Managing distractions…

March 30, 2010

Why on earth would we need to manage the distractions? Doesn’t will power deal with it?

I am sure you have heard the statistics.

A survey of executives revealed that they get interrupted on average once every six to eight minutes, all day long, and if they are lucky, they will clock between 45 and 90 minutes of really productive work. And other research tells us that it can take you between 10 and 15 minutes to bring your focus back to the task you were working on before the interruption.

Am I the only one who wonders how on earth you can make that math work? By that formula, you get interrupted in eight minutes, and it takes you 10 minutes to get focused again, but before you can get yourself focused again, you will be interrupted again, and again, and again, and again.

No wonder so many people report having so little productive time during the course of their day. Of course, the tragedy is it can take you 8, 10 or 12 hours just to fit in that 90 minutes of productive time.

So what can you do?

Dan Kennedy says “if they can’t find you, they can’t interrupt you.”

How can you make yourself inaccessible? And do you want to? Interestingly, I run into people all day long who will tell me that they cannot possibly turn off their phone, turn off their email, turn off their instant messaging and close their door. I always wonder why not? Is being instantly available to everyone, all day long, more important than getting your job/project/goal done?

Really?

What if you just tried to give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on the single most important task before you? Just 30 minutes. Turn off the phone – let it go to voicemail. Turn off the email – and I do mean turn it off. Close your office door (or don’t even go in to your office). Focus on that one task, get done, and then go ahead and turn everything back on.

I promise you two things. First, you will make massive progress on the task, and the project it is part of. Second, Everyone else will survive without you for 30 minutes.

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?


After the flood

March 22, 2010

So, you have gone through the hard stage of getting things going (loads of action, very few results), and you moved into the flood stage of business (more and more and more results coming faster and faster). Last time we talked about managing the flood stage by both keeping the actions going in the background, and adding the appropriate management structures to maintain and stabilize the growth.

What’s next? Well, if you did a good job managing your growth, you could move into a very stable stage in your business. The flood stage isn’t stable – it a very dynamic. But if you can ride out the flood, you can move into a place of steady, predictable results.

Like the other stages the preceded this one, there are specific actions and behaviors that area essential here.

At this point, how to produce the result is very clear. Everything needed is present. The structure of the project’s fulfillment is fully understood, and when an expected result isn’t produced what’s been changed or overlooked is easily identified. The accountabilities are clear and the measures and statistics for the project are also clear.

The biggest pitfall to this stage is boredom. There is no drama, and for some, no excitement. Predictability can be boring when you are coming off the high of managing the flood of new business. If you don’t know that you must be responsible for the boredom, then you could easily find your results falling off or disappearing altogether.

The upside to having the results be so predictable, is if you want to increase your results, you know what actions to increase. There is no more mystery. At this stage – the outcome is more fully in your own hands than at any other stage.

Don’t let boredom rob you of your hard earned and well deserved success!

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?


Dealing with a flood

March 17, 2010

Last week, I talked about how much sheer effort was required to get something started. But there comes a point after you have spent a lot of time just taking the actions (over and over and over) and grinding out the results, where the results begin to come faster and faster and faster.

At this point, if you don’t begin to adjust your activity to the changing state of the project, you could find yourself swept away by the flood. Or left high and dry on the beach, gasping for breath.

What do I mean? Haven’t you ever had the experience where you were just ‘nose to the grindstone’ for so long and all of a sudden things started to move, and move quickly? Only things are happening faster and bigger than you had anticipated?

What do you do? Do you desperately try to bring it back under control? Or do you have a boat handy and the tools to ride the wave?

The flood of results brings its own host of required tasks and activities. Did you think ahead to plan for that? Do you have the capacity to handle it? Or will your current structures pull the growth back, and force it to shrink to a more manageable size?

If you want to sustain the growth, you will want to look for points of leverage (rather than trying to do everything). What actions will make the most difference? You will also need to be vigilant about your discipline. Why? Because it is too easy to think that something is now handled, and take your eye off the actions that initiated the result.

Maintain the discipline of keeping those actions going, while at the same time implementing the appropriate management for the growth.

Don’t let yourself drown in your success – cultivate the mindset to always be looking ahead and assembling the proper tools for where you want to end up.

Kowabunga! Enjoy the ride.

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?


Signs of Spring… are you ready?

March 12, 2010

Have you ever noticed how each season brings its own unique set of actions and activities? And the change of the seasons often means we pack up or put away what we needed in the previous season and take out what we will need for the next? It doesn’t happen all at once, but it does happen. And many of us have transitional actions that allow us to shift rather smoothly from one to the other.

