How to Be a Great Manager and Get Your Own Work Done TooÂ Â Â
Do you ever feel like you spend your entire work day putting out fires and responding to other people’s needs? Do you find yourself drowning in meetings and a never-ending stream of email to the point where you aren’t able to get your most important projects done or to the point of putting off proactively contacting key clients or customer?Â Â Â
In today’s work environment, it can be harder than ever to actually get work done — particularly the work that is important, but not necessary. Workloads have increased, employee and customer needs and requests continue to demand attention, and the “always on” world can make it hard to focus on getting to and getting through the projects on your own to-do list. As a leadership coach, I am passionate about helping business leaders optimize business results and create a supportive and sustainable work environment.Â Â Â
You’ve probably read the recent research findings about multi-tasking. In August 2009, Stanford University communication professor Clifford Nass, symbolic systems professor Eyal Ophir, and psychology professor Anthony Wagner, published the findings of studies they did to try to learn what enabled college students at Stanford to effectively multi-task. “We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it,” said Ophir. What they found is that the students at Stanford were not able to effectively multi-task. The high multi-taskers they studied were more easily distracted, less able to focus when they tried, and had worse recall than the students who were low multi-taskers. “When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”Â Â Â
The bottom line is that we are not able to effectively multi-task. In fact, when we try, we are 25% less efficient in doing what we are trying to do. Give yourself a chance to focus fully on what you are doing.Â Â Â
5 Easy Steps to Making the Most of Your Work Day by Working with Intense FocusÂ Â Â
1. Create Blocks of Time to Get your Own Work DoneÂ Â Â
- Create 90-minute blocks of time during which you can focus on a single project
- The first of these blocks should be the first 90 minutes of every day — this will likely be your most productive time during the day, so make this non-negotiable time for doing your own work.
2. Eliminate All DistractionsÂ Â Â
- Silence your cell phone
- Forward your office phone to voicemail
- Close your office door
- Do not open your email
3. Get Clear About What you Are Doing and WhyÂ Â Â
- Clarify and review what is most important for you to do during this time.
- Imagine how you will feel as you go through your day if you have been able to complete or make significant progress on at least one of your most important items during your 90-minute block at the beginning of the day.
- Remind yourself about what you are setting out to accomplish and why it is important in moving your business forward. If you aren’t clear about why you are doing it, table until you validate the need to do it in the first place and work on another project instead.
4. Do the Work:Â Â Â
- You have 90 minutes. Take advantage of it.
- Stay focused. At all costs.
5. Take a Moment to Breathe:Â Â Â
- Stop working once 90 minutes have passed, but before you move onto the next thing, take a moment to just stop and take a few deep breaths.
- Life is a precious gift. Today only happens once. Choose to focus on what matters most. Notice how it feels to have made significant progress on important work in throes of a world where all the urgent things can very easily get in the way!
Insider Strategies for Managing Your Time and EnergyÂ Â Â
- People perform at their peak when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent rest and renewal. Have you been approaching your work and the projects of your employees as marathons? The Energy Project has worked with Gallup to pioneer research this arena. Here are their Top 10 Tips for Leaders:
- Make sleeping 7-8 hours a night your highest priority. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation make you suboptimal as a performer and as a leader. Get enough sleep to be your best. Make it non-negotiable.
- Move and Let Move. We are not designed to be sedentary beings. How much we move influences our health, our energy, our mood, our focus, and our productivity. Do sprints or yoga, jump rope, use the stairs instead of taking the elevator!
- Take Your Vacation Days. Take time away from work. When you step back, you give yourself the opportunity to see things in a different way. As Albert Einstein said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Encourage your employees to take all of their vacation days, and to renew on weekends as well.
- Feel Your Feet, Hold Your Fire. What happens to you physically when your emotions turn negative? Does your heart beat faster? Does your face flush? When you notice you’re getting frustrated, annoyed, or anxious: whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t. Instead, take a deep breath – in to a count of 3, out to a count of 6. Feel your feet to ground yourself. This will decrease your physiological arousal and return you to a relaxed state so you can choose how to respond.
- Focus on Value, Not Time. Measure your employees’ performance by the value they produce, instead of the hours they work. Talk with each of your employees about what schedule would allow each of them to work most effectively-and then do your best to make that possible.
- Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes. As a leader, it is critical that you are able to look at situations from another’s perspective. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and try to imagine what he or she is feeling.
- Turn Down the Volume. How can you change your physical work environment to improve your people’s capacity for absorbed attention-and your own? Could people in shared space wear earphones when working on a challenging project? Can you let colleagues know when you don’t want to be interrupted?
- Make Meetings Count. Shorten the length of meetings by 15-30 minutes – see if you can accomplish the same amount in less time. Start and end all your meetings on time. Set a clear agenda in advance and use it. Ban e-mail and side conversations. Eliminate lunch meetings or meetings after 4:00pm, when people’s energy wanes.
- Walk the Talk. Take 30-60 minutes to reflect on the qualities you can’t stand when you see them in others or in yourself. The opposite of these qualities is a reflection of what you stand for. Choose the one that you believe you embody least well. What specific activity could you build into your life to close this gap?
- Do the Right Thing. When you find yourself in a difficult or challenging situation, take a breath and ask yourself: “What is the right thing to do here?” What is it you are really trying to achieve? What is your ultimate goal?
3 Quick and Easy Ways to Take Control of Your Email Rather Than Letting Your Email Control YouÂ Â Â
Do you feel compelled to check your email during the day? How often do you check email? Have you noticed anything about when you choose to check email? Do you check your email:Â Â Â
- Any time you hear the “ding” of a new message arriving in your inbox?
- When you are working on something difficult or something you don’t want to work on for some reason?
- Whenever you start to feel bored?
Email is a huge distraction for many business professionals. Decide now to manage your email proactively rather than reactively. Here are a 3 quick and easy rules to use:Â Â Â
1. Turn Off the Email Message Notification Sound. Do not let the “ding” of a new email pull your attention away from what you are doing when it arrives- even for a second. Turn off your computer’s email notification sound by doing the following:Â Â Â
- If you use Microsoft Outlook: Tools –> Options –> Email Options –> Email Options –> deselect “Play a Sound”
- If you use Apple Mail: Mail –> Preferences –> General –> New Message Sound –> “None”
2. Batch Your Email Work. Give yourself a chance to focus on your work throughout the day. The best way to do this is to restrict the times when you check email so you can better focus on other work. If you do this, you will get more done.Â Â Â
- Decide on certain times of day to check email. This can be as often as once every hour, if you like. I recommend that you do it even less frequently. If at all possible, do not check email for the first 90 minutes of your work day.
3. Set Expectations. Don’t create unnecessary conflict with your colleagues and customers. Batching email will only work if you do this too!Â Â Â
- Set expectations with your colleagues, customers, friends and family that you will only be checking email at those times. You may choose to create an autoresponder that tells anyone who emails you when you check email and they can expect to hear from you.
- Tell people that if there is something urgent that they need you to handle or know before you’ll check email next, they can call you.
It’s time for you to take control of your life. That begins with taking control of your attention and your energy. Begin today!Â Â Â
A Bonus RecommendationÂ Â Â
Since we are all so connected, it’s easy to have work intrude on life away from work. The reality is that time away from work is incredibly important to be able to rest and renew. It is by resting and renewing that we are able to be as effective and efficient as possible when we are at work. So…Â Â Â
- When you are away from work, turn your PDA/smart phone off.
- Focus on whatever you are doing.
- Give it your full attention.
- You deserve it.
… and so do the people you love!