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Want more free time at work?
Onkar Tiwari
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January 03, 2007

As another year whizzes by, it leaves behind the familiar guilt of not accomplishing enough at work. If you are in a perennial race against the clock and calendar, and look at redeeming yourself this year, you've come to the right place.

Because, as never before, a unique combination of management concepts and information available on the Internet has created ways to dramatically improve your productivity. Quite simply, it means you have more free time at work.

If that hits home, and you want to know how, just follow the guidelines given below.

Prioritise, using the 4D framework

The 4D framework expands into Do, Delegate, Defer or Drop. This can be used to decide your course of action immediately, for most of the issues you face.

Things that demand your attention at the moment can fit into the Do category. Those that can be passed on to others or may be dealt with later can go into Delegate and Defer respectively. The last option is self explanatory.

Several times a day, you can review your task list and change priorities if needed.

"This framework has grown in popularity and, if you are not fitting all your actions into any one of these categories, you can be sure you are sitting on the fence" says Leena Dhar, a psychologist who doubles up as a freelance corporate trainer to several leading IT firms.

Take a speed reading course

Ten new years ago, the amount of material you had to read was low. However, giving the good old A4 paper sheet company today are the 17 inch LCD monitor and the 3 inch mobile phone screen.

So, for those suffering from information overload and the analysis-paralysis syndrome, there is but one option -- learn to read faster.

"With practice, it is possible to easily read up to 500 words a minute," says Dhar. "Most of us remain stuck in the range of 200-300 words a minute. Speed reading can save you considerable time and let you focus on other things"

In addition, there is a wide variety of information on the web that can help you do this for free. Ranging from simple reading material to comprehensive software that measures your reading speed -- they are all available online.

Learn to type

This follows directly from the earlier point. Most of us utilise only two to three fingers while entering data. As a consequence, writing takes longer and we spend more time typing instead of thinking what to type.

You can easily solve this by taking a short course in typing. Clearly, few of us have the time to join a professional typing course. However, software packages like the erstwhile Typing Master have comprehensive demo versions available online. Using innovative methods like a shooting game where you need to shoot words out of the sky makes learning to type extremely addictive.

Get to know Microsoft Office better

Nearly all of us use Microsoft Office products in some form or another, especially Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point. However, we mostly focus on our short term requirements. As a result, the truly beneficial features remain hidden.

"Learning the simple things like keyboard shortcuts make a big difference while navigating the complicated interface," says Pratim Roy, a team leader at Technos, a BPO firm. "Also, using templates, which are predefined formats for routine documents like reminders, invoices etc, saves us a lot of effort at office," he adds.

For those willing to explore further, powerful tools like recording macros, making pivot tables can add great value and, of course, save huge amounts of time.

The best places to begin your search is the Help feature of Microsoft Office which is simple and yet very detailed. As you dig deeper, the comprehensive Microsoft Office website as well as the plethora of support sites can answer nearly every question that you can think of.

Understand your mobile phone and network features thoroughly

The mobile phone is used for a wide variety of tasks, ranging from communication to entertainment to its utility as a paperweight. However, its potential as a personal organiser is rarely understood.

Even simple phones today, provide useful features ranging from alarms to group SMS to advanced call management options. Add the facilities that your network provider gives, such as missed call reminders, Internet on mobile, etc, and the features really begin to make a difference.

With the newer 'smart phones' entering the market, you can even view advanced documents like excel spreadsheets, and transfer data at very high speeds, creating an entirely new range of possibilities.

The starting point for these features is your mobile phone manual. After that, visiting the network providers website and the manufacturer website can give even better ideas and is strongly recommended.

Each of these suggestions is a new skill, not a quick fix -- so give your self at least the end of the financial year before the difference becomes visible.

The good thing about these initiatives is that the benefit is visible even if you are the only person following them. If you can influence your colleagues at work, then, of course, the benefits increase exponentially.

Even if you do not, with these tips, a fuller 2007 is assured.

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