Do you continually find yourself in the office long after everyone else is gone? Or worrying about an unfinished project while you’re at home?

This can be unavoidable at busy times during the year or if you’re short-staffed in the office. But if this is the norm and it shouldn’t be, better time management and job organization can help fleet managers work more effectively to reduce their time in the office. Staying on top of tasks can also reduce work stress.

At a Glance

Some ways fleet managers can save time include:

Learning how to manage an e-mail inbox

Prioritizing direct responsibilities

Empowering employees to make decisions

Anticipating user department needs.

 From how to manage your e-mail inbox to the best way to organize long-term goals, fleet professionals explain how they handle their growing list of responsibilities.

1. Take Control of Your Inbox

E-mail is becoming more time-­consuming, and having an unorganized inbox can lead to missed or lost messages.

Taking an advanced Outlook class can be a good time investment to help you control your inbox, said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager of the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Oregon. Even those who use the e-mail service every day probably don’t know its many functions, some of which can help improve organization and save time.

After taking an Outlook class, Lentsch now uses the Rules function to control his inbox — he created rules that separate internal and external emails. “The ones I pay attention to throughout the day are my internal customers,” he said. “A couple of times a day, I go through my other e-mail.”

Lentsch said this allows him to focus on his customers and to complete tasks without being interrupted by too many e-mails.

Dan Berlenbach, CPFP, fleet services bureau manager, City of Long Beach, Calif., agrees that learning to manage your inbox is essential. “If you let a thousand ­e-mails accumulate in your inbox, there’s no way you can be on top of what’s in there,” he said. “Set up folders, delegate quickly, and have a means to follow up on delegated tasks.”

2. Know What Is and Isn’t Your Job

To manage your workload, it’s important to know what is and isn’t your job, said Roger Weaver, CAFM, CPFP, CPM, fleet management director, San Bernardino County, Calif. Fleet managers should remember that they can’t do everything, and they should focus on the things that represent their actual job.

Weaver finds keeping priorities close at hand to be helpful in reminding him of what his job is — he keeps a “results binder” on his desk that includes his budget, objectives, project updates, and reports from employees. While he said that some may consider a folder to be outdated, “nothing compares to being able to pull a piece of paper out of a binder and show it/hand it to someone in 10 seconds or less!” He also keeps the records in electronic form, but the binder is there and always up to date.

George Baker, director of Central Services, Volusia County, Fla., said he focuses on his span of control. Rather than focusing on things he has no control over or can have an immediate effect upon, he focuses on things for which he has direct influence upon or where he has decision-making authority. For example, rather than worrying about oil prices, he focuses on acquiring alternative fuels or fuel-efficient vehicles.

“When you focus your time on things that are within your span of control, you are effective and efficient,” he said.

3. Make That Task List

Numerous fleet managers said making a task list is essential in helping organize their daily and weekly responsibilities.

Kathy Merrill, president of Agilency, an agency that counsels companies on how to become more agile and efficient, suggests using the Franklin Covey planner. A detailed planner, whether a hard copy or on your phone or computer, can help you track and organize your day.

Lentsch uses the Task toolbar in Outlook to keep track of daily and weekly tasks. The list provides a visual of the things he needs to accomplish.

Weaver also uses Outlook’s Task toolbar for his tasks as well as those he has assigned to others. He prioritizes these from most to least important, but advised fleet managers to be flexible since a direct supervisor or circumstances can change the order. He assigns approximate times for each task to keep track of workload.

Berlenbach separates his task lists into “urgent” and “important” tasks and makes sure to work on both. “If you only attend to the urgent, the important will eventually overwhelm you,” he said. “You have to make time for the important tasks, especially if you are delegating or collecting information. Have somebody else start working on what you need in order to pull it together in time.”

Baker has three separate workload lists: to-do items that are not pressing, urgent items, and critical items.

