It’s 9 o’clock on Tuesday night and you’re still at the office. Extra work you still have to handle yourself due to staff cuts made to your group during the recession has set you behind. On top of that, you have a key proposal for a client to complete by tomorrow.

If this type of scenario happens frequently, you’re not alone. In a recent survey by our company, financial executives polled said their greatest challenge today is finding the time to handle competing work priorities. The combination of reduced headcount and growing workloads due to returning customer demand have left many managers on the brink of burnout.

These days, it seems everyone’s time management skills could use some refining. Here are some tips that can help:

Increase your ‘ROTI.’ It’s hard to improve your “ROTI” (return on time investment) if you can’t identify your biggest time hogs. Try tracking your activities over the course of a week. Group the work into categories such as “managing personnel issues,” “negotiating with vendors” and “handling email correspondence.”  

Are you focusing on low-effort, high-impact tasks before high-effort, low-impact assignments? As a manager, you should be spending more time on big-picture business strategy than on work your subordinates could do.

Streamline. You may find that you’re more productive if you group similar tasks together in your day, rather than shifting back and forth among various projects. For example, you might set aside specific times when you’ll return phone calls or review invoices.

Delegate. This is often easier said than done. It can be difficult to hand over an assignment if you have a personal connection to it – for instance, if it was your idea or you’ve been involved since the beginning stages. You might also have worries that no one else can do as good a job as you can on a particular project.

The truth is, if you avoid delegating to others, you ultimately will be less productive because you won’t be able to concentrate your energy on the most critical tasks. At the same time, your staff will miss out on valuable opportunities to be groomed for future roles and responsibilities at the firm.

When delegating, be careful about overburdening those already managing big workloads or turning to the same star performers repeatedly. You want the assignments to promote professional growth, not contribute to burnout. If you bring up potential projects during staff meetings, often employees will volunteer for tasks to gain experience with higher-level work.

Take a tech break. Technological devices can be a plus as well as a minus for managers. Cell phones, laptops and wireless handhelds are excellent tools for staying in touch with your team and other business contacts, but they can also complicate life.

You may not be able to disconnect during critical business times or projects, but taking periodic breaks when possible can help you work free of interruption, stay focused and, in the end, boost your productivity.

Manage meetings wisely. Who hasn’t been to a meeting or been on a conference call that was a huge waste of time?

As a leader, you can make sure your own gatherings are productive by distributing an agenda to participants in advance. Stick to the schedule when starting and ending the meeting, and make sure people don’t stray from the topic at hand. If side issues need to be addressed, consider planning a separate meeting or call to review them.

Plan ahead for project roadblocks. Many managers also lose a lot of time having to put out fires – dealing with problems that arise after an initiative starts. Instead, put a clear plan in place for projects well in advance, including an evaluation of personnel resources and worst-case scenarios.

Consider how day-to-day assignments will be completed during the duration of a special initiative. Will certain employees continue to handle routine tasks while others concentrate on the project, or will be people have to manage both concurrently? Think about whether you may need to bring in temporary or contract professionals for support, or whether some work can be reassigned internally.

Explain to your team the expectations for an initiative, including the reasons it is necessary, specific roles, deadlines and goals. Then touch base frequently to make sure everyone is on track. Encourage people to come to you with questions or concerns, too, and make yourself particularly accessible during a project’s duration in person or by phone, text or email.

As the economy gains momentum, the need to get more done in the course of a day will only continue to grow. By mastering time management strategies now, you’ll not only reduce today’s stress levels but also be ready for the new responsibilities ahead. 

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/RobertHalf_CAN