The New Year may simply be a date on the calendar, but it is also the perfect time to reflect on what you want to accomplish in 2005. Maybe you want to lose weight, eat healthier foods, get more sleep, spend more time with friends and family, or lead a more balanced life. While you're thinking about fresh starts, put yourself in the best possible position to succeed at work. After all, if you have better work habits, you will have more time to tackle your other goals.
Successful people tend to lead balanced lives, because it makes them more productive and creative, says Julie Morgenstern, an organizational guru and author of Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office (Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster, 2004, $22.) In today's competitive and volatile business climate, Morgenstern says being in control of your work—not the other way around—is more important than ever.
So, how do you know when your work life is out of control? Well, you may feel worn down and overwhelmed. Or maybe you're not depressed, but you constantly cancel dates with your friends, spend less and less time with your family, or skip going to the gym. In short, your life is out of whack.
But letting go is difficult for entrepreneurs and small-business owners, who feel responsible for their companies' success—or failure. "They say to themselves, 'I'm so busy that by the time I explain this to someone else, or train someone, I would have lost so much business, so much time, and so much productivity,' " Morgenstern says. "They're in hyperproductive mode all the time."
Even for entrepreneurs who are content working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, having a balanced life is crucial. "It's not healthy for them and it's not healthy for their business," Morgenstern says. "They will spend too much time on problems that could be solved, if they just took a little break and connected to the outside world."
Here are some of Morgenstern's tips for how to regain control of your work life. More information is also available on her website: www.juliemorgenstern.com.
· Let go. As soon as you realize that you need to take control of your work life, Morgenstern says, step back. Take a vacation, even if it's just a weekend getaway. Being out of your work environment for a few days will give you a fresh perspective.
· Zero in. Identify three to five of your main responsibilities at work. A small business owner, for instance, may have to follow up with existing clients, prospect for new customers, plan a marketing campaign, work on finances and deal with administrative issues. Once you've done this, create a template for your week that blocks out time for each of your tasks.
· Map out. Once you know what you need to accomplish during your week, then you can structure your workdays. Morgenstern advises starting the day tackling your most critical responsibilities. She strongly recommends not answering e-mail for the first hour of your day.
· Crisis manage. Figure out how much time you need to set aside each day to deal with last-minute requests or emergencies. Remember that everything doesn't have to be addressed immediately. If the deadline for a project isn't until later in the week, then you don't have to drop everything to get it done right away.
"You're not going to be able to maintain this balance 100% of the time," Morgenstern says. "But you can maintain it 80% of the time, if you have a time and a place in your day—and your week—to do your various tasks. That way you get out of the reactive, put-out-the-fire, or attend-to-whoever-is-screaming-the-loudest mode. You know that things can wait."
Of course, old habits die hard. To help maintain a balance in your work life, Morgenstern recommends keeping daily and weekly progress reports. Every evening, spend 15 to 20 minutes checking off what you've accomplished and deciding what projects you need to carry over to the next day. You may decide that you don't have to do that task after all, or you may decide to delegate it to someone else. On Friday, spend 20 to 30 minutes reviewing your past week and planning for your next one.
"Plan your day plus two, " Morgenstern says. "You can't just be looking one day ahead in this environment. You have to be looking past tomorrow, because you don't know what crises will come up. So, you always need a three-day overview."
Louise Witt is a writer based in Hoboken, N.J. She has written extensively on small business and entrepreneurship. E-mail her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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