This sounds simple and like a no-brainer, but listening to people around me, especially this time of year, I hear them say things like: ‘I have to catch up on my work’ or ‘there are not enough hours in a day’ or ‘I am so behind…”.
I do realize that the holiday season poses some additional challenges, but honestly, are you always up-to-date with your work? I for one struggle with this problem occasionally. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer thought of the mountain of work ahead of me and, at the end of the day, I feel I haven’t done enough. My to-do list doesn’t seem to get shorter, but longer instead.
Most of the time, our natural response to this conundrum is to try and be even more effective, more productive and to manage time even better. To squeeze every minute out of a day to get done what is on our to-do list. But what exactly does this mean ‘being more effective, or more productive, or managing our time better?’ We all have (only) 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, period.
I am pretty sure you believe that you are a good planner when it comes to your time and work. So why doesn’t it work?
Based on my experience and by observing people at work, there are a couple of components that contribute to this problem:
- Lack of clarity
- Working on ‘urgent’ stuff vs. ‘important’ stuff
Let’s tackle the most obvious culprit first: Distractions.
Now you will argue that distractions can’t be avoided. I totally agree. There are emails to reply to, text messages to respond to, phone calls to take, colleagues, kids, friends or family members to answer to…. I get the picture. In short, you start working on an important project and just when you got into the groove…. the phone rings, or a message pops up on your computer screen, or your mobile phone buzzes with a new Social Media message.
Did you notice something? All of these distractions can be controlled by you. It is your choice to respond right away and allow others to control your day, or you can curb these distractions as best as you can. How? Here are a couple of ideas:
- Silence your phone for a period of time and focus on your work/project.
- Turn off screen messages on your computer. Nothing is that important that it can’t wait for 90 minutes.
- Close your office door to signal that you don’t want to be disturbed.
- Put a sign up ‘please do not disturb’.
- Put headphones on to show your colleagues ‘please don’t disturb me’ if you are working in a cubicle.
- Create a rule or sign that your family knows you don’t want to be disturbed if you are working in a home office. Your kids could craft that sign for you .
- Turn off your TV or radio.
- Turn off your Social Media alerts.
- Maybe the most important step: reflect on the flow of your day and plan your important work at a time that you can focus uninterruptedly.
You will be amazed how much you will get done if you devote 100 percent attention to your work or project. If you are not used to focusing for a longer period of time, start easy. Sometimes 20 minutes is all it takes to move a project forward. Sometimes you may need more time. The golden rule, if you will, is everything within 20 to 90 minutes. After 90 minutes you should take a break. Get up and stretch your legs, get a cup of coffee or tea or simply enjoy that you made some major progress.
But, if you can’t avoid an interruption because your boss is calling or it is something ‘very urgent’ (I will write about ‘urgent’ in another blog), by all means, deal with it as quickly as possible and get back to your ‘focus work’.
I hope this gave you some food for thought. What will you stop doing to cross something off of your to-do list? Do you have other suggestions? I would love to hear from you.
To more great work (borrowed from Michael Bungay Stanier)! Regine