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Take time for tackling technology.

It is no coincidence," writes Mark Morford, an SF Gate columnist, "that the rise of the godlike Starbucks Corp. coincided almost exactly with the rise of the Internet and the cell-phone explosion ... that is, with the insane rise in instant communication and multitasking." It is true; in today's ever-changing workplace, employees struggle with time constraints. While the endless parade of products can seem overwhelming, technology can enhance time-management practices and help organize activities.

A positive attitude is crucial. Pay attention to rapidly changing information technology and evaluate how new devices may offer economical, effective ways to streamline work. Before purchasing the newest gadget, ask: Will this new technology reduce expenses, increase revenue, save time, and increase productivity? If so, answer these questions: 1) Has this technology been around for a while, 2) will it soon be obsolete, 3) how much will maintenance and supplies cost, 4) will additional equipment, accessories, or supplies be needed, 5) how long will it take to learn how to use it, 6) will the old system have to continue to be used, and 7) what is the real life of the device under the desired conditions of use? Weigh the pros and cons, but do not be afraid to try something new if it will help more effectively manage personal or professional time.

1 The "Net"

The Internet merged with the World Wide Web in 1991 and is now accessible to almost everyone on the planet. Online services demand only a modest monthly fee. E-mail allows quick, efficient, and economical communication and is the primary reason people use the Internet--second only to the phone for communication. While receiving large volumes of e-mail can become overwhelming, it still increases efficiency significantly. A cost-effective alternative to "snail" mail, e-mail is transmitted instantly and as reliably as faxing, despite the drawbacks of network or server failures.

For those using e-mail as documentation, it is important to print hard copies or save the material to the computer and back up the files. Keep legal and other considerations in mind. E-mail messages posted on Internet bulletin boards are considered published and may be deemed libelous. Do not use e-mail to send highly sensitive messages, proprietary messages, or messages that could be interpreted as a breach of patient confidentiality. Attorneys may demand presentation of e-mail messages during legal discovery proceedings in malpractice cases. Use the same caution in drafting e-mail as used when writing a formal letter. Never include offensive, obscene, discriminatory, or ill-considered remarks.

2 Computers

Desktop personal computers (PCs) are now a workplace staple, and many employees use laptops to telecommute. Because the market is inundated with a wide range of software, choosing the right program takes careful forethought. Make an effort to become computer literate. Master the basics. Take a short course or hire a tutor to find out how to streamline various tasks. Online and phone help lines are available for software and hardware issues. Becoming computer savvy saves time spent in document creation, communication, and file management.

Be sure all files are backed up daily a computer crash could leave no documentation at all. Use a jump drive, also called a flash drive, for saving large amounts of data. These plug-and-play portable storage devices are small enough to be worn around the neck or put on a key chain. They connect to the USB port of a PC or laptop, taking the place of a floppy, a zip drive disk, or a CD for data storage. They do not need an external power source, are not platform-dependent, and average around $25 for 256 megabytes of storage space. Jump drives are easy to use, inexpensive, and time-efficient in terms of information management.

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While many companies still use stand-alone fax machines, most PCs have fax capabilities, allowing users to send and receive directly to a computer at work or at home. The fax is created, sent, received, and stored all on a single PC. In many cases, hard-copy faxes are being replaced by e-mail. Documentation needs will determine whether a stand-alone fax, PC fax, or e-mail is the best choice.

3 Cellular phones and two-way radios

Cell phones have proven invaluable in preventing wasted time. For those anxious about being unavailable while traveling, a cell phone can be reassuring. Cell phones, however, can raise stress and safety hazards from commuters who are distracted while on the phone. Used sensibly, though, cell phones can boost time efficiency by making any employee instantly accessible. Most phone companies offer "walkie-talkie" two-way radio services. What started out as a kid's toy has evolved into a highly effective means of staying in contact with employees in the field, a definite boon to labs with courier or home-draw components.

Aside from distracting drivers, cell phones can be dangerous in other ways. One example is how cell phone use is prohibited in many hospitals as it can cause interference with medical electronics. Always use a hands-free speakerphone while driving. Many cell phones now offer voice recognition dialing, making it easier to place calls while driving, but it is always better pull over to a safe place first.

