Archive for the ‘Staying Focused’ Category

Unplug the Day Shredder

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.
Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin (1787-1863)

This pearl of wisdom was said 150 years before the invention of the worst hour-loser ever invented—email.

Email is the shredder of your workday, and you MUST keep it under control or it will cut your productivity to ribbons.

If your email program is set up to ding whenever a message comes in, it’s hard to keep working. You just have to stop for a second and see what came in, right? And it might be ages before you get back to the original project, if you ever do. By the end of a given day, instead of a solid workday of finished projects, you have a bowl of shredded wheat.

So how do you tame this beast?

First, wait at least 30 minutes before checking your email each morning, and use those 30 minutes to set your priorities for the day, then stick to them. If you want to really turbocharge your day, add another 30 minutes to get started on a substantive project.

Second, schedule email time just like any other activity. Maybe you check it every hour on the hour. Open it, deal with it, close it again. Set a timer if you have to. Or maybe you schedule a 15-minute block every three hours. It doesn’t matter which you do, as long as YOU are calling the tune, not your email program.

Finally, clear your inbox every day. This requires dedicated time—and it’s worth it!

Stay Focused on the Right Things

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Admit it, we’ve all been guilty of giving the excuse, “I’m WAY too busy,” or “I don’t have time for one more thing.”

Often, if you really thought about it, you’d realize that it’s not that you have too much to do, it’s that you’re spending too much time on the things that don’t matter. You may be “focused” on too much—another way of saying you’re not focused at all.

The people who complain the most that they have too much to do are always the ones best at manufacturing work where none exists as an excuse to not do the most critical things. Like making time to sort the paper clips…

Instead, be in the highest and best use of your time constantly. Start today by doing this:

  • Make a list of everything you plan on doing today.
  • Next, go through the list and cross off anything that’s not critical. Things that don’t generate revenue, directly or indirectly, are almost certainly not critical.
  • Block times for those “big rocks”—projects that need extreme focus, and let the “sand” fill in the rest of your day.
  • Then, stick to the list!

Each of those steps is crucial. Some people make a list and think they’re done. But every day, without exception, you need to REDUCE that list as a next step. Not everything that pops into your head automatically earns a precious block of time today. Move something to tomorrow, or delegate it, or cross it off completely. Then do it again and again, making each task earn its spot, until suddenly your list is reasonable for a single day’s work.

The last step is too often forgotten. Once you make the list and refine it, stick to it! Don’t start improvising around it or allowing yourself to be distracted by shiny objects. Treat it like your one-day strategic plan.

You’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish—so get focused NOW!

Blocking Time

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

How do you structure your work schedule each day? If you’re like most people, you really don’t structure it. Or you open your email in the morning and let IT tell you what to do.

I’ll tell you, there’s no better way to slice and dice your day into hopeless little pieces.

Instead, start every day by blocking time. Scribble a complete list of everything that’s barking for attention. Not everything is equally important – heck, not everything even needs to be done at all. Cross off anything you can forget about or delegate. Next, mark anything that doesn’t have to be worked on today.

Now you’re ready to lay out your schedule for the day.

Block time first for the most important activities. BUT—that doesn’t mean you have to do those things first. In fact, since those are often the most complicated and time-consuming, piling them up in the morning may just guarantee you’ll never finish everything. Instead, scatter those non-negotiables through the day.

You might not be working on the Dickerson project the moment you sit down in the morning, but you know that 10:30 to 12:00 is for the Dickerson project, period. And work on the budget summary is scheduled for 1:00-1:30, the revenue forecast is 3:00-3:45, and the inventory report is 4:15-4:45. Block those projects first, then fill in the gaps between them with negotiables—the things you’d like to finish today, but don’t absolutely have to.

What happens if you need extra time on that budget summary? It bleeds over into the time scheduled for those less important things. Maybe one of the less important items gets bumped to Tuesday. So what? You finished the thing that needed finishing, and you still start the revenue forecast on time.

Now what if you had stacked your non-negotiables at the beginning of the day, and each one took more time than you thought? Now you’ve got crucial things bumping into crucial things. That’s not going to end well. Something important is going to end up unfinished.

It’s like the old story of the jar, the rocks, the pebbles, and the sand. Put the sand in the jar first and there’s no room for the pebbles or rocks. But put in the big rocks first—the most important things—then you can pour the pebbles and the sand into the spaces in between, and everything fits.

Likewise, when you make your daily schedule, block time for the big, important things first, but allow space for the less important things in between. Do this and you’ll never have to tell your boss you were too busy to do what was most important.


Stop Quitting a Project Without Finishing It

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

When have you REALLY finished a project? When you KNOW the conditions of the project are completely satisfied.

All projects are like a sandwich, and the conditions of satisfaction are the bread. Before you even start the project, get the conditions of satisfaction from your boss—as much detail as possible about when it needs to be done, what the components are, and what things need to be included in the final project for it to be a success. (more…)

Staying Productive When the Beat Goes On (and On)

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

As any parent of a teenager will tell you (or any teenager, for that matter), music is personal nowadays. It’s a constant companion for many people who literally carry it with them everywhere they go. Music is also tied up in identity in a way that wasn’t as intense in previous generations. Criticize someone’s music, especially a young person, and it can feel like you are criticizing who they are.

But music can present a serious problem in the workplace when employees play it out loud in open office spaces, disrupting the productivity of coworkers and creating resentment that boils over in other areas. That isn’t good for anybody. (more…)