The first and most important step to take towards working more efficiently is to have a daily plan in place. It is important that your plan is written down somewhere: On a calendar, notepad, or stored on your computer. Do not simply go through a mental checklist each day.
Having a written plan is a must to keep nagging thoughts out of the back of your head and to help prevent disasters because you forget about something important. Most people will find that they need to veer from a daily plan from time to time, but having one will help you organize your time better, prepare for specific projects in advance, and a plan will give you a clearer mental picture about all the things you have to do.
Getting Rid of Daily Distractions With a Plan
If you arrive at work each day and are immediately overwhelmed with your long "to do" list and desk clutter, at best, you will bolt into your day like a racehorse (and quickly burn out after a sprint, just like a racehorse) focusing on whatever seems most pressing at any given time. Worst case is you will sit in a funk not knowing where to start. Either way, simply "putting out fires" each day is the least efficient way to attack your workload and the best way to exhaust yourself while only getting further behind.
Without a plan, the days' distractions will quickly take over: the phone rings, you start to answer emails, co-workers start chit-chat, and before you know it, lunchtime has arrived and you have little accomplished. Your daily plan might include an hour each morning to get settled in by returning calls, checking email before you get started on other tasks but it will do more than serve as a guideline about what to do with your time. For example, if you purposely set aside an hour to do something and you go over that time limit, you will know that you need to adjust your plan for the next day.
By mapping out your day in segments or by tasks you can more easily identify problems areas and your peak efficiency times (i.e., you may be less efficient after lunch if you suffer from afternoon slump or you may be a slow starter in the morning).
Avoid Taking on More Than You Can Handle
An optimist is someone who can see the positive in a given situation will generally focus on the belief that "all things are possible." There is nothing wrong with being an optimist unless it leads you to underestimate your abilities, the time it will take to accomplish something, and results in your taking on more than you can handle.
A realist can be an optimist, but a realist also sees the logistics that may be involved in dealing with a situation and will factor in potential obstacles and restraints.
If you do not have your game plan lined up for the day, you may have a harder time saying no to helping others or taking on additional projects because you have a positive "can-do" attitude that overrides reality or common sense. It is easy to underestimate how long things will take to accomplish your tasks much less someone else's if you think you are superwoman and a sunny outlook is all it takes to get things done.
Knowing what is on your plate for the day, and having already determined a budget for your own time for specific tasks can help you meet deadlines, get more done each day, and be more realistic about taking on additional work.
Creating Your Attack Plan
Before you head off to work, decide ahead of time what you will focus on when you get there. Better still, plan your day the night before and prepare your desk for the tasks you want to accomplish in the morning. For example, get files or reading material organized for the morning so you can jump right in, or put items you need to type or phone calls to return in the order you need to get them done.
Having a plan can help you create predictable routines that will, in turn, keep you better prepared to face chaotic days when your boss or a high maintenance client demands more of your time.