How to Get Where You Want to Go with Less Wasted Time and Effort
Making significant progress on tasks and accomplishing projects faster and easier requires reliable systems in your day and the careful use of time, energy and effort.
If you live in a metropolitan area, think about the traffic on local highways at rush hour, in the morning or in the evening. With or without accidents to contend with, cars are likely backed up for miles on much of the highways. At best, they’re inching forward or moving at slow speeds.
Sadly, this is the state of productivity and progress for many professionals in the workforce today. Like cars stuck in traffic, things like tasks, projects, emails and information have slowed or stopped. They’re inching forward like little snails, when they should be whizzing along the highway like high-powered sports cars, making visible progress.
If your workday highway is backed up with things to do, projects to finish, and emails to address, here’s a new way to look at your workday and some tips to help you make progress faster and easier.
Cars represent the things that travel through your workday and are managed by you: phone calls, emails, paper, files, tasks, and more. These things will get on and off your workday highway continuously, but it’s how efficiently you move them forward to their final destination that matters the most to your productivity, progress and achievement.
There are three major on-ramps that consistently bring information into your workday and onto the highway: voice mail, email and the Inbox on your desk. There are others too, of course, like meetings, hallway conversations, and social media, but most information and tasks come through an Inbox of some sort.
These on-ramps—or inboxes—can only handle so much stuff before things build up and stall, and then it’s easy for things to get missed, lost or forgotten. So for these on-ramps to work, the information, tasks, emails, etc… must keep moving forward, just like the cars that need to reach the highway. Things need to come OUT of the inboxes and go into better, more appropriate places to be managed for future reference or action.
There are two challenges that cause on-ramps/inboxes to back-up. One is the inability to make decisions and the other is not having systems to hold or manage things. If you can’t decide what to do with something—or you can, but have no place to put it—your workday progress can easily stall.
Let’s address the first of these challenge: making decisions.
The Lanes of Your Workday Highway
When a car gets to the end of an on-ramp it merges onto the highway. The driver chooses a lane and blends into traffic. As the driver of your workday, you must make decisions about where things will go in order to make progress. You’ve got to pick a lane.
Too often, inboxes start piling up because of decision-making freeze. Things don’t merge onto the highway and enter the flow of your workday because you’re not sure what to do with something or what lane it belongs in—or worse, the lanes aren’t in good working order or they don’t exist!
When you choose a lane for the items in your inboxes it means you’ve decided what KIND of information it is and whether or not to keep it. Then you process the item OUT of the inbox where it arrived and move it forward to a better place for future reference or action, or you toss/delete it, which are all final destinations.
Using the lanes of your workday highway allow you process information and tasks, and turn your decisions into ACTION. You’re bringing items onto your workday highway via the on-ramps and using the off-ramps to get items back off the highway and into their destinations for storage or action.
To keep things moving forward, you must be decisive. You need to know what you want and what you don’t want…what you need and what you don’t need…and you’ve got to know what you can do today and what you can’t.
Too often, professionals are moving much too quickly to stop and think, but stop and think they must. A few questions out of many to ask include…
Do I really need to keep this?
Do I want to read this?
Does this represent or contain a task I need to do?
Should I forward this to someone?
Does this get filed for future reference?
If you decide something is NOT useful to you, you’ll toss it or delete it, which means those cars are in the trash lane and ready to find an off-ramp to get off the highway so they don’t slow down your progress. The same is true when you decide to send out papers and files from your office using an Outbox or when you want to add tasks to your Task list.
When you decide an item needs several steps, you must choose what comes first. Perhaps you want to read something, so it hits the off-ramp for Destination: Reading. But once you’ve read it, you’ll determine where it needs to go next—to the Task list for action or to the Outbox for someone else to read or to the trash can.
In addition, just as only one car at a time can move from the on-ramp and merge into traffic, your brain can only focus on one thing at a time to decide how it’s useful to you and what to do with it. These decisions are vital to making progress in your day, one at a time.
Now, let’s address the second challenge—where to put things.
Parking lots are your final destinations. These are the systems that hold tasks for action or information for future reference.
These systems must be ready, reliable and in good working order for them to be useful to you. They can’t be closed or in poor working condition like some of the roads we’ve all experienced—full of potholes, cracks, dips, or bumps. Roads and systems like these make you slow down and lose momentum. Not only this, but when these systems are NOT in good working order and NOT ready for new items, the information or tasks will back up on your desk or in inboxes like cars on a highway, because they have nowhere to go.
Reference information will remain in their specific lots unless or until you toss it, delete it or archive it when you clear out old information. Physical reference locations include your file drawers, desk file drawers, and bookshelves. Digital reference locations include your e-document library, email folders, and your contact system.
Active information will park in the Task parking lot—or on the Task List—until it’s time for action. When you’re ready to take action, you’ll drive that task off the lot and get it going. You can only work on ONE task at a time, just as you can only drive ONE car at a time, so…no multitasking!
If your workday parking lots are in a state of disrepair or they’re missing from the map altogether it means you need…
- A reliable, digital task list to reflect everything you need to do, no matter when you need to do it. You may be using multiple paper to-do lists and trying to manage or prioritize tasks from their various sources, which is impossible to be effective.
- A reliable digital calendar that truly reflects where your time is committed. You may be unclear about how much time you need to get your priorities accomplished and you’re not protecting or maximizing your time.
- A reliable file cabinet or set of file drawers in which to file things for future reference. You may not have the space or, if you do, the files are over-stuffed or disorganized.
- A reliable e-document library for all of your electronic documents. You may be storing e-documents and attachments on your computer desktop or you’ve stored documents in multiple places—and you’re not trusting any one of them.
- A reliable set of email folders in which to store various emails for reference. This is a tricky one because there’s such a thing as over-organizing with too many folders or having none at all is just as inefficient.
These are just the top five of many systems you need in your workday to manage your tasks and information, and each one is essential to reaching higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in your day.
The Road to Peak Productivity
Your goal each day is to accomplish your priorities and the best way to do that is to boost efficiency with careful use of time, energy and effort. To work at top efficiency and get the most out of your day, you’ll want to have reliable systems to support you. They must exist and be in good working order for you to have an easier time of making decisions, taking action and making progress every day.