I don’t think work is any different! There is one set of actions and activities that are appropriate at the beginning of a project, and another way of working once it has gained some momentum.

Getting something started usually takes a massive amount of action – relative to the results produced. Once it gains some momentum, it will take less action to produce more results, faster. However, if you don’t modify the actions to be more appropriate to the stage of the project – you run the risk of inadvertently sabotaging all your progress!

Personally, the getting it started phase is the toughest for me. But only because it makes me crazy to take action after action after action and see little or no results in return. That is really hard work, in my book. Understanding the nature of that phase has kept me from giving up two calls shy of the goal!

I have heard it said that it can take ‘100 No’s to get to the Yes’.

So, I get through that phase by making it a game to count the No’s – and having absolute confidence that the tide will turn, eventually. Interestingly, I haven’t made it to 100 No’s yet, and have produced great results. And every single time I tackle bringing something new into existence I still think it should happen faster!

And then, once it does start to pay off, it brings work in a flood – which has its own set of challenges.

More about handling that flood stage next week…

Because, really, without a life, what’s the point?


Feeling overwhelmed? A little time triage may help

March 3, 2010

Time is part of a measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. (Or, time is a concept we invented to keep everything from happening at once.)

Triage is a process of prioritizing based on the severity of condition. This rations the subject of triage efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be dealt with immediately. From the French trier, meaning to separate, sort, sift or select.

In the coming months, this column will look at various aspects of time management as it effects your everyday productivity and sense of accomplishment.

Ok, so why are we feeling so overwhelmed? Many people are complaining about it. Most people are dealing with it from time to time. And some feel like they have to run full tilt just to keep from falling behind. It all adds up to the sensation of being a hamster on a wheel – running all day long, and basically getting no where fast.

We don’t have to look very far to identify some of the contributing players. By all accounts, we spend up to an hour a day just looking for what we need, and most of us take up to three hours trying to deal with our email inbox.  That means half the day is already gone. Additionally, some studies indicate that we could easily be spending between 30 and 90 percent of our time in meetings.

This math does not work for me. We have accounted for over 100 percent of our workday, and we probably haven’t even begun to tackle our most important tasks.

Most time management books, articles and courses focus on getting more things done. Much of the emphasis is on ways to prioritize tasks to identify what is most important (and not necessarily most urgent). While some suggest delegating, my experience indicates that many entrepreneurs and solo-preneurs are missing this piece.

Getting through every single thing on your list of to-do’s doesn’t really matter much if the entire list is made up of items that ought to be delegated to someone else. You will have spent your whole day without focusing at all on what are the most important things you should pay attention to.

Instead of looking for ways to get more things done, you must begin to shift your focus to getting the right things done. This is absolutely critical for entrepreneurs and managers (and for everyone, really).

What are the right things? And how do you identify them in the face of the swirl of life and work and the never-ending flood of errands, phone calls, emails, and tasks?

That’s where time triage comes in. You can develop a quick and reliable way to review everything on your list to identify what you need to focus on and decide when you are going to give it your attention.

Make no mistake – if you don’t determine the when, the what is probably not going to happen.  Part of being overwhelmed is not carving out a specific day and time to get things done.

Let’s get to the triage. The first step is to figure out what you are going to use as a standard to determine the relative importance (the severity of the condition) of the myriad demands for your time and attention.

There are two standards I encourage my clients to use all the time. First, is this task going to move my goals forward?  Second, if the answer to the first question is yes – is doing this task the best use of my time?

You might think that if the answer to the first question is yes, then the second question must be yes, but that is not necessarily so.

For example, keeping the database of contacts up-to-date definitely forwards the goal of being in regular communication with clients, colleagues and prospects, but doing the work to keep it up-to-date is not a good use of your time at all.

Obviously, to use this method, you will need to know your goals and will need to determine just what is the best use of your time. And that is the single most powerful place to start.

So, here is an assignment for you. Take a little bit of time, and figure out what is the best use of your time. What is the unique contribution you make to the business – the one that no one else can make.

Maybe you are the face of the business, which means networking, creating contacts and building relationships is the best use of your time. Perhaps you are the creative force of the business, the idea person. In that case, having time to think and create is the best use of your time.

Many of my clients are working women, and spending high quality time with their kids is something that they identify as the one of the best uses of their time.

There is no right or wrong here – just the most effective allocation of your resources to produce the results you are committed to. And time, by far, is one of your most limited resources. You must use it wisely.

Just because something has to be done doesn’t mean you have to do it!

Terry Monaghan is CEO of Organizing For Your Life, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in productivity issues, and can be reached at terry@organizingforyourlife.com

(c) 2010 – Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.


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