Attack of the Time-killers
Do you find yourself sitting at your desk for hours, working away, then, at the end of the day, you have trouble identifying what you actually accomplished? Perhaps you start your day with a to-do list. And then, the day attacks, doing its best to keep you from your list. Clients call with problems with your product; co-workers call with things keeping them from their lists, things only you can help them with; email yells for your attention; you feel you NEED to check Facebook for a 5-minute distraction, knowing it will become a 30-minute diversion from your list. The day continues its onslaught with the multitude of weapons at its disposal. You are beat into becoming a “Wandering Generality” (credit to Zig Ziglar).
How do you fight back? What can you do to be effective at completing the right tasks? There is no magic defense. There is no easy way out. However, you can learn to be more effective. To be cliché, the best defense is a good offense. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Stephan Covey’s Habit 1 is “Be Proactive”. Choose how you spend your time carefully. Make every decision about what to do with thoughtfulness and purpose.
7 Tips for Defending Your To-do List
- Actually have a list. Write it down or create it electronically. The process of creating the list gets your brain working on the items on the list. Know how each item on the list fits into your larger plans and projects. You do know what your larger plans and projects are, right? I recommend Remember the Milk, a task management app. Remember the Milk lets me keep personal and various professional lists in one place.
- As the day attacks you, carefully consider how you respond. Do you have to handle that customer request, or can you delegate? Are you the best person to help your coworker? Does she really need you to help right now? How does what you are about to do fit into the following (adapted from First Things First, Stephen Covey):
- Important and Urgent – do it now. If the building is on fire, leave.
- Important, but not Urgent – perhaps this interruption should go on tomorrow’s list?
- Urgent, but not important – Can you delegate it? What are the implications of NOT doing it?
- Not Urgent, Not Important – These can fool you. Consider how you handle them carefully.
- Sometimes you have to say “No”. Do you really have to be in that meeting? Or, can someone take notes? We humans want to be liked and feel we have to please others. Be careful that your desire to please others doesn’t negatively impact the greater good.
- Be careful of distractions. Email, Social Media, and co-workers all can be distractions. It takes a strong will, but don’t constantly check email, a few times a day will suffice. Social Media is a useful tool. But, it too can be checked less frequently, if at all while at work. Co-workers will understand if you have to delay a talk. They too have things to do and understand more than you think.
- Plan – OK this one is very related to #1 above. At the end of each day, or first thing in the morning, plan your day. Make a list of what you need to accomplish. Decide which item to tackle when. Know what you need in order to accomplish the tasks on your list.
- Delegate whenever it is appropriate. You do not have to do everything. Leadership is about getting others to move goals toward completion. Lead.
- Get plenty of sleep; eat right; exercise. You cannot perform well if you do not feel well. You must take care of yourself.
Self-awareness and Purposefulness
As you move through your day, and defend your list, try to catch yourself doing the wrong things. If you wander from your list, ask yourself why? What caused you to digress? Be aware of what you are doing and act with purpose. In time you will find yourself staying on track, accomplishing more, and reaching more of your goals. Move away from being a “wandering generality” and become a “meaningful specific”.