8 Strategies to Move from Busyness to Actually Producing Something
We can feel very busy. But by the time we respond to everyone else's needs we may or may not have produced anything for our core job. Think about it.
How much of what we do in a day is actually creating something and how much is reacting? The single biggest complaint that most of us have about our work lives is that there isn't enough time. And yet, while we can blame this challenge on co-workers, bosses, clients or committees, the reality is that we choose what we do in a day. For sure there are expectations on us by others, but no one can finish every single task that is expected of us. We choose how we invest our minutes. And if time is a limited resource, then it is up to us to allocate our focus.The thing is most of us are really bad at it. So, if we know we can't do everything, then what do we need to do to make sure we get the most important things done? Here are 8 strategies for improving our ratio of busyness to actually creating: 1. Pick 3. There is a story that when Charles Schwab became President of Bethlehem Steel in 1903, he made an unusual offer to his consultant, Ivy Lee: "Show my staff and me a way to get more done in less time and I’ll pay you any fee within reason." The next week, he paid Ivy Lee $25,000 for the following advice: Each night before you leave, make a list of the things you need to do the next day with the most important things at the top. The next day, start in order. You may only get three things done that day, but it will be the right three. While it is old advice, I can tell you it works. When I put this into practice 15 years ago, it changed my work life. 2. Portion your day. There are different rhythms to reactive tasks and creative tasks--and it is easier to be productive when you don't mix the two. So, set aside time to respond to e-mails and be reactive to requests, but carve out portions of your day to actually create things--and during that time, don't let yourself get sucked into the other rhythm. Leo Babauta says, "Clear distractions. Shut off the Internet. Turn off notifications." (In fact, Babauta only checks e-mail and social media at certain times during the day.) By marking a block of time in your calendar to create, and treating it as firm as you would a meeting offsite with others, you can make sure that you actually create something. 3. Try Focus@Will. This app (browser-based and phone) plays music designed to help your brain's attention. The music is carefully selected to help you focus, reduce distractions and retain information when working, studying, writing and reading. The technology is based on hard science and proven to be extremely effective at extending your attention span.(In fact, I am using it as I write this post.) The music selection is varied...ambient, classical, cinematic--there is even an ADHD channel. The service is free for the first 30 days--without having to supply your credit card information, and after that is a reasonable $5.99 a month. Try it out.(visit link) 4. Get better at meetings. Meetings can be a major time sucker. And a dead giveaway that a meeting is poorly designed is when everyone in the meeting is simply checking their phones. So how do you help sway a poorly organized meeting--if you aren't the one organizing it? a) Before attending, ask the organizer what your role will be in the meeting. If you don't have a clear reason to be there, don't go. b) If you are presenting information, send it out before the meeting to the attendees and let them know what decisions, input, feedback you need from them so there is no time wasted on information download. c) Never be late and leave your phone in your pocket. If surrounded by people who are violating this, start asking questions that create engagement. (Trust me, whoever is leading the meeting will notice your engagement.)"Crappy meetings" can become part of an organization's default culture, but you can work to undo that. And when you are the one scheduling a meeting? 30 minutes. Tops. Approach it like a TED talk. Figure out what the meeting is designed to do, what decisions or deliverables it needs to produce, then cut away everything from the agenda that isn't essential. Meetings are effective when designed to be that way. Put effort into them. 5. Get your team on a productivity platform. There are so many great project management solutions out there. My team uses Wrike (visit link) . There are others like Nozbe (visit link) and Trello (visit link), and of course, MS Outlook has robust capability. While these work great personally, the real power comes in using them in teams. Productivity platforms have the ability to share tasks or break projects into smaller pieces and allow people to communicate about the tasks within the application. They can also be effective in making sure that everyone understands the workload and their role on a project. Not only that, but as good as lists are, until you schedule something, it is almost impossible to make it happen. 6. Play to the value metrics of your position.There is a reason they hired you, and there is a good chance you are doing a zillion different things in your day that have nothing to do with that. If you want to go home at 5:30 to protect your family life, then you are going to be leaving stuff undone, but if you continually leave the stuff undone that your bosses care about then you will soon be out of a job. Find out what your boss sees as valuable and do that first. How do you know? Ask. 7. Become a multiplier. There is a great book called Multipliers by Liz Wiseman (visit link) that contrasts leaders who inspire people to do their best work and those that suck the life out of people. (If this isn't your first job, my guess is you've experienced both.) No matter where you are in the leadership chain if you become a multiplier then there is less for you to carry. It is worth learning the skill. 8. Quit saying you are too busy. Brene Brown said that "we wear busyness like a badge of honor." Ouch. How many of the tasks we engage in are more about our own egos rather than what is essential? [Full disclosure: I've learned recently for me, more than I wish.] We have to stop saying we are busy and feeling like it makes us special. (This is best understood when you think about how you feel anytime someone starts going on-and-on about how busy they are...or how many miles they traveled this year...or how many hours they logged this week...) Our stress isn't about what we do or don't get done, it is about what we think about ourselves based on what we do or don't get done. We want to be super heroes and so we regularly "write checks our bodies can't cash." While we would never write actual checks for something if we didn't have money in the bank, we frequently write emotional and energy checks we can't cover. If we are spent, exhausted, and burned out, it is a choice--the cost of overdrawing our accounts and paying the late fees over and over again. In the financial world, it produces bankruptcy. In the spiritual world, it does the same thing. You know that whole "yoke easy, burden light" thing Jesus said? I think He actually meant it. If we are so overloaded that we can no longer prioritize, then it is time to pull away and get some perspective. Will some balls hit the floor? Probably. But better that the balls drop than we do.
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