Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges
Question: Last year, I went home most days feeling like I was busy but that I hadn’t accomplished anything important. Even on days that I’d intentionally cleared my calendar to work on a big project, I would still get highjacked by Slack messages and “quick questions.” I don’t want to seem like I’m not a team player, but what can I do to stop feeling busy all the time without having anything to show for it?
Answer: You’re not alone. Research from RescueTime suggests that knowledge workers have as little as 1 hour and 12 minutes of time in their day without being interrupted. While there has been an explosion of tools to help you communicate, you still have a finite number of hours per day to get traction. Here are four ways to protect yourself from unnecessary interruption:
Prioritize. Start by deciding the most important priorities in your life – both personal and professional. Stephen Covey called this the “Big Rocks” principle. If you think of your day as a big jar, and you start your day without a plan, you’ll soon get busy filling your jar with little rocks (tasks, cat videos, whatever). Before you know it, your jar is full, and you spent another day working on things that have little value to you either personally or professionally. Instead, watch Covey demonstrate how to prioritize your Big Rocks.
Centralize. Next, decide on a system where you can keep a daily list of things you need to work on. If you’re a techie, you’ll probably prefer one of the many productivity tools like Evernote and sync it with an app like Remember the Milk to help track your tasks. If you’re an old school Gutenberger who prefers pen and paper, Franklin Covey offers lots of options to choose from. Regardless of your preference, you’ll want to centralize your tasks in one system. Stop writing reminders on sticky notes and in random devices. Put your tasks in one place – and remember to put the Big Rocks in first.
Categorize. You’re clear about your Big Rocks and you’ve chosen one place to keep track of your personal and professional tasks. Now what? In no particular order, make a list of your daily tasks. Next, put them in A, B, and C categories. “A” tasks are important, “B” tasks have medium importance, and “C” tasks have low importance. Now, number all of the “A” tasks in order of importance, and do the same for the “B’s” and “C’s”. If you’ve done this correctly, something that made your Big Rocks list has an “A” beside it. Not necessarily A-1, but it’s close to the top.
Recognize. Brace yourself for this – your task list will never be done. But, think of it this way – if you start each day with a plan in place, and if you only manage to get one thing on your list done, it will be the most important thing you had to do that day. Over time, you’ll see that some of your “B’s” and “C’s” could be delegated so that you’re focusing on the most important priorities in your personal and professional life.
You can continue wearing the busy-ness badge, or get real about your priorities and work on the most important things first. The choice is yours.