As I write this, I have more than 345 emails in my inbox. That sounds like a failure, doesn’t it? I don’t even see when new emails come in because I don’t have any little dings, windows, boxes or alarms that alert me to the next thing that needs my attention. Blasphemy, right?! Not so much. At least, not for me. I’m not a stock broker and I’m not a PR crisis manager. Because 98% of emails don’t need my attention right then and there, they can wait a day, or even a few days. You know what does need my attention? The big priorities. The big rocks. The big goals. The things that move my business or personal life ahead in a meaningful way.
While I worked on the rough draft of this post, I spent the day finalizing my slides for 2×4, working on a new corporate legal structure, and reviewing Creative Live for our live all-day taping next month. My pre and post work hours were family time and studying for my Nutritional Therapy Degree (a 9 month program through South Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Washington). While I did that, I put everything aside (including those pesky emails) to focus on the only thing that mattered: the project in front of me.
It is so easy to fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent and to let every interruption take over your day. That’s how and why we find ourselves on Facebook for ‘just one more minute’ or Instagram for ‘just a few more photos.’ It’s how we allow a short conversation to linger and meander until suddenly 15 minutes has gone by. And it’s how we find that it’s 4 p.m. and we’re wondering where the day went. Yes, we were busy…but were we busy on the right things?
I use Google Calendar as well as a paper planner to keep my day and priorities organized.
To master the art of focus, first, know what the “right” things are. Do you have your priorities for the week done before the week starts out? There are a variety of ways to do this. My current system is that I plan my week on Sunday. During this time, I review the week ahead, coordinate schedules with my husband and plan my work priorities for each day. I keep dual systems – one online (Google Calendar, shared with the team in my office) and one paper planner. I’ve used a bajillion planners in the past 20 years (I was a proud Franklin Covey system girl in high school) and right now, I’m loving the Tools4Wisdom and PassionPlanner planners. Sidenote: I dream of doing a planner for soapers that fits the way I like to work and plan my week (swoon).
Second, make sure you have your bases covered. It’s important to focus, but what if a big purchase order comes in? What if that one email you don’t answer costs you money when the wrong product ships? I always scan email every few hours for high priority subject lines or people and take care of those in a timely manner. If something fell through the cracks and someone really needs to get ahold of me, there’s this crazy thing called a ‘phone’ that I infrequently use but do answer. I also triage using SaneBox. All newsletters go in one folder, all non-normal senders go in another folder and all spam gets deep-sixed to never see again. Click here to sign up for SaneBox and you’ll receive a $10 credit towards a Sanebox subscription.
Lest you picture your email in my inbox stagnating for years, I have a standing goal to get to “Inbox Zero” one time per month. I report on that goal to my team so I’m accountable to it. All of my emails are processed at least once per month. On that day (or series of days), email is my number one priority. And, it’s planned around all the other priorities for the week.
I tracked my time for an entire year. It really helped me identify what tasks were productive, and which were not. Click here to read more.
Finally, and this is the big one, you have to believe that focus is the key to success. You have to be completely bought into the truth that working on one thing for an uninterrupted block of time gets you further and farther than working on three things in the same time period. I tracked my time for an entire year (!) and found email was basically my big pit of not-productive time. If you think you’re one of the 2% of people that are consummate multitaskers and this doesn’t apply to you, stop now and go take this multitasking quiz. Ultimately, multitasking or switch tasking makes each task take longer and makes you more prone to errors.
Do you want to be more productive at work and at home? Start working on your big priorities for the day or the week in a logical, uninterrupted fashion and kick distractions to the curb or, until a time that you have the luxury of dealing with them. Do this religiously for one month and then look back over your month. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplished through the power of focused time.
What tips or systems do you have for staying focuses, or prioritizing your responsibilities? If you are looking for more time management tips, check out this blog post.