Time, we all struggle to find enough and most of us feel under the pump from first thing in the morning until we finally manage to fall into bed. It feels like we do a lot but achieve little. And it's unlikely to change in the coming years. There will only be more email to manage, manage calls, more meetings, more, more, more.
Often with a few simple changes in the way we do what we do we can actually become much more productive and feel more in control of our working day. Much of the problem stems from the fact that we tend to do the things that are screaming at us as opposed to the things we should be doing to move our business forward.
Here are a few ideas that have worked wonderfully well for me:
1. Get important tasks done before check your email first thing in the morning
As soon as you check your email in the morning, your day is shot. From that first moment on, we spend the rest of the day responding to other people and their requests, that just keep coming in. If you can spend the first few hours of your working day getting your top priorities done and then check your email, you will be amazed at how much you can get done. This is a very hard habit to change but the results are incredible.
2. Batch appointments
Rather than space appointments over a day, I like to batch them. For example, I will have a morning of appointments, one after the other and I get them knocked over. This keeps the meetings on schedule, it keeps everyone on track and avoids the non-productive half-hour or one-hour breaks between appointments that are not really long enough to do anything significant except check emails and once again, respond to everyone else's demands.
3. Have appointment free days
Further to the previous point, the only way I get work done is to schedule days that are appointment free. These are the days when I don't see any clients, or have any appointments all. These are the days when I am at my most productive. I schedule at least two of these per week and I just love them.
4. Get better at finding out what the real deadline is
There is nothing more frustrating than being given a deadline, working all hours to meet it, and then finding out it wasn't a real deadline, the client just manipulated you so that you would get the task done quickly. During your meeting you are told that "the task has to be done by Friday" and you pull out all stops to get it done. Then you find out that the person who requested it has gone on holidays for a month and they won't even look at your report until they get back. Very frustrating. I always make a point of finding out what the real deadline is and why that deadline has been set.
5. On your to-do list, allocate time for the unexpected
In my daily planner, I schedule two one-hour blocks for the "unexpected" things that occur during the day. One hour in the morning, one in the afternoon. I do this daily because the one thing that really isn't unexpected is that you will need to do things that you didn't expect to have to do when your day started. If luck would have it and the unexpected haven't materialized, you suddenly have a spare hour or if you are really lucky, two spare hours, up your sleeve.
6. Disconnect from the world
When I write I turn off my email, my phone and all other connection to the outside world. At first, this is very hard, but the more often you do it, the easier it gets. For me, an hour spent working disconnected is equal to four hours connected. Manage people's expectations - let them know you disconnect and that you will get back to them, but it won't be until later. By responding to every email within a minute we are training our clients to expect us to be connected. Managing other people's expectations takes time, but once they have worked out how you operate, if you are good enough at what you do, they will work around you.
7. Learn to identify what the real priorities for your day need to be
Do you do the things that are important to get done right now or do you do the things that have the biggest ramifications if they don't get done, or even worse, do you do the things that will simply placate someone else's often unreasonable demands? We need to control our day not let other influences control it. Now of course I'm not naive enough to think that you don't have people, clients, partners, customers and other team members who are depending on you and rightly so, but how much of what you do on a daily basis really is a priority as opposed to some other reason compelling you to do it?
I started to use all of these ideas because I was tired of feeling out of control. By breaking some of my own bad habits, I regained control of my world. Not only am I more productive, the quality of the work I do is far better and so is my sense of satisfaction. And I feel a little bit more sane and calm every day.