It doesn’t matter whether you run a small business or a large corporation: whether you’re a vice president, senior manager or team leader. If you’re in a position of responsibility, your in-tray is always full; there are emails to answer; phone calls to make and meetings to attend.
Here are a few tips to help you get organized and escape the daily trivia trap so you can get work done.
1. Manage your time
Our instinct is to deal with the obvious, easiest or most insistent task first regardless of whether it’s the most important or urgent. There’s only one way to break this cycle – prioritise your work before you dive in.
Many people swear by to do lists; others prefer calendars or apps. Choose ONE and get organised. Cal Newport recommends breaking up your work into batches. It’s hard but it forces you to focus and improves productivity.
David Allen, guru of “Getting Things Done”, is more precise – just follow five simple steps to find ‘the space and structure to be more creative, strategic, and focused.’
2. Accept reality
You can’t escape admin – you have to do it at some point. The trick is to set aside a block of time to deal with administrative work, meetings, phone calls and emails. Establish daily or weekly office hours to bundle similar tasks together.
Dilbert recommends you ‘touch each piece of paper once’– read it, file it, shred it, sign it – right away. For emails, Michael Hyatt recommends you ‘do, delegate, or delete’ emails in your inbox so it’s empty at the end of the day. Use the rest of your time to just get work done.
3. Have ‘deep work’ hours
Isaac Newton had the right idea – it’s important to take time to ‘sit under the tree’ and do nothing at all, says Tim Kreider in the NYT. Just simply think.
Stay focused on one major task at a time. Shifting ‘cognitive resources’ wastes a lot of time according to Gloria Mark. Her research shows it takes at least 25 minutes of focused work to get into the ‘flow’ so deeper thinking can take over.
4. Limit distractions
Don’t let ‘pings’ and ‘knocks’ monopolise your time. Work away from your office if need be.
You may not be able to manage social interruptions such as phone calls, emails and a knock on your door the same way. But you can create larger chunks of time by limiting when and how you respond to them.
5. Stay in control by letting go
The best way to get space to think is to delegate.
Micromanaging and multitasking are the enemies of vision and innovation. Give your team responsibility and watch them grow in confidence, creativity and motivation. Then take that time you’ve freed up to get work done.
6. Be ruthless in setting expectations
Little bits of work can eat up entire days. Set short, sharp deadlines – they make you focus.
As time-gobblers go, meetings are a necessary evil. The Harvard Business Review recommends getting the most out of them by keeping them short, small, banning devices and insisting everyone comes prepared. Stand-up meetings, they suggest, tend to be shorter and more productive.
When you get work done, smile
If your ‘To-Do’ list gives you a twinge of discomfort, Benji at iDoneThis recommends you look at your ‘done’ list. We’re often quite hard on ourselves for not completing a task but looking back at what you’ve already accomplished is a great encouragement. If you get work done, give yourself a clap on the back.
Besides, it’s probably more than most of us have completed today.