Take a moment and imagine it's December 31, 2019. You're sitting back in your comfy leather chair, reading your favorite book, by the fireplace sipping hot chocolate. MMMMM. Looking back over the past 365 days — you realize you had a great year. An amazing, incredible, unbelievable year.
Face it - we all procrastinate in one form or another. It might be at work. It might be at home. It might be at work and at home. During my 10 years of coaching executives, I've found that procrastination can be simplified into four 'obstacles':
Everyone has a manager/boss. Even if you are in business on your own, someone is out there plucking the puppet strings of your career. I work with a myriad of people who have incredible success and terrible issues with their manager. Some bosses are insane, some are saints, some are psychotic, and some are surprisingly normal.
One area I find where most people begin to see the cracks appear in their relationship concerns how they communicate with their manager.
Healthy, regular communication will always ameliorate any potential situation, ensure problems are addressed, and steps are taken in a reasonable amount of time.
Things go wrong when people forget two-way communication resembles a tug-of-war with a huge rope. When one side doesn’t communicate and pulls away, the other side needs to fill the void, take up the slack, and increase their communication.
So how do you do it? Here are some simple rules:
- Regular — schedule it on their calendar; meet with them (face to face) to discuss what’s happening.
- Short — make it a 10-15 minute meeting; the shorter, the better — focus on the tactical.
- Stick to business — cover what you’re working on and discuss next steps. Use an update sheet (1 page) to document what is discussed.
Here’s a great email/paper template I offer to my clients (Rule: Only 1 Page):
1. Accomplishments (from last week):
- Accomplishment 1 (keep each bullet point short)
- Accomplishment 2 (keep it less than 5-7 words)
- Accomplishment 3 (easy to scan)
2. Activities for this week:
- Project 1 (projects to be completed this week)
- Project 2
- Project 3
3. Long-Term Projects (in the near future):
- Project – Due Date (must have due dates)
- Project – Due Date
- Project – Due Date
4. Concerns & Issues:
- Issue 1 (talk about obstacles)
- Issue 2 (come with solutions)
- Issue 3
This template allows you to document your progress and ensure there are no crossed expectations about what you do and what your manager wants you to do. In addition, when you have 52 of these sheets in a binder, reviews go so much easier because you have a syllabus of accomplishments to choose from.
If you meet regularly with your manager (say weekly) for 10-15 minutes and use the recommended template, your relationship will strengthen and soar.
I've even suggested this template for attorneys to keep their clients up-to-date on their progress. It actually helps when their retainer runs out and the client asks 'what have you been doing?' — you now have a weekly documented process to bypass these uncomfortable conversations (and ultimately when you discount your fees because they're angry).
What do you use to update your manager/client on your progress?
For years many of my clients have struggled to sit down and get to work when they really, really don't want to (which is most of the time). Most are managers, entrepreneurs or in sales and they have the option of subtly putting things off and procrastinating, and often the urge not to work and surf online instead can be powerfully strong. I call that MASSIVE PROCRASTINATION. During one session, I brainstormed what I call "Activity Gambling" and it's actually been really helpful to many of my clients, so I thought I'd share in case anyone else finds it useful.
FIRST: You need two sheets. On sheet one, draw up a big running to-do list of everything you can think of that you need to do (breaking them down into small tasks). On sheet two, use Excel/Numbers/Word/Pages to develop a horizontal chart with six columns numbered 1 through 6 and 5-10 boxes under each column.
SECOND: Review your to-do list and pick six single, discrete tasks in a box under each number. Ideally, try to make these tasks take 5 minutes or less (this is the hardest part of this exercise).
THIRD: Roll a single die and do whatever task is in the column that the die lands on. Cross out that task and list another item in that column and roll again.
FOURTH: Warning: You might feel a little silly having to do this. But it works and many of my clients LOVE IT. Sometimes they really don't feel like doing anything on that list. But the minute the die is in the air spinning, they are waiting for a number to land.
CONCLUSION: The randomness and the act of throwing the die gets them moving. And once they do that first task, they can usually keep it going for quite a bit before they need a break.
