Many of the reasons we feel overwhelmed, stressed out and unable to manage the amount of work we have each day is largely because we approach the day like trying to get a litter of puppies to stay still in a box for just a few minutes. The moment you put one puppy in the box and turn your back to pick up another one, the first puppy has escaped.
What we need instead is a strategy to manage all the inputs that will inevitably come our way. One of the basic strategies is to collect all those different inputs — the actionable email, the Slack messages and the client requests into a trusted place, so we can decide what needs to happen to them later. We also need to manage the longer-term tasks by deciding when we will do that work, and we need to carve out some time each day to do the work.
If you manage your work by dealing with the latest and loudest, you will never get around to working on the important work — the work that drives your projects (and goals and objectives) forward.
There has to be a point where you temporarily stop collecting more inputs and start doing the work that matters.
When I analyse this for myself, I know each day I have my core work: writing, developing courses, coaching and teaching. These are the activities I do that earns my living. These activities put food on my family’s table and keeps a roof over our heads.
Then I need to manage my communications. For me, communications come from comments on my YouTube videos, questions about my courses and email and Twist.
And I need time to work on future projects — projects that will develop my business and help it continue growing as well as my physical fitness and all the other areas of focus I have decided are important to me.
Moreover, I will be getting requests from people I work with, students and companies wishing to collaborate.
Now, if you wrote out everything you are expected and asked to do each day, you would realise that even if you stop taking time to eat and sleep you would never be able to get it all done. There’s just far too much for any single person to do in any given twenty-four-hour period.
So, what can you do to manage all these inputs?
Well, you could delegate, automate, negotiate or say no. Apart from trying to do everything asked of you — which would be impossible — there really are no other alternatives. You probably know this already and yet still fail to use any of these four strategies.
Another alternative is to develop a simple structure in your day. A structure that works as a workflow.
What this means is you divide the day into three parts. Essentially, a beginning, a middle and an end.
The start of the day is for what I would describe as daily rituals. Things like, a little exercise, a review of the day ahead and perhaps some journaling and meditation. You get to choose this part of the day. Starting the day this way grounds you. It gives you a focus, and it means you start the day your way, doing the things you want to do.
A trick here is rather than say to yourself I will wake up at 6 AM and spend an hour on doing my morning routines, tell yourself you will do an hour of morning routines every morning. This means if you do get to bed late, or you have to wake up early for an early morning Zoom call, you know you need to wake up an hour (or thirty minutes if you prefer) earlier, so you can still do your morning routines.
The middle part of the day is for your focused work. Here you focus on the work you have already decided must get done today.
Experience tells me here that you will need to experiment. We tend to overreach ourselves and try and fit in too much. Here, it would help if you stripped everything down to the essentials by eliminating the non-essential. If you are the kind of person who believes everything is essential, you will fail miserably. The truth is 80% of what you do is largely non-essential stuff. 80% of the email you receive each day does not need a reply from you. 80% of the interruptions you will receive are a waste of time, and 80% of the internal messages you receive will not concern you or your current work.
With this part of the day, all you need do is find one or two hours (more if you can) where you block out your calendar for focused work. It does not really matter when you do this, and it does not need to be the same time each day — although that helps communicate to your coworkers and clients that you cannot be disturbed during those times — but you do need that time to work on the work you have decided is important.
Finally, you need a closing down session. Here you can block time out for dealing with your communications. I, for example, spend ten to eleven PM responding to my actionable emails and messages. You can also use this time to clean up some of those less important issues and plan work for the next day.
Managing these different parts of your day can be done in your calendar or in your task manager. The important thing is you build the structure into your day. This way you know each day you have time for your essential work, in between, you can attend meetings, and you have an allocated time slot at the end of the day for managing your communications and closing down the day.
It’s a simple strategy, but it does require some thought, flexibility and discipline. It is unlikely you have any control over your meeting schedule, and you will not be able to prevent all interruptions and emergencies that need your attention. But on the whole, if you have a workflow and structure in which to work that workflow, you will find you will feel more in control of your day, you will get a lot more of your important work done, and you will feel a lot less stressed.
People do not advance their careers because they are always available. Careers are advanced based on the quality of the work produced. If you make yourself available for everyone, the quality of your work will suffer, and ultimately, your career will stall.
You have the know-how, the ability and the skills to take control of your day. If you truly want to become more effective, more productive and have a lot less stress, then perhaps it’s time to take control of your day, so you are running it and not the other way round.
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