Do you feel like you are always running out of time? Do you feel like you are losing control of your environment? Do projects and tasks land on you and there is no easy way to handle them all?
If that is how you feel, then I hope that some of the techniques I have used over the years will provide some release.
For starters, you have to consider a different mindset for a bit. Start looking at your workload as a bit of a chaotic random generator that we have to fit into some sort of processor. That processor will qualify and quantify what’s coming at you and then it will make it easier to take care of individual tasks.
While you will diligently work on structuring your working environment, you will at every step be met with the eternal enemy of process - interruptions. They come in many shapes and forms and are very sneaky at times. I will go over a few of them below and will also suggest ways on how to handle them productively.
Let’s get started!
Overall, your workload might look very random overall, but overtime you have probably already started seeing some of the patterns. There are small and big, long and shorts, hard and easy tasks. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Types of Individual tasks
Short and easy (< 30 mins to complete)
This is the sand in your eyes. They are plentiful and seem to be multiplying by the hundreds. They sometimes are not even fairly called tasks. They are just a thing to do.
- When these types of tasks come in and if you can handle them in less than a minute then do them right away. Otherwise it will take longer to write them down, prioritize it and schedule out.
- In most cases, there is no urgency to process them right away and you should keep a running list of these tasks that you can execute in bulk either in the beginning or end of the day.
Medium-sized (2-3 hours to complete)
Now we are getting to the chunkier ones. These ones you cannot just solve in quick sitting and proper allocation of resources is required. They will require a bit of management on your calendar and perhaps even reaching out for help.
- As the tasks grow in size, a different approach is required. Set time on the calendar specifically for each task of this type. This will block other humans from occupying time on your calendar. Also when you will start reviewing delegation priorities, it will be easier to go back and run inventory on the tasks that you can outsource.
Long Projects (>5 hr)
Sometimes these longies do not ever end. They just keep growing in scope and tend to take up the most of the resources. They might even have their own project manager!
- The larger the project the more formal approach it requires. Even if you are executing them by yourself, it is important to create a plan, rough scope and a timeline for the completion. Planning of a larger project is on its own a medium-sized task.
- You will likely not have a continuous space on your calendar to execute the whole project in one swoop and you should consider breaking it down into time chunks. Time chunks are easier to manage than project chunks, because they have clearer start and end. It is ok if you are done with the project chunk before your time chunk runs out. You can always start on the next one.
- Depending on the priority of your project you can put these project time chunks all over the calendar to protect your effectiveness. Keep in mind though, the closer chunks are to each other the more progress you will make as staying in the same context is a multiplier of productivity.
- Consider which time of the day you are more productive and prioritize more intense project chunks for that time.
Managers love meetings, non-managers dread them. They are necessary, but what to do about them?
- If you can make them as short as possible, if you are the one scheduling
- Minimize number of attendees
- Group them all together next to your other meetings
- Schedule them in a way that prevents disruption of your deep flow when working on the other chunks
Now that we are on the same page about types of work that are in the typical workload, let’s look at different ways that your strategies could be derailed by those pesky interruptions.
Hey! Do you have a second? ( of course not! )
- Communicate to your team that even though you are available in person, it does not mean that you are available to be interrupted. Suggest for others to reach out asynchronously on chat or schedule time on the calendar. This should work with the peers and humans who report to you. With your superior, it is a good idea to sit down and to discuss expectations of availability and explain that your productivity will plummet if regularly interrupted.
- Consider scheduling meetings with yourself for deep work and book conference room during a time chunk when you have to make the most progress.
You cannot have enough email. (Nobody)
- As tempting as it is to respond to the emails as soon as they come in, 99% of the time they don’t have to. If something is extremely urgents, other humans will reach out to you via other communication channels to get your attention to the information you have to respond to.
- Turn off email notifications and check them on top of the hour or in between meetings. This will reduce your distraction and keep your information flow coming in on your terms.
I need something now! (not really)
- While chat at times suggests that messages should be replied to right away, it is actually also ok not to respond for a period of time. While it is socially less appropriate to respond to chats after more than 24 hours, it is also ok to respond in a couple of hours. Again, if something is truly urgent, other humans will get you on the phone or in person.
- As with email, turn off all of the notifications except for the channels that you believe you have to be immediately notified on.
Are we still using phones? This communication, usually of a last resort in the modern world, is a way to get the most immediate attention. Easily used, sometimes it gives a rude awakening (literally) to the phone call recipient.
- Turn “Do Not Disturb” Mode ON and identify your special humans who can bypass the filter
- Turn on Call/Spam Blockers, they work really well
- Do not pick up from numbers you cannot recognize. If it is truly important the person will leave a voicemail or will call again.
How many times do I have to restart this application? Why don’t I have the internet on? This is a very hidden killer of productivity that is not taken into consideration. If your software/hardware does not work, you cannot do work either.
- Keep your tools simple. The more complex the tool, the more likely it is to be broken by the next update.
- Make sure that there is support team that you can reach out to fast in order to remedy the problem
- Become friends with your IT support staff and ask them to perform regular maintenance on your devices. While it is easy to click away an occasional pop-up, it becomes second nature and a source of frustration when you have to do it many times over.
- Always have a source or a location where you can have backup internet. Internet has become as important as electricity to our productivity, make sure to keep it flowing.
Hope this helps and good luck!