Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that a few of my coachees have been coming to me for challenges that target similar issues. No matter what they do, there is always more work. Their team can’t make the deadlines that they set. They took time off and now they have a mountain of work to approve or fix. They feel disconnected and disorganized. The list goes on.
While I worked with them to find the solutions for each coachee and each challenge, the theme that we circled around was finding the most efficient way to get their work done and get it done on schedule. This way their teams and themselves as individuals could return to their home lives undistracted. In this post I will cover some of my favorite tools to help reign in those problems on the surface, and then diving deep into the puzzles underneath of them so that they don’t pop up again.
One of the simplest solutions would be to make sure that you have your day planned. I have a morning routine that helps me achieve personal balance before I begin working and frees up a lot of worry and downtime so that I can focus on what I am aiming to accomplish. Part of this is Timeboxing. Take your schedule for your day, or just what you want to accomplish at work and break it into chunks. I suggest breaking blocks that are one to two hours, with a ten to fifteen minute break in between. Then assign each block one task or project to focus on. Now the point of Timeboxing is that when the time runs out you stop the task you were doing. This helps you become more mindful of how you spend your time, how effective you are during that time, and how much overall time that you need to complete a task or project. I suggest picking the most important item to go in your first box and then trickle down into the rest of your day.
If you aren’t sure how to prioritize your new time-boxed schedule, there are few ways we can filter your to-do list down into this system. Warren Buffet uses a Two List Method where he would write down everything that needed to be accomplished for the time period he was optimizing and then he would take the five most important tasks on the list and write them down on to the second list. From the new list of important tasks, he would start with the most important and work on that task until it was done. This way you would only be using your time on what matters. You don’t have to give brain processing power to any other ideas because you work on them one at a time. This idea clashes with Timeboxing slightly, but with a little modification you can make them work together perfectly. Instead of focusing all of you time into one task, simply work until your timebox is done take a break and move on. This way your workday can be spread out into five chunks where you are attending to a few projects.
If that doesn’t quite mesh with how you do things another method that I like is the Eisenhower Square. Make a box and then make it into four boxes by drawing a line down the middle going across and from top to bottom. The top row is going to be labeled Important and the bottom row will be not important. The left column will be urgent, and the right will be not urgent. This gives the four squares their importance value: Important/ urgent, not important/ urgent, important/ not urgent, and not important/ not urgent. Now you sort each task buy how they fit into your day or week.
|Important||Do it now!||Schedule it|
|Not Important||Delegate it||Delete it|
Next you would have to eliminate distraction from your workspace. This can be challenging because distractions come in many shapes and sizes. Pesky notifications can be muted or disabled by any variety of focus apps or native blocker turned on. I suggest for your most important time blocks you let those around you know that you wish to be undisturbed for a certain amount of time. As for those internal distractions though, those are tricky. The internal dialog of am I hungry? I should do this other task first before I finish this. Anything that is not the task that you are doing. Let’s address that now with the power of the Five Second Rule. Count backwards from five. Is the source of the distraction what you want to be doing? No? Return to you task for the rest of the time you have allocated to it. Now it may sound like that’s too easy. That it can’t work for you. It’s a mindfulness tool to help you stay where you want to be.
Staying mindful is a challenging task though. It takes time to build that willpower muscle. If you find that the Five Second Rule isn’t working for you. Tell yourself that you’ll be able to do the distraction in 10 minutes. Set that timer and then get back to work until it runs out. When it goes off, ask yourself if the urge to give in is still there. When that urge outweighs your interest in your project let it happen. Consider that task done for the day. If you don’t have the energy or interest to complete your time block reevaluate how you can tackle it when you try again on your next scheduled block for it.
Now we have the ways to find the work that we need to accomplish and the order to accomplish them. After a few weeks of Timeboxing, and you have prioritized your schedule, you should have a good idea of how long you have to delegate to certain types of tasks. Let’s go a step further. Let’s introduce Flow. Flow is an altered state where your focus is so intense you lose track of time, Ideas pour out of you, it’s incredibly exciting, and it feels effortless. It sounds magical right? So how do we enter this state by choice?
The first thing that is necessary to cultivate Flow would be to find a balance between challenge and skill. A task that is too challenging would be too stressful, while if it were too easy you would be bored. Consequently, if you are working on a task that you are highly skilled in it becomes easier. The need to artificially create a challenge during your task can help. You can do this by moving up the deadline. Seeing how fast you can complete your task while staying in the same realm of quality.
The second step would be to remove all those distractions that you have already been working on with the ten minute and five second rules so that you can stay focused during your time blocked day. Coincidentally the next part of triggering Flow is having a clear goal set for the task. Easy enough so far right? Now is the hard part, actually being in a Flow state. If you have used this process you’ll find that it just happens. You’ll know that you are in flow when your sense of time disappears and you are completely zoned in to your task. It may be fleeting as you train yourself to be in this new peak performance state. There is a chance that you have been able to enter this state before, just without a name and unintentionally. With all the flow blockers out of the way you should be able to do it on-demand with practice.
- Plan your day with Timeblocking.
- Assign the blocks of time based off of priority.
- Remove internal and external distractions.
- Begin your work and let it Flow!
Now all of that will help you focus and be more productive, but where did the issues come from? While I can’t speak for my coachees I will say that a lot of those issues can be avoided by making sure that you allow a culture of candid communication with yourself and your team. When you’re assigning new projects be sure to create clear instructions and expectations. Confirm that they are realistic and fit into the already existing projects. Then be consistent with your follow-up. If you get the feedback on what you expect it is much more likely to be completed even if you won’t be present for the duration of the project. Then teach them how to organize and optimize their performance to reach a new level of organizational success.