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How to Use Your Time Wisely

RISMEDIA, Nov. 15, 2008-What is it you want to get done faster-zip through your to-do list, secure a business loan, land a job? Like me, author Samantha Ettus wants to do almost everything faster. She calls herself “time crunched.” She walks fast and talks fast and says technology now requires her to respond fast. Struggling to find work/life balance has led Ettus on a passionate search for how to do things more efficiently. “I feel like if you do things better, they take less time,” Ettus explains to me.

Which is why Ettus has called in the experts. In her book, “The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster,” big names like Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and real estate maven Barbara Corcoran share their strategies for being more efficient in every aspect of life-from home and work to romance and health. Some useful work chapters are “Reduce the Length of Meetings,” “Return Phone Calls” and “Pick Up a Foreign Language.”

One of the busiest people I know of, sports guy Joe Rose, can relate to America’s obsession with efficiency. Rose appears on Miami radio station WQAM-560 in the mornings and TV station NBC6 in the evenings and squeezes in coverage of Miami Dolphins games on weekends.

He says he often feels overwhelmed. What does he want to do faster and better? Use technology, of course. “I would love to use technology to be more efficient and organize myself.”

Rose also wants to reclaim some family time, which gets sacrificed between work responsibilities and charity events. “It’s really hard for me to say no.”

Looks like Rose could use the chapter “Say No” by Tim Draper, founder of a venture capital firm that has heard more than 100,000 business pitches. Draper’s top tip: Depersonalize it, be decisive, do it now!

One of my favorite chapters is Branson’s on “Getting a Loan.” You might remember Branson as the billionaire/adventurer who owns an airline and music megastores.

What you might not know is as a young entrepreneur, he got a loan from an aunt that helped launch his music empire. If you can’t get money from banks, a fast way to pursue your dreams is borrow from people you know, Branson says.

His guidelines include finding someone who supports what you are trying to accomplish and can afford to help. He says you must have a plan for how you’re going to repay the loan, document the debt and repayment plan, make payments on time and keep accurate records.

“Your lender wants you to succeed and will likely be more flexible than a bank to accommodate any misfortunes, as long as you are really trying.” he says.

Now, this may seem like a trivial thing, but surely one of the most inefficient uses of our time is looking for things-a lost pen, elusive car keys, an important document. Ettus tells me the chapter “Find a Lost Object” is one of her favorites.

Personally, I’m amazed by Michael Solomon’s title: findologist.

His advice is to never look for something when you are agitated. He says wait until you are prepared to search systematically by using his 12 steps, one of which is “objects tend to travel no more than 18 inches from their original location.” So, measure 18 inches and search it meticulously.

I admit that often, I feel harried from juggling my coveted responsibilities.

Around me I see families like mine squeezing more and more activities-soccer games, karate lessons, religious school-into their schedules, seeking to fill their lives with more fun and meaningful experiences. The challenge is to maintain a sense of control.

To pull it off, most of us make to-do lists. My obsession with these lists has created a booming business for Day-Timer.

Of course, the chapter “Tackling Your To-Do List” changed my approach. Kate Gosselin, the star of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” says clear your mind each day before you write your list. Write down main groups of activities or events to accomplish. Highlight the time-sensitive items and start with those. Keep a running list in each category and cross things off as they are completed. Use your to-do list to determine where you can involve other people. (I would bet this is where most of us go astray).

Thrilled with advice from experts, I started to wonder, why are so many people struggling with personal efficiency? I asked Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and author of “Making Work Work,” “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning” and “Organizing from the Inside Out.”

“It’s all connected to our ambitiousness,” she says. “We are trying to fit 80 pounds of stuff into a 60-pound bag.”

Now, she says, we have to add being frugal to our already crowded schedules. People have to spend more time balancing their checkbooks and bargain hunting. Morgenstern says she is spending more time teaching people how to prioritize.

I asked Morgenstern if American workers may be too focused on efficiency.

“You don’t want your whole life to be operating at a fast speed,” she says, adding “You want to cherry-pick some things to do quickly so that other things you can enjoy for the quality of the experience.”

Cindy Krischer Goodman is a workplace columnist for The Miami Herald and weekly television.