Assorted scraps of paper, taped to a wall

I’ve read dozens of articles lately on time management (many of them on LifeHacker). When you’re in a one-person shop, you don’t have time to waste. You probably don’t even have enough time to do everything that needs to get done during normal work hours. (Anyone else feel like “normal work hours” have become any that you’re awake?)

First, if you don’t have a to-do list, make one now, or check out getoutoftherecat because you probably have the time. If your to-do list is a page long, and you’re writing in the margins, read on.

Here’s what’s worked for me.

1) Make a NOT to do list. I can’t remember where I first saw this tip, but it works. You might have to keep a list of everything you do for a week or month, then look at the low-impact things. Are you writing reports or intranet posts that no one reads? Can you reduce the frequency of one or more of your newsletters? Can you delegate things like making event name tags to the receptionist? Talk with your boss about what you’d like to stop doing, to more efficiently use your time, to be sure you have his or her support.

2) Keep a running to-do list, AND make a short one every day. I make a new running to-do list by category (media relations, website, social media, internal comms, marketing, reports, etc.) at the beginning of every month. Everything is on that list, and it’s overflowing the page at the end of the month. Every day I look at that list, and write down the top three things I need to do that day (fewer if they’re big, more if they’re quick). I write those things on a sticky note and put it on top of the main list.

3) Do at least one of your important things first. This is hard. Sometimes you can’t ignore the inbox. Go ahead and check it for anything that might be on fire. Do things that take two minutes right away and delete them. Turn off any pop-ups or sounds that interrupt you when you get a new email. Stop answering routine emails right away. Wait until you finish one of your important tasks, or take a break.

4) Filter certain emails into folders automatically. I have folders for industry news, Google alerts, communications/PR news, conference notices, LinkedIn and Twitter, among others. Set aside no more than an hour a day to skim them, most important first. Stop when the time is up, and read the others tomorrow (or not at all). If you’re compiling events and industry news as part of your newsletter, keep a Word doc open in the background while you skim the news, and put potential content in your newsletter file. Delete as you read. Unsubscribe from the emails that rarely provide useful content, or that you receive in other ways, like RSS.

5) Be prepared to scrap your whole plan. If TIME magazine calls, you have to drop everything. (This happened to me in the first couple months of one job.) Your priorities are going to come second to the needs of your boss, reporters on deadline, and at least a dozen other possible scenarios. PR is nothing if not unpredictable. On the plus side, it’s hard to get bored in a one-person shop.

I’d love to hear what works for you.

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