Time management is a valuable skill we can each continuously improve upon. I wanted to share three proven tips to help you improve your productivity. These tips have helped me immensely and changed the lives of my coaching clients. I invite you to implement one this week.
1. Don’t Let Your Inbox Own You: Set Limits
You likely receive tons of emails every day (I know I do). At the same time, you may be engaged in revenue-generating activities all day, such as meeting with clients like a salesperson, coach or executive does, or working in a fast-paced environment where you need to focus. It’s important to regain control of one of the biggest time drain: your email inbox.
A few years ago when I took my executive coaching practice solo, I decided to set expectations for others and limit the time that I would be available to respond to emails. (If you’ve received an email from me, you might see it in my footer.) I realized that if I didn’t do this, I had a tendency to check emails frequently and get distracted by all those popup notifications, losing my focus while working on a project or with a client.
By clearly setting the expectation for others that I would answer emails only at 11am and 4pm each day, I freed myself from the distraction of my inbox for the remaining time. I removed all the email notifications on my cell phone and computer. This move has been a life-changer. My clients and prospects understand why I may be delaying my response, and they know when they can expect a reply. There is no stress or uncertainty on either side. This strategy is good for everybody!
2. Choose Your Activities by Importance
Tip #2 came to me from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He helps us choose where to put our energy, and has divided everyday tasks into four quadrants. Highly important and urgent ones are “firefighter mode” tasks. You should only have a couple of these a week. With my most of my clients, however, I’m seeing they have dozens of firefighter tasks a week!
The key to managing that problem comes in the second quadrant, “Important but not Urgent.” These tasks include maintenance, planning and organization—things that we should be doing to make sure we don’t trigger any firefighter events. Perhaps an oil change for your car or scheduling the next six months of staff meetings.
Considering the bigger picture and assessing your goals ahead of time is another example. This to-do is important, but you have to set your own deadline. Surprisingly, I’ve noticed many executives and leaders starting the year without setting up weekly, quarterly and annual goals. They may set performance goals at work, but they don’t have practical goals to reach their ultimate life goals. I highly encourage you to complete this crucial planning task each year to avoid having to put out fires.
The remaining two quadrants include tasks that are not urgent and not important. These activities are distractive or do not add any value to your work, like social media. If they need to get done, it might be a good thing for you to delegate these. You want to be in control here.
Today I see people with their phones on at all times, even in meetings. It may not be all bad, but it’s important to choose your time wisely. On my cell phone, I have eliminated notifications for social media and email. I’ve uninstalled facebook and am only using it in personal time.
You may be surprised by how much more time you can find for yourself and how much more productive you will feel without disruptions and notifications popping in. Did you know it can take up to 10 minutes to fully refocus on a task after you have been interrupted? Imagine how much time you will save each day to do things you love!
3. Align Your Work with Your Energetic Peaks and Valleys
When do you hit your peak thinking time? When do you tend to feel tired? Understanding your energy peaks and valleys allows you to match your work (and type of work) to your energy levels. This shift will help you be more productive, saving time.
We all have energetic peaks and valleys; they are not good or bad. And we are not all wired the same way. Some people like to wake up early, others like to work late. It’s only a problem if you don’t know how you operate.
What I suggest to my coaching clients is to “take their temperature” a few times a day for a week. When they wake up, ask themselves, “Am I high-energy, low-energy or mid-energy? What am I up for at this time?” Re-ask this question at regular intervals during the day and jot it down. Very quickly, my clients realize they do have regular patterns.
Based on your results, when you are at your energy peak, you will want to focus on strategic projects and more complex tasks. You will be able to get them done faster and more easily and maybe even with better results. Doing a complex project at a time when you are at an energetic low point may take you 2, 3, even 4 times longer to accomplish.
When you build an awareness of how your physiology likes to work, then you can take the opportunity to schedule meetings, tasks, and projects in a way that takes advantage of those cycles. And yes, I understand that those of you who work with teams and external factors (such as children or family) cannot always schedule things when you are at your best every time.
When you become aware of your highs and lows, you can prepare. You might fuel yourself before a low-point meeting by eating a snack of nuts or protein bar to give you a burst of energy. It’s about managing your energy to manage your productivity and thus manage your time.
I’ve recommend these three tips because I’ve been using them myself and sharing them with my executive coaching clients for a while now, to rave reviews. Implementing even just one of these strategies can change your life by changing how you are managing your time. Let me know how it goes for you!