4 Telephone features, voice-mail, and VoIP

The now-standard features that telephone companies offer can save time at work or at play. Autodial buttons store frequently called numbers. Call forwarding automatically sends incoming calls to another number. Call waiting signals that someone is trying to reach an already-engaged number. Perhaps the most useful feature for phones is the call answering function. Telephone answering machines have come a long way since Willy Muller invented the first one in 1935. They allow users to communicate their office schedules, when they will be available to receive or return calls, or to whom the caller can turn for immediate assistance. They are useful for screening calls, as is Caller ID. An answering machine, however, can neither answer a phone when the line is busy, nor can it forward a message as voicemail systems can. Voicemail allows callers to leave multiple messages to multiple recipients with just one call. Voicemail is a great low-cost feature that allows receptionists time to handle other job duties; and it can be remotely accessed, another time-saver for empolyees on the go.

Voicemail, like any technology, can be misused. Some hide behind voicemail to concentrate on work or as a stalling tactic. Others use it as a screen. They stop answering their phones, forcing callers to leave messages, and then return only those calls they wish to return. Most phone systems now offer Caller ID via which employees can see who is calling and, thus, be better prepared to answer incoming calls--or avoid them. Screening calls by any means can be bad for business, especially a service business. It may save time, but could be perceived as impersonal. The time saved by screening calls could end up being lost in the search for new customers, and possibly even a new job.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) uses the Internet rather than traditional phone lines. The disadvantage is that when the Internet goes down, so does the phone line. On the other hand, it can store voicemails on the computer as sound files and can better track incoming calls. Voicemail can also be remotely accessed via VoIP.

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5 PDAs

PDAs (personal digital assistants) are handheld computers that can interface with desktop computers. While many people still use hard-copy organizers, PDAs, or PDA phones like Blackberries, are popular as they fit easily into a shirt pocket or purse and offer on-the-spot management tools. The newest versions use the same interfaces and operating systems as desktops, and files can be synchronized from a PDA to a PC. When used as intended, PDAs are highly effective in helping to manage time. The best advice for PDA use is to keep it nearby and use it every day. Write everything in the PDA--it is more than a calendar and can contain all your events, activites, to-do lists, goals, and contact information. Stay focused by making a to-do list in the PDA at the end of every day. Write out detailed plans for the week. Try jotting down key points before making a phone call and check them off as they are discussed. You can also make brief notes for a permanent record of important phone meetings. It is important to synchronize the PDA with your PC on a regular basis, so that both tools help you make the most of your time.

6 Audio and visual recording devices

Many companies use VCRs for new employee orientation, as well as for other instructional programs. From a time-management perspective, VCRs are useful for recording programs for future convenient playback. Portable DVD players are now available and can be used as a stand-alone or can be connected to a work or home "entertainment" system. Most DVD players can double as a CD player and re-writable disc formats are available. The one advantage all these devices have in common is that they allow users to pick their own time and pace for viewing video material, whether educational, work-related, or personal.

The same premise applies to audio devices, such as cassettes and CD players. Drivers and passengers can listen to educational, instructional, training, or motivational audiotapes or CDs while traveling. Books on tape are a great way to keep abreast of the latest best seller, and many textbooks now come with CDs or DVDs. Additionally, there are various media formats for personal audiotape recorders, which are useful in taping presentations, lectures, or meetings. Listening to them later at a more leisurely pace, lends itself to a better understanding and utilization of presented material.

With the plethora of high-tech management tools available, users need to be discerning in their choice of media. Developing effective time-management skills enables us all to work smarter, not harder--or longer.

Reference

Portions of this information were excerpted with permission from Frings, CS, The Hitchhiker's Guide to Effective Time Management, 2nd ed., 2004: AACC Press. Washington, DC. To order, call AACC Press, 800-892-1400.

By Christopher S. Frings, PhD, CSP

Christopher S. Frings, PhD, CSP, an internationally-known consultant and professional speaker, also has consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates (www.chrisfrings.com), in Birmingham, AL. He serves on the MLO editorial advisory board and is editor of MLO's Management Q&A column.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:LAB MANAGEMENT
Author:Frings, Christopher S.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:1718
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