Organizing work in multiple locations

Dear Kathi,

I work out of two offices and my car. One of my offices is at corporate headquarters and the other is at home. I find my work spread out all over all three areas. I travel 30 miles between offices and more when meeting clients. I desperately wish to be more organized. Any tips for a traveling sales rep?

Brian, Carlsbad

Brian,

The most important tool for you is a portable calendar, Palm Pilot or Daytimer. Use only one schedule and carry it with you at all times. Record all information — directions, address, phone numbers, notes — in that calendar next to the appointment time. Look at your calendar each morning before leaving home and every evening. This habit ensures that you will never forget an appointment. If you are feeling overloaded, even before beginning your day, identify the 3 or 4 most important activities on your calendar and cancel everything else.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, every minute that you spend planning your day will save you 3 to 5 minutes later. Every minute you use to plan your week saves 5 to 15 minutes. Keep 15 minutes open before and after each scheduled appointment. You will stay on track and avoid stress if you run over time during an appointment. If you need to carry equipment with you, keep it in a plastic portable crate with handles for easy transport to and from the car.

Create folders for the paperwork you need to access between all three locations. If there are too many folders to fit in your briefcase, consider a plastic file box with lid and handle. This portable file system should fit easily behind your passenger seat for quick access. Add folders for extra brochures and collateral sales information. Take it into your office and stock it while you are there. In addition to project and collateral folders, create a pocket folder to hold extra office supplies like paper clips, mini-stapler and pens. Set boundaries and control your office schedule. You will benefit from establishing uninterrupted time for priority work each day. Don’t fill your entire day with appointments and meetings. This is especially critical as you move from one location to another. It is easy to get caught up in motion without production.

When you are interrupted by anyone, don’t be afraid to ask how long the interruption will take and then decide if you have time to handle it. When you are interrupted, ask if you need to handle the problem right then. If it can wait, plan to take care of it at a later time and write it into your schedule book. You can control the length of the interruption by standing up to greet the people who enter your office. Don’t be afraid to put up a “do not disturb” sign to protect your work time, especially in your home office, you don’t need an excuse to focus solely on the task at hand.

Let people know, on your answering machine, exactly when you will return calls. Leave a clear outbound message stating when you will return calls. When you leave a message, use voice mail as a time-saving tool by stating exactly what you need, how to contact you, and the best time to reach you. Clear each desk before leaving – the next time you are in, you’ll start work in a much better frame of mind. With a few months of practice, these habits will become second nature. You will become more productive, less stressed and have much more time for leisure activities.

Kathi is a professional organizer, image consultant and event planner based in San Diego California.

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