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.
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.
You work hard and so does your team. Sometimes, a mis-alignment of communication, interpretation, or expectations occurs. It happens. It’s not a bad thing even if it happens once in awhile. But when it becomes a frequent occurrence, you begin to question your team’s ability to execute or your ability to communicate.
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!
Here are 3 tips you can use to take better notes. Here they are in all their glory (with a cool info-graphic too!)