Working with stress and frustration means you’re not doing your BEST work. Use these steps to be more effective and make your workday easier.
Troubled by too little time? Mourning a few missed opportunities? Stuck behind bars in email jail?
The challenges of trying to keep up can get you down. You’re bombarded by rounds of incoming information, communication, and tasks with no system in sight to save you. You lose a bit of your motivation because you’re constantly feeling behind. And the process of “trial and error” to find a solution doesn’t solve the problem.
When you’re frustrated – or downright overwhelmed – it’s easy to get side-tracked, distracted, fed up, and stressed out. And when you’re feeling that way, you’re not doing your best work. And that’s not good for you, your results, or your business.
Here are 6 essential strategies you can use to become more effective at managing your work and, at the same time, make your workday a lot easier. As a result, you can improve and increase your levels of productivity, performance, and progress.
Manage things by priority not proximity
When you try to manage tasks, requests, and emails as they SHOW up you’ll never be able to KEEP up. It’s like hitting baseballs from the machine in a batting cage – treating everything exactly the same with no sense of priority. Things are showing up, and you’re swinging at them, one after the other.
With that approach, you’ll never make the progress I know you’re trying to make. You won’t be very proactive about your priorities or have a high sense of urgency for getting them done, simply because they’re not in your line of sight. In addition, a reactive approach creates a high probability that something important will be missed, lost or forgotten.
To work more proactively and with more control, document every task, reminder and follow-up you’re responsible for in a digital task list. And not just WHAT you need to do, but also WHEN. When you get your tasks together, you’ll see how easy it is to compare, prioritize, and create a plan of action.
Once you’ve fully built the list (and yes, it’s an investment of time in your future productivity) you’ll gain incredible insight and great relief from the constant worry that you may have missed something. You can clear your mind and focus on DOING more important things – instead of just trying to remember them.
Be inaccessible for periods of time.
The all-day, open-door policy will destroy your focus, concentration and progress.
I answered a question once from an audience member who felt guilty about shutting his door. He wanted to stay accessible to his people ALL the time. But you MUST shut your door for short periods of time – or find a way to disappear at points throughout your day – so you can get quiet time, stay focused, and get something done… from start to finish, no matter how big or small.
Protect a bit of time each day to get important tasks accomplished, and not just for SOME days of the week. Every day. Every week. Then outside of the time you protect for yourself and your priorities, you can be available to others who need access to you. You can’t be reachable all of the time by everyone. Your progress is important too.
Ask often, “Is THIS the best use of my time?”
A client once told me as we began working together that she realized she’d been operating “in a fog” from day to day without a clear plan of action. Her to-dos were everywhere – on paper, in email, on to-do lists, and elsewhere – and this gave her no clarity of task volume or priorities.
If you lack this kind of clarity it can cause a lack of certainty and control, especially when you’re under pressure to make progress. Your days are already hectic, but now you’re frantic on top of it. Without a solid plan, you end up spinning your wheels, wasting time guessing what to work on next, and getting caught up in the distractions sitting on your desk.
Further, you’re defenses are weak when interruptions come along. Or you try to multi-task in a desperate attempt to get something done. All of these are costing the national and global economies in the millions every year. And they’re costing you and your company, too.
If you often wonder if what you’re doing is THE most important thing you should be doing or the BEST way to spend your time, it’s because right now you don’t have a sure-fire way to know. The only way you’ll know is if you create a plan that includes everything, which will give you the power to make better decisions about priorities.
With a clear action plan showing all tasks and priorities, you’re in a much stronger position to protect the time you need, use it with clarity of purpose, and KNOW that what you’re working on at any moment is the BEST use of your time.
Don’t Over Do It with Over-Commitment
I work with many clients who experience a consistent shortage of time – and not because others are stealing it, but because my clients are giving it all away, and we work on changing this.
Over-commitment can be caused by several things. Primarily, it’s a result of saying “yes” far more often than saying “no.” But it can also be caused by not having enough people to delegate to, not properly estimating how long it takes to do a task or project, not planning or protecting the time you need far enough in advance, or spending too much time micromanaging others.
Sometimes professionals give time away to too many new projects as they’re trying to meet deadlines for existing projects. Or worse, existing projects get bumped for the new ones. New business is great, but it’s terrible for existing clients and peers who are waiting for completion of existing work you’ve already agreed to do, and when your time and your work are not managed well, it doesn’t reflect well on you or your business.
Don’t over-extend yourself. Take care of planning, prioritizing and accomplishing what you’ve promised already, and when you take on more, make sure you plan it out far enough that you don’t break existing promises or make those who have already been waiting wait even longer.
Make Your Task List #1
Email is like quicksand. You can get caught in it pretty fast and not escape, and before you know it, you’ve lost precious time you could have spent on more important things.
Processing NEW emails you received overnight is fine first thing in the morning before moving to your first priority of the day, but getting stuck in email for hours in the morning is NOT fine.
Most of my clients realize as we work together how much control they allowed email to have over their day. They call it “living from the Inbox” where they make decisions about what to do next in their day by what appears in their email Inbox.
To avoid this trap, make it a point to go to your Task List first (a fully built, digital Task List) to SEE what you said you wanted to do today. Have that in your mind before getting drawn into email for too long. Spend time on your most important tasks FIRST in your day and then go back to email. Toggle back and forth throughout the day, making sure you keeping your eye on your priorities.
Save Time by Finding Things Fast
Plenty of research tells us how costly it is to be disorganized. A Brother International survey revealed the high cost of looking for things in computers and offices, which totaled more than $177 billion dollars annually. But the losses weren’t just about the dollars. The survey revealed other sad findings as well…
- 87% of office workers reported that when their workspace is disorganized they feel they are less productive
- 80% agree that someone who is disorganized “hurts the productivity of the whole office.”
- About 37% of office workers have gone into a work meeting feeling unprepared
Do you want to keep losing time – our most valuable, non-renewable resource – to looking for things? It’s time to get order restored in your office by establishing systems for easy storage and retrieval of both reference and active information. It will save you a LOT of time that you can use more efficiently and effectively to create a LOT more progress.
If you spend too much time on trial and error with an app here or a tip there, you won’t gain the benefits of a total approach to workload management that’s all-inclusive. Invest time in learning a system that allows you to do your BEST work. It will pay huge benefits for your productivity, your ability to focus, your available time, and your progress. You’ll be wildly more effective… and your workday will be much easier and less stressful, too.