According to Fast Company Magazine, the average manager gets interrupted every eight minutes. Constantly being interrupted by emails, phone calls, people calling in for a ‘quick question’, etc. can really put a damper on your productivity. Do you know that each time we are interrupted, we need to play catch-up for 14 and a half minutes just to get back to what we were doing. Forget about the highly productive ‘flow state’, your frustration alone will nip your creative thinking in the bud, and cause you to lose track of your day.
Many managers take Time Management courses, which teach them how to be effective at work. The truth is, no one can manage time. We are all given the exact same amount of time each day, yet there are those who achieve far greater things than the rest. It’s because they focus on managing their activities, not time.
Are there ways to manage your activities to better utilise the finite amount of time we have? Absolutely! Here I’m happy to share with you my tried and tested methods to manage your daily activities in order to become more productive. Follow my advice, and you will soon see (and feel) the difference in your workday.
So let’s get started!
#1. Modify Your Notification Settings
Social Media and the myriad of apps and tools on our smartphones never cease to compete for our attention. It is important that you establish who’s the real boss and who’s the tool! Make sure your phone is not only running your schedule but also running you. Change the setting for inessential apps and tools to mute their notifications. Let the essential ones show up only on the app icon, but not to come in as a banner or make any sound. These and the apps’ ways to control your behaviours by utilising our Pavlovian response to sounds and alarms. You can choose to take back control and only check their status when you choose to. Disallow email notifications unless it’s for something absolutely essential and necessary. This can kill two birds with one stone. We are usually so bogged down with unread emails these days that eliminating unnecessary emails can save us a lot of time and hassle, and can also help us ensure that important emails are being read on time.
#2. Only Do Three Important Tasks For The Day
The best way to this, I found, is to start with a quiet moment to yourself.
Step 1: Sit where it’s comfortable and you won’t be disturbed, for 5 minutes. Close your eyes and just let your thoughts wander. I know this seems odd but it absolutely works in giving your mental clarity.
Step 2: Write on a sheet of paper all that needs to be done for that day. No matter how large or small the tasks are, write them all down.
Step 3: Choose all the things that you can delegate to others or your subordinates, delegate them. Now you will pick out the top three important things you absolutely MUST day that day, circle them, and rank them in the number of importance.
Step 4: With the rest of the tasks, you analyse them to see if there’s any part of them that can be delegated or done without. If there are some of them that do not necessarily have to be done that day. If some of them really don’t serve any purpose at all. Now delegate what you can, delay the ones you can delay, and cross out the unnecessary tasks. Whatever is left, rank them in order of importance.
Step 5: Close the office door; take your phone off the hook or tell your secretary to hold all calls for 2 hours; remove all distractions, close the blind if you need to. Just start on the top three important things and focus on one thing at a time. You will shock yourself with just how fast you can get through these important tasks when you only do one thing at a time.
At the end of these 2 hours, you will have achieved more than you normally do in an entire day. I guarantee you! Return to your normal work day after this, or take a short break. Tell your secretary you are back online, and you can start answering questions again. Don’t be afraid to rub a few feathers the wrong way. You can never be liked by everybody, and it’s not a good idea to even try. Absolutely not at the expense of your productivity.
When you have more time in the afternoon, of course, you can crack on with other tasks too. Remember the less important tasks I’ve asked you to also rank in order of importance? Get started on those. It’s very effective to block out a half-hour to one-hour where you remove distractions and just mark yourself as ‘unavailable’, rather than attempting to multi-task. In my experience, multi-tasking is the least productive way of working. Multi-tasking is really more of a ‘constant task switching’. You are just constantly moving from one task to another, usually ending up doing poorly in all these tasks. When you ‘uni-task’, you focus all your attention and energy on the task at hand, and you’ll find that things go much more smoothly this way.
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#3. Teach You Colleagues To Respect Your Time
Do you have colleagues that just ‘drop in to see how you’re doing’ sometimes? They are unproductive themselves, and they want to check up on you, interrupt you. You are frustrated with them, but they just don’t seem to ‘get it’? Tell them! Don’t be too polite. Tell them they are interrupting you. Tell them to leave you alone. Why are you afraid of saying ‘no’ to them? That isn’t the type of person you should be friends with anyway! Just get rid of the time wasters and don’t bother being courteous with them at all.
If someone genuinely doesn’t understand that you value your time and want to eliminate distractions, lock your office door. If you work in a cubicle, this may be difficult to do. You can have a sign up saying: “Only ask essential questions please!” Or put on headphones with classical music playing on your ears. I tend to just pretend that person doesn’t exist, or that I am hard of hearing. When they insist, I would act shocked, and say: “Sorry, I didn’t realise you were talking to me. I was FOCUSING ON MY WORK.”
Remember, it’s your job to teach others how to treat you. If people around you don’t respect your time, it’s because you’ve allowed them to do that in the past, and now they’ve come to believe that it’s OK to constantly interrupt you. Re-teach them this new skill. Set boundaries, and say “enough is enough!”
#4. Break Tasks Down
If you know you are interrupted frequently and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to remove those interruptions, create a to-do list with your most important tasks, one for each task!
Break things down into manageable chunks, 10-15 minute tasks. Tick them off as you go. This way, you can say to the interrupting person, just give me 2 more minutes with this, and then we can talk. Or even if you are stopped in your tracks, at least you won’t completely forget where you are–you’ve got a list! It’s will help you get back to the task at hand much faster, thus achieving higher efficiency. Have a timer on your desk, and keep track of how long you are able to focus on one task. Track your patterns of distractions, both interruptions from others, and mind drifting that happens to you internally. Just become aware of this. Check out this sleek looking hourglass timer I found on Amazon.
Read or listen to Brian Tracy‘s bestselling book on time management, “Eat That Frog” for an in-depth analysis on how to overcome procrastination and how to prioritise tasks.
#5. Batch You Emails
Make sure you check your emails at designated times and set out specific blocks of time in dealing with them. It’s important to unsubscribe from emails that don’t serve you and take up a lot of your time. In the first part, we talked about modifying your notification settings so that you don’t get an email every time someone looks at your LinkedIn Profile. Make sure you are only getting emails that are of value to you.
Block, delete, and unsubscribe wherever possible.
I check my emails 3 times a day, at 11am, 5pm, and 9pm. Now I work for myself and I don’t have an office so my schedule may not work for you. Decide on certain times of the day for dealing with this task. Never, ever do this first thing in the morning though! Our time in the morning is the most precious and productive, and it sets the tone for the day. If you check your communications first thing in the morning, you are sending a message to your subconscious that you value other people’s agendas more than your own.
(Read this brilliant blog by HubSpot and learn about the email system that helped Tim Ferriss reach maximum productivity.)
First thing in the morning you should get yourself a glass of room temperature water with freshly squeezed lemon juice, and have a few minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. Just contemplate the day and take long, deep, rhythmic breaths. I call this ‘sharpening the axe’. You will chop down trees much faster with a full stomach, a sharp axe, and careful planning of which trees you want.
(Watch this YouTube video by Jim Kwik, brain expert and founder of Kwik Learning, a leader in accelerated learning with online students of every age and vocation in over 150 countries.)
Do these things daily and I promise you your days will become much more productive.
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