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An experience that most managers of volunteers share is that of being over-stretched time wise.

busy womanGiven that there are only so many hours in the day, one of the most valuable things that you can do is decide to take control of how you spend your time.

It is vital to keep your priorities in mind, and make sure that you focus on the most important aspects of your job, which may mean saying no to some commitments.

Even so, you are likely to find more tasks on your to-do list than time to do them all. Here are 9 tried and tested tips that can help you to overcome overwhelm and be more effective at work.

1. Decide on one main focus each day.

Decide on the most important thing to get done, and fit other tasks around that. If this seems unrealistic, choose a focus for the morning and one for the afternoon. This doesn’t mean you throw away your to-do list. But if you give absolute priority to one objective each day, you’ll go home with a sense of achievement, and probably find you get a lot of other things done too.

2. Group similar tasks together

Many people find it works best to schedule a solid hour or more at a time for more complex tasks such as writing reports or proposals, because it takes less energy doing it that way than picking up on odd bits here and there. This works well for phone calls too. If you face too many interruptions in the office, then working from home can be a good option for those focused tasks.

3. Follow your energy

If your energy levels are low, then it can make sense to switch to basic admin tasks. If you are feeling energised and creative then tap into that as much as you can and ride the wave of productivity. But don’t let low energy be an excuse for delaying an important piece of work. If you are struggling to get started then…

4. Chunk it down

If you have a big and possibly daunting task, then break it down into a series of small ones. Keep breaking down a task until you have an action that you can do now. Even if the first action is just looking up a phone number, or a quick piece of internet research, or sending an email, or even just scheduling the next step into your diary – DO something to make a start.

5. Systemise email management

To keep on top of emails, design a system and then stick to it. For example, once you have opened an email, either delete it, move it to a suitable folder for future reference, action it now, or flag it for future action. If an email is going to take less than two minutes to respond to or deal with, always action it straight away.

6. Motivate yourself to overcome procrastination

Motivate yourself by thinking about how you will feel when you have FINISHED a particular task. And when it’s done, allow yourself to feel good, to bask in that sense of satisfaction for a little while.

7. Reward yourself

Don’t be afraid to reward yourself with a treat now and again, once you’ve completed a particular task,  Have a cup of tea, playing a game, take some time for reading or joining in on-line discussion, whatever feels good.  It’s common to want to reward our volunteers or staff when they’ve done a good job, let’s not forget to extend that to ourselves.

8.  Tidy up to get unstuck

When you feel stuck or unmotivated at work, try tidying your office. Many people find it easier to think in a tidy space, and it can provides a sense of satisfaction which can also motivate you to tackle other tasks. Nigel Risner has said that space management is even more important than time management. This makes sense as working in a mess slows you down and brings your energy levels down. But one person’s idea of tidy is another person’s clutter – you will know what works for you.

9.  Get moving

Finally, build some physical exercise into every day, schedule it in, even if it’s only 15 minutes. This allows more oxygen to reach your brain. You’ll feel better, and more able to concentrate.

What works for you? Please share your tips in the comment box below…

[An earlier version of this blog was first published on The Heart of Work website]

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