How to Gain Six Minutes a Day

Read more articles by Alexandra DeFelice here.

Time is money. So if every day we can pick up six minutes of productivity, over the year we'll gain 24 more hours. That's three, eight-hour workdays--or days to do something that has nothing to do with work whatsoever. How do you do it?

During a keynote session at AWEBLive!, Paul Burton, owner of QuietSpacing, provided a host of best practices for staying focused, getting more done, and enjoying greater personal and professional satisfaction.

"Time management is not about picking up new habits, but adjusting old habits and finding better ways to work throughout the day," Burton said.

Following are just a handful of the two-dozen quick, easily implemented tips Burton provided:

Reduce E-mail Distractions
"E-mail is the killer app that's really killing us," Burton said. "Turn off your new alerts." Getting things done is about focus and having a quiet space to work and these alerts are distracting you, Burton added.

As proof, Burton provided an example of a client he worked with a few years ago. He provided her with instructions to do something, then a flash preview e-mail popped up. He watched her put her head down, look at the e-mail, disregard it, and then complete the instructions he had given her. This process took about four seconds. But studies have shown people receive about 115 e-mails a day. Four seconds x 100 per day is 400 seconds a day of getting nothing done.

Batch-process your e-mail; check it periodically throughout the day as needed instead of checking every single e-mail as you receive it. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes, or even an hour.

Use E-mail Better
Put only one subject into an e-mail. Use strong, actionable subject lines. An example of a "bad" subject line would be "Documents on Smith matter." Better would be "Smith matter-closing documents-drafts-response by Dec. 13." In the latter example, the recipients don't have to dig into the e-mail to find out what they have to do and can prioritize their other work because of the deadline provided and the amount of time needed to complete the task.

When drafting the subject line, consider whether it communicates to the recipients what they need to see in order to better understand what you're asking them to do.

Also think about the order of information. Most people don't read past the second paragraph, and some won't read beyond five sentences. That's important in terms of where to put the important information.

Stop using "Reply All" as a default key. Burton has worked with large companies that hid or moved the "Reply All" button and saw internal e-mail traffic drop by 20 percent within 24 hours.

Phone Calls and Drop-Ins
One AWEBLive! audience member asked about batch-processing phone calls. Burton responded that if you are focused on something, you should also put a DND on your phone. The way to make the decision of whether to answer an incoming call is to ask yourself if you were working with this client (whose work you are handling when the phone rang) in a room, would you take the call from another client?

There's a shift in the general corporate world to set ground rules with clients around how you like to work and set expectations of when you will respond to them, including steps to take in an emergency.

But what about the "drop-in" from your colleagues?

"Eliminate the effects of peripheral vision," Burton said. "Double-down on this one by facing away from traffic by turning your back away from the door so you can't see anyone passing by."

Keep your door partially closed. They see you're working, and if they really need to come in they will. If you can't get them to stop entering, sequester: Go to an empty office and find a quiet place to work on one or two things then get back to the office.

"Take this cacophony of a world we live in every day, and quiet it down a little bit," Burton concluded. "With six minutes more done each day, hopefully you'll be able to ask yourself, 'What will I do with my three days now that I have them?'"

To hear other tips on getting more done with your day, watch the AWEBLive! video here or read another AccountingWEB article featuring advice from Burton entitled Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind.

About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in more than 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at


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