Getting the Most from your Day...(and why you don't work best under pressure!)
Time is almost always our most limited resource in business. Having talked about how set goals and meet project deadlines, I thought I'd close the loop by suggesting how to get the most from our days. This is my personal view but it's based on numerous accounts and my own experiences.
Each day is served up fresh the same for each one of us, and for the most part, we have control of how we spend it. However there are some people who just seem to get more done than others...
Time Management vs. Focus Management
If we call "getting more done" the practice of better time management I believe we've subtly short-circuited our thinking. We can be very efficient at spending time on the wrong things!
Focus management implies understanding what the most important thing is to apply energy to at a given period.
Two Main Types of Work
a) Routine-type work (urgent but often not important)
Most of us have some form of this type of work. It's often operational in nature and examples may include:
Preparing financial documentation
Answering emails and other messages from internal and external parties
These types of work keep the wheels turning and - at least for many of us - is frequently present.
b) Project-type work (important but often not urgent)
These may include:
Implementing a new system
Research into new revenue opportunities
Designing a new product
Practicing a new sales approach
Urgent, operational type work screams to be done now. We can do it now. We can tick it off a to-do list fast. We feel good that we've made progress. BUT, the big project(s) is still there at the end of the week and although we've been "busy", we've not made progress on something big. And if we continue not to focus on those "big things" they become urgent and important and we have to work long and hard - often under pressure - to try and meet a deadline.
To get a sense of what's really important now, we need to be continually reviewing what we are doing, the challenges we face and trends that will affect us. Often we work very hard doing the same thing we've done in the past, while the markets, products and work attitudes have been changing. When we continually reflect, review and think about the future, we can gain a perspective on what's really important.
"I Work Best Under Pressure..." NOT!
I have said the statement above before and let's be serious, it's been an excuse for being too lazy to get started on something early enough! I would say that when we are under pressure the quality of our work was probably acceptable to meet a deadline, but it's rarely our best work. We sacrifice excellence for adequacy.
When we're up against a deadline we have little time for review, fact and error checking and things get missed in the interest of speed. Also when we're operating in this mode, we can miss opportunities and ignore problems because we are totally consumed by the project in hand with no time for anything - or anyone - else!
So here are are my five keys...
1) Use your day intentionally: be proactive
Opening up our email and messaging apps is almost irresistible but instantly gets us into reactive mode: responding to other peoples' priorities instead of getting control of our own focus.
Have some kind of a plan when you start work, of what your ideal day is going to look like. Some like to make the plan at night before sleeping. But if it's going to keep you awake thinking about it then make the plan earlier in the evening or early in the morning but do be intentional about your day. If you drift through it, you'll find yourself being busy but not achieving much.
2) How much time to allocate to important priorities?
I don't suggest you spend the whole day on a priority (BUT...you will likely have to if you've ignored an important project and you're under pressure to meet a deadline...!)
My advice is maximum three hours but no less than ninety minutes. Ninety minutes may not see like much but it's ninety minutes every day. That's seven-and-a-half hours each week: roughly one working day. Also some research as show that professional musicians practice no more than around three hours per day. Usually in ninety minute stretches with a break or nap in between. The study suggested there was little more to be gained by practicing for longer than this.
3) Allocate time up-front
Whenever possible I strongly advocate allocating time to important priorities in the morning. First thing in the morning is usually when we have most control over events. Some will say they often do their best work at night. If that's the case and you're working alone, then fine. But most of us work in the daytime and we often need support and collaboration from others. Also if we leave our important projects to later in the day, we run the risk of having other events interfere, and we have no time left for the important work.
4) Consistency - get the project to "done"
Having an almost completed project is like a small stone in our shoe...which soon gets to feel like a rock. If we work consistently from the outset on our most important priorities we can get them finished...Without drama, without having to pull "all-nighters" and completing them with excellence rather than simply what was good enough.
You have immense power if you choose to focus it on something consistently. We've looked for a leadership gene, something innate that people have been born with that has enabled them to be successful. We haven't found any yet!
We all have the ability to do something significant. We are all powerful. We just need to focus that power on something consistently and the potential is enormous.