I will admit that I am easily distracted. Staying focused on the “task at hand” has always been a challenge for me. Some people call it ADD others call it a “creative mind” with a lack of “attention to detail”. I imagine if I grew up in the agrarian age I would have a better go of this. If it were my job to plant 10 acres on a given day, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of distractions (no e-mail, no cell phone). Assuming the neighboring tribe wasn’t on the warpath.
In today’s information age we are barraged with interruptions. Besides this blog, how many other interruptions are staring you in the face? You’ve got e-mail, instant messages, Skype calls, Twitter messages coming from tools like TweetDeck, Facebook alerts, LinkedIn requests, etc, etc. And that’s just your computer. We haven’t gotten to your “smartphone” that has apps for all of the above, your office phone and lastly the constant communication (interruptions) from employees and co-workers.
With this “hostile” environment as the backdrop, you must be armed with a plan each and every day. At DockMaster (Exuma Technologies) we developed a strategy called the EX-PROCESS. This process was inspired by two of the greatest writers on task management (note I didn’t say “time management”) that I’ve run across: Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Work Week). Here’s how it goes:
First a Covey-ism. You must begin each year, each quarter, each week and each day with the end in mind. If you do not have a plan when you walk into your office, you are already a target for interruptions. Covey developed a prioritization technique called the 4-Quadrants. This will give you a framework for deciding what is important. Take your “quadrant 2” tasks and assign them to various roles you play throughout the week (e.g. father, husband, manager, soccer coach, etc). Click here for an Excel 2003 version of my Weekly Worksheet. This process will give you a framework for deciding what is important. I like planning tasks by the week. Go through this exercise either on Sunday night or Monday morning and ask yourself: “What are the most important tasks I must accomplish this week” and commit them to writing. (one-page only).
Next, you must follow a set of rules to keep interruptions to a minimum. This is what our EX-PROCESS looks like.
The best tip I can give you is to NOT check e-mail when you first walk into the office in the morning. If you plan to be in the office all day, start the day by tackling a project. Stay heads down on the project for 1 to 2 hours before you start checking e-mail, talking to staff and taking phone calls. This one idea alone will change your life!
1. Turn OFF the “tray icon” notification each time you receive an e-mail
2. Do not schedule meetings too far in advance, keep your schedule open as much as possible so that you can evaluate how important a meeting is with a 24-48 hour window.
3. Don’t dwell on projects with deadlines far off in the future (this will be the subject of my next blog)