgent ones. It’s a natural tendency to want to answer every message as soon as it arrives, but doing so can cause you to lose focus on more critical priorities. Instead, use the end of the day to clean out your inbox and get back to people on less important issues.

Also, recognize when it’s better to simply pick up the phone. Sometimes it’s more efficient to resolve a complex problem, convey a sensitive message or clarify a concern over the phone rather than through endless e-mail chatter.

Low-Priority Projects
You arrive at work ready to begin planning a server upgrade when you get a call that someone in marketing has a question about PowerPoint. That non-urgent call is followed by your boss requesting that you look over a brochure for an upcoming conference to determine whether you’d like to attend. A co-worker then asks if you can help an intern learn a new process. Suddenly, you’ve lost much of the day to tasks that weren’t time sensitive or critical.

Although you should maintain some flexibility in your schedule and be willing to lend colleagues a hand, you also need to know when to postpone low-priority projects. For instance, you might offer to help train the intern after you’ve made preliminary arrangements for the server upgrade. Start off the day by drafting a to-do list that includes all of the projects on your plate and their relative importance. Adhering to the list can help you concentrate on key assignments and minimize distractions without leaving others in a bind or failing to meet responsibilities.

The Chatty Colleague
Every office has one: The employee who loves to stop by cubicles or corner co-workers in the break room to discuss weekend plans or company gossip. The person typically means no harm and might not be aware of the diminished productivity caused by these casual conversations.

The best approach here is to be upfront. You might say, “I would love to discuss the firm’s new dress code, but I need to return some important calls this morning. Can we talk about this during lunch?” Immediately heading off conversations irrelevant to your most pressing priorities can help you maintain sound time management.

Unproductive Meetings
Like most IT professionals, each week you probably attend several meetings, from department get-togethers to discussions focused on specific company initiatives. Although most are productive, you’ve likely been to some that failed to accomplish objectives, strayed off topic or simply weren’t relevant to your work.

Before you attend a meeting, consider whether your involvement is essential. Many times, you might find that you are invited simply because the host doesn’t want to step on any toes by excluding certain employees. Ask for an agenda if you are unclear about the meeting’s purpose to determine whether you should participate.

Arriving to meetings punctually and encouraging colleagues to do the same also can help reduce lost time because the discussion can begin promptly and end when scheduled. Once the meeting has started, do your part to keep the talk centered on the topic at hand, addressing side issues either individually or at a later date.

Regaining control over your schedule by minimizing time traps can help you get more done during your workday. You might be surprised at how much you gain through small corrective actions.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at

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