I’ve been full of winter cold the last few weeks and as a result have had to plan my workload a little differently to ensure critical things get done even though I’m not functioning at my best.
I’ve fallen back on three techniques that I learnt many years ago that have proven to be really useful.
Those techniques are:
- To do lists
- Dealing with distractions
Using these techniques can really improve your time management and productivity – a must for any business owner, manager, just about everyone really.
It can be difficult to prioritise work when it all seems vital. Demanding clients, demanding bosses and your own commitment to doing good work can make it feel like you’re firefighting all the time. Here’s a technique that will enable you to determine what’s really important.
First of all, draw a graph like this:
Put this graph somewhere visible above your desk – on a whiteboard is great if possible. You can obviously do this electronically too but it’s good to have it in front of you at all times.
Look at the tasks on your to do list. Write each one on a post-it note and then place it where it belongs on the graph.
You’ll quickly start to see a pattern. Perhaps most of your tasks are falling in the important and urgent category – which explains why you feel like you’re firefighting all the time. Could you delegate some of the less important tasks so you can get on top of things?
Do you have tasks in the bottom right panel (urgent but not important)? These are probably things handed to you by someone else. Can you say no to these tasks or at the very least negotiate more time to do them?
Do you have tasks in the bottom left panel (not important or urgent)? In which case – don’t do them. Seriously. They’ll either become important or urgent or they’ll disappear altogether.
What you’re aiming for is to have the majority of your tasks in the important but not urgent section. This means you’re focusing on your priorities but you’re in control of when you work on them.
This exercise makes it easier to determine exactly what is important and to let go of those low priority tasks that take time but have little impact.
It also helps me see what needs prioritising when time is short and helps me structure what I’m doing each day. Which brings me onto technique number two.
2. To do lists
Probably everyone uses to do lists in some form or other. My specific technique is to create one at the end of each day rather than at the beginning.
I find there are a number of benefits to doing it this way:
- I can get straight to work in the morning rather than spending time then working out what I’m going to do
- I’ve worked out the priority tasks (using the matrix) so I know what to do first
- I don’t wake in the middle of the night worrying about everything I’ve got to do the next day
- It helps me with last minute requests – where can I fit that onto the list?
- It helps me avoid doing the easy thing first.
It’s a structured approach that I’ve had to train myself to do but it definitely gets easier with practice.
3. Dealing with distractions
Using email and social media while we work make us feel like we’re multitasking and getting more done. However, research shows the opposite is true – that these distractions affect our brain’s ability to focus. For instance did you know that if you’re trying to concentrate on a task but an email is sitting unread in your inbox it can reduce your IQ by 10 points (see full article here)?
So what do I do? It’s simple really – I turn off my email when I’m concentrating on a piece of work. Sometimes I turn my phone off too. It means the task is done to a higher standard and more quickly.
So if I don’t respond to your telephone call or email straight away – you now know it’s because I’m concentrating! And you know that your project will also get my full attention!
These simple techniques have really helped me make sure I tackle the important things whilst I’ve been poorly. How can you apply these techniques to your busy day? Let me know how you get on.
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