Your personal productivity: Can you get on top of it? Are you climbing, or are you sinking? What needs to change for you to get and stay on top?
Coping_ Staying on Top (Audio)
How well do you manage to stay on top of your game? You know, on top of each day? How well do you manage your priorities? Are you in control? Are you driving, or are you being driven? Do you find staying “ahead of the rest” is becoming more stressful? Wasn’t it meant to be a great source of fun and inspiration and enjoyment?
These are the questions I’d like to explore options for today. This is the first of a blog trilogy on coping and productivity skills. Next week I’ll look at the time we waste in meetings and the week after how we can get back on top of our email queue.
Coping on the Treadmill
In our globally competitive world we face growing and relentless demands on our time and productivity, don’t we? The focus is always on doing more with less. Always leaner & meaner.
Like someone else controlling the treadmill speed button… We are “always on” – 24 hours a day: always expected to be accessible via mobile phone, email, Internet.
Just a couple days off and we’re into backlog – big time, right? Multiple country time zones make it even more interesting, don’t they?
Deadlines; Deliverables; KPI’s; Gotta, gotta, gotta….And those endless meetings…And what’s in the unread emails that could “bite me”?
Everyone copes with this differently.
Some are stressed by it. Some thrive on it. Most sit somewhere between the two.
Where do you sit with this?
The “To Do” List
Do you have a “to do list? Or do you still hold and manage it all in your head? Most people have some form of list by which they manage their tasks and priorities. Do you find that you might have multiple lists – one for your job, maybe one for your business interests or hobbies and perhaps another for home? How do you prevent overlap between them? And how do you manage priorities across them? How do you keep them up to date?
I have sometimes had to challenge clients who are overly obsessed with their “to do lists” or perhaps in or approaching overwhelm to reflect on a “done list” to put into perspective what they have already achieved and how far they have already come. (And sometimes to give those around them a break…)
Would you agree with me that in order to stay on top or ahead in today’s world, we need some form of tool to help us with this?
Today most smartphones have task and diary functions on them. iPads and tablets similar devices are also growing in proliferation. Some people rely on their desktop or notebook computer and some carry a printout of their diary from that. Some just have a paper diary. Others use a “ring book”. And of course some have a personal assistant. It doesn’t matter. What will work for you?
I use an iPhone with Outlook as my diary and an app called “Task-Task” both of which automatically synchronize back to my desktop and server so that I know I am always up to date. If my wife puts a diary entry in the home office PC or her phone, they are all automatically updated. That way we are always in synch – no more double bookings, work or play!
Personal Productivity: Getting on top
Task management works around the existence of and the management of a task list or a “to do” list.
It is a very simple, but very powerful tool to help keep us on top of things. Sure, young people can keep a lot in their heads, but as we grow older and broaden our activities and responsibilities, there seems to be more and more thrown at us. Eventually we simply can’t keep control of that in our heads and it becomes too stressful. Or we are seen to “drop the ball” more often and it starts to reflect on our performance.
Quality systems and procedures demand us getting and “staying on top” of things. Recording them, prioritizing them and planning them is very liberating and often the first step to some very useful productivity, and dare I say improved coping.
I am amazed at how stressed a growing number of my very senior professional coaching clients are, even if they have a personal assistant, around not being “on top of their game”. They confess to simply no longer being in control and perpetually worried when something they missed is going to bite them. Everyone seems to lament that they have no longer have quality time for them to plan and to think. Which was why I wrote last week’s blog on Me Time.
But whatever tool you use the fundamentals are:
- First and foremost, a task list is simply a list that captures every task in your “inbox” or on your desk.
- Secondly it necessitates you to estimate the effort and duration required to do the task
- And finally where it sits in your prioritization.
Project management 101 right?
Also, to be effective, it must be something you keep with you or have access to throughout your work day. Mobility. Always accessible. If you’re anything like me, and you get good at this, it will soon transcend work and you’ll use it for everything home, social, hobbies, travel etc. It will be the one reliable place you know is always up to date.
So are you ready to join me on spelling out this journey? Here comes a collection of simple tips and traps I have found to work with so many of my clients and that can help make this work beautifully for you:
Capture every Task
So to start with, capture every task that comes into your workspace via phone, walk-in, email, memo, letter, meeting etc that you can’t satisfy immediately.
Prioritize each task
Estimate its effort and its duration and use that in setting its priority. Refer also to Stephen Covey’s “Urgent vs Important” quadrants. How often is the urgent actually also important?
I would ask your forgiveness if I add a cynical comment here please. It has occurred to me that quite often things have become urgent due to a lack of planning or giving them due focus while they were still important, right? So I often treat the “urgent” with some skepticism and like to “test” the cause of the urgency, so there isn’t the support of any “bad habits”.
Tip: I also used to use a 3 point “filter” to help with this:
a) Is this part of my KPI’s that will affect my bonus or variable income?
b) Is it important or valuable to me, eg from a learning, visibility or growth perspective?
c) Is it just “noise” that isn’t the best use of my time?
Decide if it needs to be done today
If it’s to be later then put a date and a reminder on it.
If it’s big enough, then diarise a time to deal with it.
Both ways you can forget about it and let your diary/PDA remind you when it’s time to.
Can it be delegated?
It’s always sensible to test if a task can be delegated. Your time may be better invested elsewhere or this may be a perfect development opportunity for someone else.
Cross off finished items
As you finish a task, please remember to cross it off the list.
Remember to celebrate and/or reward yourself for finishing the bigger ones. It’s an important motivator. (Your unconscious remembers when / that you did and this can affect your motivation. More importantly, it certainly remembers when / that you didn’t and could affect you negatively without you being consciously aware of it. )
Follow the above process for each task, big or small. It’s the discipline that counts here. Get into the habit.
Remember to re prioritize during the day if new larger or important tasks come in.
First thing each day, review your task list – no more than 5-10 minutes, as you are detached from the previous day. Do this before you get to your office or desk so you can’t be distracted (eg in the carpark or on the train).
Last thing each day, before you knock off and leave the office or building, review the task list for no more than 5-10 minutes, and cross off any completed items or re-prioritize any changes. Don’t leave until you are satisfied. Don’t leave it to do at home.
The “when at home – be at home” rule
When you are at home – be at home. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We cover it some more under listening skills, but it’s amazing how many partners complain about their partner being physically home from work but still “being back there mentally”. This applies to taking work home as well as to email. Webmail or email on your phone is great to being “always on” but there are many risks that you get “sucked in” and bingo – you aren’t home. If it’s got to be – apply the 30 minute rule.
The “30 minute” rule
Any work related task when at home should occupy you no more than 30 minutes, otherwise it belongs to tomorrow. Of course it will be necessary from time to time to have to do significant work at or from home to meet certain pressure points or deadlines or specific customer or stakeholder requirements. It just shouldn’t become the norm, or an “escape” from being home.
If you find the same old tasks keep remaining on your list day in day out (or dare I say week in week out) you may be procrastinating. Perhaps my blog Procrastination can help here?
So having read this far, which of the above do you already do very well? And which might you not do at all or perhaps not well enough? Could you see how getting good at these few simple steps could make a difference for your productivity? Could you see how liberating they might become for you? For some they have become the difference between coping or not.
How good would it be to “be on top of your game” again? And how easy is it to slip back into old habits again?
What if you were to give the above tips a try for a month? Diligently? What difference do you think they might generate for you?
What if you could?
Click here for the other blogs of this trilogy: