Hank Darlington: Do more with less time
About the time we thought we had finally gotten our arms — and heads — around it, here comes the internet, text messaging, emails and the changing ways homeowners shop for luxury kitchen and bath products. Now, we have to start all over again to become good managers of our time.
As I visit showrooms and talk to owners and staff, I am more aware than ever how important it has become to try and work less and still accomplish more. Yes, that’s exactly what I meant to say!
I’m semiretired and I’ve learned that how I manage my time is just as important today as it was when I owned my showroom business. Heck, sometimes I think I’m busier now than when I was working those 50-60-hour weeks.
With this thought in mind I’ve put together a list of tips I hope/believe will help you accomplish more in less time. You may not buy into all of them, but if there are a few that make sense for you, give them a try for 30 days. I’m told that’s how long it take to turn a new action into a habit where you don’t have to think about it and it becomes automatic.
The world is working against you: Customers, new and old, call or come in and want immediate service. Your boss dumps another project in your lap. Your internet links encourage you to click. Text messages make you stop in your tracks. And if you are trying to immediately respond to every email, you’ll go nuts. So if these things are slowing you down at work, figure out how to control them.
Set aside a certain amount of time each day to read emails and texts: Don’t let them own you! Learn how to proactively deal with these two major detractors. This will allow you to spend more time on actual productive work. Also, don’t let all those personal emails and texts interrupt your work. There are some staggering statistics on how much productive work time is lost in this area. Don’t be part of a growing problem.
Control your environment or it will control you: Your work environment really matters. Create an environment that makes things you need to do easy and the things that aren’t as important more difficult. Google conducted a fun experiment at its New York headquarters. Traditionally they offered M&M’s in a basket. When they changed and put the M&M’s in a bowl with a lid that made it a tad more difficult to access, the consumption of M&M’s declined by 3 million a month. If you make it harder it doesn’t get done. So make your hard tasks easier!
Develop a daily, weekly and monthly “To Do” list. This was a huge help to me and I still do it. Either the last thing before you go home (my preferred time) or the first thing in the morning, do your list. This seems like it should be a “no brainer,” but unfortunately surprisingly few employees document what they need to do. Carry your daily list with you. Scratch off things you’ve accomplished and when necessary add new things to the list. Crossing off items on your list may give you a sense of accomplishment, but real achievements take time.
Take advantage of your most productive hours of the day: It’s been proven that not all hours of the day are equal. Most people are more productive in the morning, about an hour after waking up. If you’re like me this means you should schedule your most important tasks during the first
two-and-a-half to three hours of the day when you’ll be the most productive. This is not the time to focus on emails, texts and Facebook!
Avoid the biggest productivity drains such as meetings, emails, multitasking and structured procrastination. The latter is defined as focusing on tasks that give you the feeling of progress instead of focusing on serious work that accomplishes progress.
Be conscious of the 80/20 rule: This means about 20% of the tasks you need to accomplish are the most important and the remaining 80% are less important. Learn how to focus on the 20% and minimize time spent on the unproductive 80%. I know you can’t stop doing all the trivial things, but you can be more ruthless in cutting time spent in areas that contribute very little.
Parkinson’s Law states “Work will fill the time available for its completion.” This is a side effect of focusing on doing run-of the-mill work instead of getting more serious projects completed. Give yourself strict deadlines and cultivate a desire to finish projects — not crossing tasks off the “To Do” list. Here’s an idea: Figure out how long a task should take and set a timer for that length of time. When the timer goes off you can’t continue working on it, so think and work fast. Don’t waste time!
Energy management: Energy management, as opposed to time management, forces you to think of results as a function of energy, not time invested. Working intensely for a short period of time can accomplish more than working for days being tired and distracted. Working yourself into low energy can make you accomplish less than if you were rested.
Work in short bursts. Divide yourself between complete rest and complete focus. Make projects go away fast! Don’t spread tasks that should only take a few hours over several days. Sit down and knock them out in one sitting. Rest, health and fun help you recharge yourself when you need it. Keep a good balance in your life.
Stay focused on the important work: Keep your eye on the work that will have the biggest impact and make sure you finish the most important work first. Know who to ask for help. This will allow you to spend less time trying to figure out things for yourself. It will allow you to get more done. Also, be prepared to help other teammates when they need help.
Filter out distractions around you: Learn how to get really good at automatically filtering out noise and activities going on around you.
Learn how to skim: If you can learn how to skim over content without having to read every word, you quickly can determine which items require your attention and which ones can be ignored. This works for reading social media posts, news and emails. I’ve become good at doing this and it’s amazing how much time it can save. Give it a try!
Touch it only once: This was a hard one for me to learn, but I’ve mastered it. Whether its snail mail, emails, texts or other communications, look over it and decide what to do with it right away. Trash, archive, respond, create a task item, flag for follow-up, etc. Deal with it only once.
Take control of your calendar: Don’t schedule six appointments in a row. Leave time to complete quotes, do follow-ups and callbacks. Be selective about the meetings you attend. Some are a “must” and productive while others may not be.
Work in chunks and focus: Most of us are not great at multitasking. We work better when we focus on one thing at a time. Breaking your work into manageable chunks will help you focus on specific tasks.
Get really good at using search engines: Spending less time looking for information means you can get more done in other areas.
Prune: This word means cutting back on the data you have to process. Dump those irrelevant newsletter subscriptions, drop the social network contacts that don’t have anything interesting to say. Focus on the important information and get rid of the rest.
Working smart beats the heck out of working hard, but working less and accomplishing more isn’t easy. It requires thinking creatively to find more effective ways of doing things. First, you have to be open to the possibility your current methods may not be as efficient as they could be.
Once you do that you can look for ways to get more accomplished without just increasing your “To Do” list.