Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and re-think priorities, and the first step is to decide who’s priorities are important. Someone once said that if you’re spending all day responding to email and answering your phone, then you’re spending the day dealing with other people’s priorities. Here’s a few good reminders to get your priorities back in check:
1) When you arrive at the office in the morning, don’t answer your email. Instead, first, do the most important thing you have to accomplish that day. Once you’ve finished that, then check your mail. (Guilty – checking email is usually the first thing I do in the morning once I’m out of bed – it needs to get moved further down on my list!)
2) Use voicemail. Don’t take every call that comes in. Stay focused. Unless it’s a call from a spouse, children, or boss, let it go to voicemail and deal with it later. Answer your phone on your terms, not someone else’s. (I’ve gotten really good at this one. I figure, I pay for voicemail, I’m going to use it. Not to mention I get a lot of phone calls throughout the day and if I stop to answer and talk to each person, I’d spend way more time than I need to. Voicemail is definitely my friend.)
3) Shut the door. It takes nearly a half an hour to get back on track after a typical interruption. So you can see how few interruptions it takes to ruin your entire day. I’m the most social guy on the planet, but I also know there’s a time to shut the door and get to work. (Being that we’re in a small office (just Bob and I), this isn’t a terrible problem. Unlike the writer of the article, I’m not the most social person and really don’t have a problem going for long periods of time without visiting with everyone.)
5) Consider a to-do list program. Programs like Easy Task Manager, Things, Omnifocus, and others are software versions that follow the “Getting Things Done” principles of David Allen. Make sure the program you pick is what you need for a PC or Mac. There are also some free ones out there, but any can be used on a trial basis first. (Another thing that I’m not particularly efficient with. I’ve used the to-do list feature in outlook, but that only works when I’m at my desk computer. Perhaps these other options are web-based and therefore accessible wherever I am. I do keep lists on old fashioned paper, but then I loose them.)
6) Read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. While it’s very detailed, and perhaps a little too thorough for me, his principles are fantastic and have made a huge impact on my productivity. Another older book that I find enormously helpful is “Time Management for the Creative Person” by Lee Silber. Fantastic stuff.
7) Finally – stop doing what other people think is urgent, and stick to what really matters. All day you’re challenged with other people’s priorities. That’s fine, but don’t forget yours in the process. At the end of the day, take a minute and review – did you accomplish what you wanted that day? Or were you running around solving other people’s problems? Keep focused, and never forget who’s priorities you’re working on. (Definitely not a huge problem of mine, but the temptation is always there to run off on tangents or forget what is most important at the moment.)