In any given day, we are pulled in what feels like a million different directions and the temptation to move into a reactive state is all too strong.  People stopping by your desk, asking if you’ve got a couple of minutes for them to run something by you, which then turns into a 20 minute conversation and an extra task left on your desk for you to deal with. Those 30 emails you were cc’d in have flooded your inbox and you try to keep on top of all them before getting to the last in the chain and realising that the problem has been solved without you. Sound familiar?

So how do you get on top of it, make your time more valuable and stay sane, without being locked away in a corner with no contact to the outside world?  There’s a wealth of resources and knowledge out there to help you use your time in the right way, but here are four simple tips that seem to work.

1. Plan, plan, plan.  No surprises here, but if you don’t plan your time, it will get away from you.  Sit down at the beginning of each week (or on a Sunday night if you prefer) and plan out what you have to do. List all your tasks, highlight the top priorities and start with those.  If you want to be an effective leader, your list should include not only the tasks you are working on, but who you can delegate to.

2. Keep you inbox under control!  And out of control inbox will take you longer to find anything and will overwhelm you.  If you don’t have a folder structure set up – you should do one now. And don’t forget your sent items – same rules apply.

3. Consider setting up some rules for your email management.  Have emails from certain senders go to certain folders. Set up a rule for any emails that you are cc’d in (particularly those from your team) to go to a cc’d folder and only check it once or twice a day.  Let your team know, so that if there is something that needs your attention, they direct it to you.

4. Block out your time in a calendar for certain activities.  This is particularly beneficial to set restraints on your “free time” as it appears to others. If you have an empty calendar, staff are going to assume that anything you’re working on can’t be as high of a priority.

What about you? What tips have you found do and don’t work? It’s unlikely that your day will ever go to plan and you do need to allow for flexibility and changing priorities.   But if you don’t have a starting point, you’re never going to be able to finish the race.