We all have some sort of fear at some level at some time in our life. It might be a very present fear staring us in the face or it might be a background fear hiding in the attic — but it's still there doing it's dirty work.
Time is the one thing you can never get back. So you need to be careful with it, don't waste it, don't hurry through it, and use it effectively. You need to CONTROL your time.
How do you do that? It's easy and it's hard — here are some tips:
Clear Your Desk.
I know . . . it's hard. But once it's done, it is so easy to focus without any distractions to instantly pull you away from the task at hand. Also there is the visual aspect of a clean desk. You FEEL better about yourself and your surroundings. It's easier to find things and important papers don't get lost.
So here's my strategy — Pile, View, Attack/File/Toss/LCB:
- Pile - Take everything off your desk and make a single pile of paper.
- View - Pick up and look at each piece of paper. You must make four piles:
- Attack - work on it immediately - something you can complete within a short amount of time.
- File - File it away for future access.
- Toss - Throw it away. I know it's hard - but most of your pile can go this route.
- LCB: Last Chance Bin - get a box and place it under your desk. If you are unsure of tossing something, put it into this bin. If you need it later, it's there. If not (after 3-6 months), toss it out. This bin works wonders.
Plan Your Day.
This is the hardest and surprisingly the easiest way to get a better handle on your time. Why?
If you go somewhere or if you're on a trip, you have a destination and a route to get there. That's called a plan.
Why is it when you get to work you don't architect the same thinking for your activities, meetings, and tasks? What needs to be done — what is it's priority — and when will you complete it?
Randy Pausch developed a very simple, yet effective template to help anyone plan their day. It's made up of four quadrants:
- Due Soon and Not Due Soon
- Important and Not Important
When you look at your "Attack" pile of work for the day, you usually work through it based on time in and time out. But importance flies out the window — most people aren't working on the most important and critical tasks. This tool helps them do it.
Which ones to work on first? Upper left! Which ones to work on last? Lower right! Here's a PDF template you can use.
Work On One Thing At A Time.
This is where we all fall down. We think we can 'multi-task' our work and guess what? We never get anything done or even worse, we do things in a haphazard fashion.
Take your Attack pile and your Activity List and make your way down each item. Once it's complete, check it off. Set aside time to work on your attack pile — don't answer the phone — don't let anyone bother you — don't let anything take your focus away from the task at hand until you are DONE. You can always return that phone call 15-30 minutes later or go see the person who wanted to see you.
Also — turn your email reminders OFF. You can get back to checking email when you're DONE.
At first it will be difficult. But when you start to see a clean desk, a planned out day, and REAL progress on your work. These basic behaviors will begin to kick in. Try it!
I really didn't mean that. To be honest, to be successful, one needs certain things to happen:
- You have to hustle. Move faster than your competition and get things done. Take action.
- You have to be smart. Not only intelligence, but knowledge and street smarts.
- You have to be lucky. Sometimes it comes from nowhere, but most of the time it presents itself from opportunities you developed.
But there are times when you need to be nimble, agile, and frankly, work smarter. How? Here goes:
Think of all the things you do during the day. The email, the meetings, the people, the stop-bys, the phone calls, the traveling, the commute . . . everything.
Now I want you to take each element and figure out how you can STREAMLINE it. Make it take less time but deliver the same (or increased) result. Let's try each one:
- Email - do you have to read EVERY email? Develop a system to read the important messages and toss the rest.
- Meetings - do you have to go to EVERY meeting? Eliminate one meeting per week - you don't really need to be there.
- People - who are the most important people to your career? Who wastes your time? Start spending more time with the important people.
- Stop-bys - it's nice to have an open-door policy but you have to have time for yourself. Close your door at certain times to get working.
- Phone calls - all calls should be five minutes or less. If it is more complex, you need to meet.
- Traveling - do you really need to go there? Can you video conference in? A conference call?
- Commute - sitting in the car for an hour a day is tiring. Can you listen to motivational CD's? Can you telecommute?
Think outside of the box — you want to work smarter — get the work done in less time without killing yourself.
Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing in on each of these areas - STAY TUNED!