One of the new directions I’d like to take with my blog is to include posts on productivity, time management, and personal development. This is one of those posts.
I’ve got a job that by it’s nature is reactive. I’m in customer service operations, and a big part of my job is reacting to things that haven’t gone as planned. The trick to time management is balancing the firefighting with the really important stuff you need to get done.
Gina Tripani from Lifehacker.com has a blog post up today with a couple of tips for mitigating the urgent, and I would like to add a few of my own (and maybe repeat one of hers that’s one of my keys to success.
Prioritize. I use Covey’s 4 quadrants (High, low, urgent, not urgent). Do the most important thing that is the most time sensitive first. Then do the things that are most important, but not time sensitive (that’s the key!) Just because something is important to someone else doesn’t mean it should be the most important thing for you.
Minimize email interruptions. Email is a distraction. You wouldn’t send the fire department an email that your house was burning down, so don’t send something via email that needs a response in the next 10 minutes. Conversely, don’t check your email ever 5 minutes. I process my email in box (to empty – everything goes in a to do, to read, or calendar entry if I can’t take care of it in 5 minutes) 4-5 times a day. First thing in the morning, then mid morning, lunchtime, mid afternoon, and at the end of the day. I like to end the day with an empty in box. (On days I’m not in front of my computer, it’s less than that). Turn your email notifications off, or if you have to, shut your email client down.
Schedule and Plan. As much as possible, schedule and plan your work. You can’t avoid that emergency phone call, but you can control and organize all of the things coming at you. I try to schedule time for everything, from the 30 minutes to process my in box, to an hour reading articles, to time to work on a project. Everything I do is tracked on a to do list or in my calendar (I use Lotus Notes and a Blackberry Curve). It’s so easy to take an email or phone call and create a new entry on a to do list. I also schedule a weekly planning session on Friday morning (with myself) for an hour to review the previous week and set up the next week.
Start your day by completing one thing. This may seem a little counter intuitive, but it’s worked for me. I try to start every work day by completing one task. It gives that feeling of accomplishment, that even if my day goes to shit, I still got one thing done. Sometimes, given the nature of the beast, that one thing isn’t the most important or time sensitive, and maybe shouldn’t have been the first thing to do. But I find it sets me up to be more productive and get the important stuff done. I’d try to make it whatever is at the top of your prioritized list, though, and the less firefighting you do, the easier that is to do.
The ability to set these systems up is critical to achieving and maintaining a work life balance.
Ideas and feedback? Well that’s what the comments are for.