Time management and productivity consultant Robyn Pearce on prioritising.

Be Selective
Have you noticed how overloaded you feel when you try to absorb, retain and manage too much information, too many items, too much email? What happens to your desk or office if you're trying to keep tabs on too much 'stuff'? Does it become a disaster zone? And how effective are you at such times?

Learn to be selective about what you expose yourself to - and what you keep. A typical clutter-hugger thinks she or he has to keep up with every new advance in their field, keep up with every relevant magazine, attend every conference, hold onto every article (in the often-mistaken belief that they'll go back to it at a later date). Wrong! With the speed of change and technology, almost anything we need to know is online. And - much of what we've meticulously saved for years is probably obsolete.

Do an audit on yourself: if you're a hoarder of physical paper and equipment, can you find everything instantly when you need it? And if you can, how much time have you invested into managing all that information?


Work on a Need-to-Know Basis
Try reading only what you need right now. Don't even look at things you've got no current use for. Get ruthless about pushing back on everything else.

Remove yourself from unnecessary subscriptions, ask to be taken off mailing lists you don't now get value from (including e-zine lists and newsgroups). Discard material that in your heart-of-hearts you know you're not going to need again or won't have time to get back to.

We're Not Born Tidy - Most of Us Have To Work at It
Ask anyone with an organised office if it comes naturally to be uncluttered. Most will assure you that it's a conscious decision to stay that way, coupled with good old self-discipline.

Here's the thing:
Every piece of paper, information or equipment lying around is a symptom of a decision not made or an action not completed.
Don't Major In Minor Things
Take charge of when you do low-level tasks. Don't let distractions take you away from higher-value priorities. The key is to attend to short-term matters at the next natural break, rather than constantly breaking concentration.
Instead, when you finish the priority task you're working on, take a few minutes to check other matters which have arisen since your last break. And don't keep checking your email throughout the day. Rather, chunk it into 3 or 4 slots - it's one of the worst distractions in today's business world.

As I write these words, it is 6.30am on a beautiful salmon-pink morning. I love to write first thing in the morning, and then can happily get on with the rest of my day's work. This morning as I walked into my office there was a small pile of information from a network function I'd attended last night.

This morning I could have acted on the pile immediately but chances are, these words would not have been written today. That little pile would have distracted me. My day's wordsmithing would have at best been reduced or at worst, deferred. In another couple of hours the phones will start to ring, the rest of life will flood gladly in, and the comfortable deadline for this article would have become a stressor.

So I made a choice and placed the little pile behind me. As I sit here, although I know there is something waiting, it is not a distraction because I can't see it. When I start my regular day's work I'll action the heap.

What is your highest priority? Do that first, and don't let your most productive time of day be sidetracked by less important matters.