Sticking to the Plan & Leaving Work "On Time"

Sticking to a plan

Dear Mitzi,

Mitzi Weinman

One of my most difficult challenges is sticking with my plan for the day. I seem to start with something, walk by something else and get involved in a job (that will take five minutes) and do that job and then forget what I was doing before and then get pulled into something else. Any advice? Pat

Dear Pat,

It's easy to get distracted, even if you have your day planned. Stops and start while working on one thing are "time-costly". According to research done five years ago by psychologists at the University of Michigan, "The 'time cost' of refocusing your attention may be only a few seconds with each switch, but over time, it reduced people's total efficiency by 20% to 40%."

Try working in small chunks of time and plan your activities accordingly.

Step 1. Make a list of all your to do's for at least one week or as far into the future as you can.

Step 2. Break your action items down into small, bite-size, next steps. Meaning...look at each action item and ask yourself, "What is my very next step?" That next step is what should go on your list.

The Value of Steps 1 and 2: Smaller tasks are easier to accomplish. Smaller milestones don't seem as overwhelming and help reduce procrastination. You will feel a real sense of accomplishment upon completion. If you do stop, it will be easier to get back into your work when working on "smaller tasks". It is also easier to estimate how long a task will take.

Step 3. Put all your actions in some kind of planner -- paper, software program, or PDA.

The Value of Step 3: All your information is kept in one place. You have a clear, ongoing understanding of how you are committing your time.

Step 4. Look around your office and make sure that any "distractions" that require action are put into your planner as well.

The Value of Step 4: Even if you see a "distraction", once it's scheduled, you don't have to think about stopping your current work to do it.

Try these simple actions and you will start to notice increased focus and accomplishing more of what you set out to do each day.

Leaving Work "On Time"

Dear Mitzi,

I want to leave work to go home at a respectable time and have dinner with my family. As a Vice President my workload makes it difficult to leave work at a time to makes this possible. I end up staying later than I would like to 3-4 times a week. Do you have some tips on how to get out of the office earlier? Jane

Dear Jane,

As we begin, you must come to terms with two realities:

A) You will not be able to get "everything" done by the end of any given day. There will always be more work to do -- one more phone call, more emails to read or respond to, etc. 
B) It's OK to leave.

As a Vice President, you can set a good example for your staff. It's OK to leave at a respectable time and that life outside of work is important.

Having said that, if you really do want to leave at an earlier time, the following action steps will help you be on your way...home.

Step 1. Each day determine when you will leave. Not having a specific goal as to when you will leave makes it easier to stay later.

Step 2. Identify the obstacles making it difficult to leave and look for ways to overcome each.

I had a client who had a 4:00 p.m. tee time every Wednesday. She confided that Wednesdays were her most productive day of the week. She worked smarter and more focused, staying on track, knowing that she had a commitment. She never missed her golf game.

  • Are you in meetings that begin late in the afternoon that tend to run late?
  • Do certain co-workers come by looking for help from you late in the day?
  • Do you leave priority work until later in the day?

    Step 3. Communicate to co-workers what time you will be leaving and if they need you, they should schedule time to meet with you at least 30 minutes prior.

    Step 4. Wrap up your work at least 15 minutes prior to the time you want to leave.



  • If you want to leave work more than one hour earlier than you usually do, begin gradually. In other words, start by leaving 10-15 minutes earlier for a week. The next week, 30 minutes earlier, etc. until you reach your goal.
  • If you use a paper planner, use a bright colored highlight marker and highlight the time you plan to leave.
  • Set a recurring alarm in your computer or use an alarm clock to go off 15 minutes before you plan to leave.
  • Make commitments to be some place at a given time.
Posted on June 4, 2014 and filed under Articles.