- When there's a backlog on your answering machine, copy the messages down and delete them. You won't have to scroll through old messages the next time you check your machine.
- To avoid playing phone-tag, set appointments when leaving voice mail. Leave a time when you can be reached or when you'll try again.
- To break out of a phone-tag cycle, fax a message. Most faxes are read immediately.
- To speed up a phone conversation, say, "I know you're busy, but I have a quick question." It's a polite way of saying, "I'm busy."
- By Colleagues
Set "boundaried time" for tasks that require stretches of uninterrupted concentration. Tell colleagues you are unavailable. Close your door. Begin by clearing your mind - play some classical music.
- By E-mail
Set specific times during the day to check your e-mail, so you don't constantly interrupt your work.
- By Visitors
Don't say, "Let's meet for 30 minutes." Instead, pick a time that your visitor is not used to hearing: "Let's meet for 28 minutes." This creates a greater sense of urgency.
- In General
Keep a detailed log of your day. By studying this record, you can learn a lot about the patterns of daily interruptions — and how to break them.
Here are three tips from Philip R. Thomas, author of "Time Warrior," who logs 250,000 miles a year:
- I always take my baggage on the plane and save the 20 minutes of waiting at the baggage claim.
- I precheck-in by phone, so I don't have to stand in line when I arrive at the hotel.
- I don't rent cars. I skip the registration lines by prehiring a limo. Even if we get stuck in traffic, I can use the limo's phone.
Coordinates: The Thomas Group, 800-826-2057.
A version of this article appeared in the August/September 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.