Who holds the title of ‘most busy at work?’
Come on. You at the back, what about you?
No? Wait, what’s that? I can’t quite hear what you are saying?
Oh, it’s not you, it’s the person two seats down from you?
How do you know they are the most busy?
They tell everyone? All of the time?
Wait. If they are so busy how do they make time to let everyone know, all of the time?
The busy badge is one that many people take immense pride in wearing.
Pull up to any coffee machine or water cooler and ask someone how work is for them.
Instead of talking about the excitement of a project, or the positive impact on a person’s life, it will default to a glib ‘I’m so busy right now, I can’t believe how much I have on at the moment’
The reality is we are all busy, but this does not always mean we are being effective.
So, how can changes take place that reduce the time spent and the value increases.
1. To Do Lists
The To Do list is vital in understanding what work you have and where the opportunities exist. If your To Do list is one page of A4 or more, then it is too large and will become unmanageable. Much of what you have on your list can be delegated, if you are brave enough to do so. Aim to keep the To Do list to half a page of A4, less if you can. The list should be revised before the end of your working day, so you know what the focus needs to be in the morning.
Now look at the To Do list again. What is the priority?
You will have different people pulling on you, often claiming their work is urgent without actually specifying a deadline. In reality it is rare for anything to be that urgent. Push back and suggest a timescale you are comfortable with. You will be surprised by how often this works. There are many different urgent vs important exercises that can be carried out. The one I use is a star system: *** Has to be done today. **Has to be done this week. *Can wait until next week. As you move through the week and update the To Do list (see above) the different tasks and their start rating will need to change.
If you are the chair, suggest something a little different in terms of time. Be brutal with this and you will quickly get everyone into the habit. We are so used to allocating 30 to 60 mins for a meeting – more in some cases. If you believe you can get the meeting done in 20 mins then schedule 20 mins. Guess what’s going to happen if you schedule 30 mins? Do this five times a week for the year and you gain 5.7 days back in your calendar – a whole working week! If you are not the chair, then work smarter. If you don’t need to be present for all of the meeting, ask if you can have your contribution pulled forward, to the start of the meeting. Alternatively, if this is not possible. let the chair know you need to leave the meeting (in advance if you can) once you have contributed. This won’t always be possible, especially if you are a key decision maker, so judge each meeting accordingly. We don’t have to sit, passively, in meetings when we could be getting on and adding value somewhere else.
4. Set Unrealistic Deadlines
Think about a time where you have been given 24/48 hrs to get something done, it gets done – right? If you have a few weeks or even worse a few months, the work is forgotten about. The work does not have to be perfect, but it does have to be of high quality. Don’t park the work and forget about it. If you control your own deadline you can remain calm, work hard and deliver. If the deadline is forced upon you then be prepared for stress, late nights and mistakes creeping in. Be unrealistic with the deadline and you will be surprised by how much you get done.
One of the biggest time consumers. A recent survey suggested that 70% of working time is spent reviewing, replying and dealing with e-mail – 70%! The busy badge wearer will delight in talking about how many e-mails they have in their in box. Often, the e-mails we receive are meaningless and we don’t need to see them. Think about the time you were CC’d into multiple e-mails, where two people are trying to cover their backs – yeah, that. Checking in on e-mail is the work version of constantly checking social media at home. We don’t need to do it, but feel compelled to do so on a regular basis.
Different techniques will help draw you away from e-mail.
* Prioritise speaking to people, rather than sending e-mails. The conversation will often take less time, you have an opportunity to build relationships and there can be no issue perception of tone.
* Schedule specific times to check e-mail and don’t deviate from this – set up a folder for those e-mails that need a conversation.
* Set up an auto response which e-mails the sender immediately. Here it is important to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail and to explain you are now scheduling certain times to check e-mail (this will stop duplicate e-mails and/or intrusive phone calls). Also invite them to call you, if it is incredibly urgent (remember, most issues are not urgent) so you are not giving off the vibe of putting up a brick wall.
Employing these techniques will help to significantly reduce the incoming e-mails and help you to gain control of your time.
5. Say No
As humans we want to be liked and we dislike creating conflict (well, most of us) and disappointing people.
If you are saying yes to everything, eventually your working life is going to become unmanageable and you are going to suffer from anxiety and stress. It will also make it harder to prioritise the work you have as the To Do list and you become ineffective.
Some key questions, if asked to take on something else.
* What do you need me to do?
* When do you need it by?
* What will happen if this piece of work is not completed within the timescale (remember, their deadline is likely to be flexible).
A key phrase, to help overcome any discomfort you may have, is to say ‘It’s a no right now, but I can help you with it on xxxx (giving them a day or date). You are pushing back and protecting your time, but you will also be available to help at a time that is going to help you manage your time effectively – similar to the priority exercise above, you will be surprised by how flexible the other person can be. We are often our own worse enemy, believing the request is one that has to be completed immediately.
Once you develop these daily habits you will have more control of your time.
More importantly you will be applying your focus to the stuff that matters and not allowing distractions to creep in.
To start with you may feel uncomfortable using some of the techniques but this will pass.
The people around you and those making requests of your time will soon get used to your new way of working.
It is important to remember that you are not being obstructive in switching things up.
What you are doing is identifying those elements that suck up huge amounts of time with very little value attached.
In doing so, you will achieve far more than you imagine is possible.
There are many different techniques out there, to improve your day and I would love to hear about what works well for you.
For those interested I will be posting an upcoming article about delegation and how to deal with the slippery subject of procrastination – some of which the above addresses.
Believe and take action.