Most career counselors are bright, communicative, compassionate “people” people – possessing qualities that provide great resources for job-seekers, but some career counselors are ineffective as managers of their own time. The following article highlights a variety of techniques I’ve found helpful for improving time management success as a career development professional. Remember, almost all of these ideas require a key ingredient to be effective, and that is discipline.
Take Control of Your Email
Turn off your pop up email reminder. If you don’t know how and can’t get someone to tell you, go low-tech and turn off your monitor or simply close your email account.
Designate times of day to handle email, such as morning, mid-day and end of day, and discipline yourself to work steadily without checking outside these periods. You may have to train others to not expect an immediate response to emails – but it’s worth it.
When you do look at email during designated times:
Immediately respond to anything you can handle at once with one email
Flag items that you are committed to handling that day (or move them to a sub-folder)
Try to read each email ONCE (as opposed to the quick scan when it comes in, then the second quick read later when you evaluate its priority, then lastly when you actually read it for understanding and response). Make a habit of deleting emails you don’t need immediately after reading and responding.
Organize your email folders according to your own logic. I have a separate folder for email chats with clients, career services programs, external resources, the careercounselors listserv, etc.
Design and Structure Your Time
Establish a beginning and/or end of day ritual, including a daily to-do list. Prioritize the list and maintain strict discipline in addressing the items in order.
Tip: There is a direct relationship between my most productive days and the days that I prioritize and stick to that plan, as opposed to the days where I list everything, feel overwhelmed, and whale away at a multitude of tasks with great energy, but without much lasting effect.
Identify your most productive time of day for different types of tasks – e.g. if you are most creative in the a.m., block specific time on certain mornings for creative thinking; if you are low energy in the afternoon, schedule routine items that don’t require deep thinking. Attempt to schedule most of your counseling appointments into your most alert periods.
Tip: Most of us start our day going through the inbox. Actually this may be the worst use of your time – it makes you start your day feeling stressed . . . instead try dedicating the first hour or two each day to short planned projects, then turn to email. If you must look at email first thing give yourself just 15 minutes to filter for only the things you absolutely must do right then.
Is your office door always open? Consider for yourself, time-wise, if you can really afford an open-door policy? Instead, try setting specific drop-in hours, posted prominently.
Block the time immediately in advance of important deadlines and meetings so you can cram if necessary and avoid run-overs from other activities. Similarly, on your appointment calendar, build in time to record notes, update records or conduct follow-up work immediately while information and recall is fresh.
Break large or long-term projects into smaller pieces and schedule completion dates for each. If needed, put a recurring meeting with yourself on your calendar, for example: from 4 – 5 every Thursday to work on the article you have several months to complete.
Tip: Don’t cheat by using time you’ve blocked out for working on a long-term project for something else that feels more urgent – it is very tempting, but will only thwart your success and productivity in the long run!
Develop Tools to Help You Speed through Routine and Difficult Tasks
Use a timer, watch, or stopwatch function on your phone for tasks you are having trouble motivating yourself to complete – give yourself a certain amount of time, ideally 30 – 60 minutes, to focus on just one project without interruption, and power through it!
Develop a quick reference document or folder with information you access repeatedly, for example phone lists, lists of websites and log-in information (only for low-security sites like news feeds which don’t give access to personal or financial information).
Create a Word document with verbiage you can use as templates for emails that you send out routinely, for example, instructions on how to get a password for your job board, how to book an appointment, or resources you are constantly referring clients to. To look less canned, make sure the language you use isn’t too formal, and use the same font size and style as your email program for consistency. Pin the document to your computer desktop or in paper next to your phone so it’s easily accessible.
Lastly (or maybe this should be first) – Be Open to Changing Your Attitude about Time
Personality types have differing tendencies when it comes to time management. For many of the highly idealistic, imaginative types that often become career counselors, budgeting time can feel like a burden. Many of us just want to help people and do our jobs well, but we always seem to run out of time! It may take a great deal of initial effort to change old habits, but here are some helpful pointers to keep in mind:
You can help more people by becoming more systematic in how you manage workflow.
You don’t have to change into an ogre – just be firm in keeping the time you spend with clients or on projects under control.
Learn from other counselors – asking for help and advice allows you to share best practices.
Robert White is Director of Alumni Career Services for UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) in Berkeley, California. He also consults as a trainer-facilitator and coach for career development programs through the nonprofit Wardrobe for Opportunity in Oakland, CA. Prior positions include 15 years as an attorney, being an independent consultant and serving as Manager, Corporate Services Training, for Robert Half International, Inc. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School, holds a Masters degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Golden Gate University and received Bachelor’s degrees in English from Morehouse College and the University of Kent (England). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Ed. Note: This article was originally published in Career Convergence in 2010 and is being re-run due to its value today.]