Time is money, and with a little planning and care you can have a
lot more of it. Marc Donfrancesco of Property & Casualty Services outlines his strategy for getting the most from the working day.

The chairman of Marks & Spencer once said that you should only ever have a single piece of work on your desk at any one time. Of course this is fine if you have an army of assistants

and advisers, but impossible for most of us mere mortals. However, almost all of us could be more organised and a good start is to ensure your desk has not just become a hands-on filing system.

Don't court disaster: distinguish between tasks, separating them into those you “could”, “should” or “must” do. Even minor points, like knowing immediately where to lay your hands on mundane items such as up-to-date contact lists, can save unnecessary hassle – it all adds up in time and stress.

A common frustration is the type of task that bounces around and takes too long to resolve. It could be that other people hold you up, so ensure that any requests for information or action by others has a deadline. Record the date electronically, or in your good, old-fashioned desk diary. Next, if a file has been kicking around for ages book yourself some time to do absolutely nothing but sort it out.

If internal communications is a cause for concern, take a pragmatic view and use fax, email or whatever means possible to sort out as much as possible now. Above all else, only do things once. There are those who make a well-paid science out of “one-touching” but the principle is clear: do it once and do it properly. Do not pick up correspondence, read it, shuffle it about, and then shove it on another pile – just deal with it. Dictate that note or memo immediately, while it is fresh in your mind.

Having said that, ask yourself if picking up the phone is a better bet. Far too often, people find it easier to rattle off a memo or letter than deal with an issue by phone, even though that is usually the most effective way. You can also find out far more if you listen to the other person's reactions.

As far as organising your time is concerned, there are countless ways of improving. If you have been on any time-management seminars, you will know that the starting point is how to assess how to split your time – no mean feat if you are so disorganised that you asked to go an a course. Then you must continually split all your tasks by how important they are, or not, and how urgent they are. Be careful, however – let only your less urgent tasks keep going back to the bottom of the pile or they will cause you more work and stress later.

When you do things is often as important as how. It is tempting to first go through your pile and sift out all the tasks that can be dealt with quickly. These no-brain quick hits can be done at any time, so take advantage of the relative quiet first thing in the morning to tackle more complex tasks that need your undivided attention.

Lists aren't just for shopping. They help you to establish your priorities in the day or week ahead and, once you have finished for the day, they can help in evaluating your performance.

If you must take work home at the weekend, do yourself a favour: take one or two important pieces of work only. Don't empty your whole work pile into your briefcase. You will worry about the amount that needs doing over the weekend, never dare broach it, and find that on Monday morning your briefcase is full of unfinished work – and your head full of worries.

It is debatable, but you may find it beneficial to arrange meetings in the morning while you are sharper, not after a large lunch, or even a pint or two. In any event, avoid putting in too many meetings. If you have back-to-back meetings in the diary, you will have no chance to make notes or deal with any messages awaiting your return to your desk. You risk ending up with a glut of tasks to do all at once.

The last bit of advice could ultimately be the most appropriate: do not be a slave to email. Even if your email system is permanently live, do not look at it constantly – you might as well gawp at the TV all day.

It is expected that you will deal with any messages promptly, but few people sit glued to the screen waiting for an instant response, with the exception of online traders, or people who spend their working days sending and receiving spurious emails. Look at your email at regular intervals, say two to four times a day, and then respond and delete the file immediately.

Most people feel that they need to get more done. With a bit of thought, you can – and without putting more hours in the day on your wish-list.