He explained the breakdown: To-do items can be put off for a later date or delegated. Urgent items are thought to be pressing by customers or bosses, but they may not be to fleet. Many urgent items are not time sensitive, and the customer department or your boss may give you some more time if you explain why you need the time. Critical items are those that can be damaging to your organization if delayed or are paramount to reach your strategic improvement initiatives.

“A leader knows when to say no to the overwhelming many urgent things so he or she can say yes to the few critical things,” Baker said. “I refuse to have my destiny determined by the urgent peripheral whims of others.”

And if you constantly feel that you don’t have time to do these tasks, you can make an appointment with yourself.  To do so, simply block out time in your calendar when you won’t be interrupted, Weaver said.

4. Keep Track of Long-Term Goals

Long-term tasks can get pushed back by more urgent responsibilities, so tracking them is a must. Berlenbach uses a spreadsheet to keep track of his “goals list,” allowing him to conduct periodic checkups on how the projects are progressing. The spreadsheet includes the task, responsible party, date assigned and due, percentage complete, and remarks.

“We review weekly, but keep it low pressure as dates change all the time. It allows us, however, one document to track everything important that’s underway or planned,” Berlenbach said.

Gary McLean, fleet manager for the City of Lakeland, Fla., uses a similar goals spreadsheet and reviews the list with staff monthly or every other month. “I still use pretty much the same goals list format that I’ve used since the 1990s, and it works great for our operation,” he said.

5. Focus on What You Can Finish First

One method to reaching a goal is to tackle the tasks that will result in the largest contribution to that goal. However, that’s not always the best way, cautions Merrill. She suggested valuing your initiatives, figuring out how long it will take to implement them, and implementing the fastest and easiest ones first.

“People are always trying to work on the big initiatives, but if you added up all the small ones and they’re equal to a big one and you can implement it faster, why not do that and realize the results sooner?” she said.

Not only does this give those implementing the project the reward of driving change in their organization, it also builds self esteem and confidence of future projects, she explained.

6. Delegate

One person can’t do everything, and knowing what to delegate and to whom can help make your job easier. That also means giving people the authority to complete their delegated tasks without unnecessary approval steps.

“It’s one thing to talk about being a delegator, but it actually needs to happen all the way down to the lowest point possible in any decently-run organization,” McLean said. After implementing this at Lakeland, “our folks are fully actualized with purchase thresholds, authority based on job classification, and absolute delegation of overall responsibility for running their piece of the pie,” he explained.

7. Hire Part-Time Help

When you’ve got too much to do and not enough people to whom you can delegate, hiring a part-time worker can be a tremendous help and may be possible even if you can’t hire a full-time employee. Whether it’s an intern or a retired worker looking for a few hours of work each week, assigning this person tasks he or she already specializes in can simplify training, said Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent, City of Troy, Mich.

For example, when writing the job posting, include that you prefer someone with experience in purchasing or procurement. Understanding these topics will help reduce the amount of training the new hire requires. Lamerato hired a retired employee from the city’s finance department, someone who’s already familiar with the city’s computer system. She handles reports and keeps track of invoices for insourced contracts, among other duties.

“The time savings is unbelievable, especially if you can get [someone] from the finance or purchasing departments,” Lamerato said. “They can bring some skills and it can save you a lot of time with drilling down into your financial programs and helping you put together some numbers.”

Even a college student who has taken courses on time management or finance can help, he said.

8. Keep In Touch With User Departments

“Are you truly in touch with your user departments?” Lamerato asked. By keeping an open line of communication with user groups, fleet managers can anticipate what equipment they need before they ask for it. For example, if you know they’ll be working on a paving project or a water main replacement project, you’ll know what they need.

“You can have that equipment ready for them ahead of time, so it’s a time savings for them as well as you,” Lamerato said. “You’re not scrambling, trying to work overtime to get this equipment ready, and it makes your department shine as well.”

What’s more, it also prevents the fleet manager from being called into meetings asking why equipment isn’t ready for a specialty project. It allows you time to work it into your everyday schedule.