BY TOM COX
Power is a measure of work per unit of time. As you use your time better, you become more powerful.
Growing your power is a wonderful goal, because every time you make progress, you get more meaningful work done with less time and effort. To find out how to become more powerful, I interviewed “Power and Focus” expert Christine Giri of Time Tamer Consulting.
Christine has always had the impulse to simplify things around her. When working on project management at large firms, she became aware of the huge potential for improving human skill at self-management.
Christine says, “What we commonly call ‘time management’ is really self-management.”
Email seems to expand to take up the time available for it, plus 20%. Christine coaches people to use these five tips to discipline themselves around their email:
Turn off all audio and visual alerts of new email arriving. When we are “in the zone” being productive, the ‘ding’ of new email takes away at least two minutes of focus, attention and productivity — even if we don’t actually look at the email.
The inbox isn’t a storehouse. For each email, decide on a next step and sort the message into a folder that relates to that next step. For Facebook notifications, turn them off or send them to a separate personal email address.
If I don’t truly need to do something with an email, delete it on the spot.
Create email folders just as you would for paper files, and use the “filters” and rules of your email system to automatically sort incoming emails into appropriate places. This means I’m deciding in advance what my system is for handling email, and automating at least part of that system.
If an email can be processed in less than two minutes, go ahead and do it, rather than filing it for later. Having a cluttered inbox is exhausting. All clutter represents unmade decisions. Every time we look at clutter of any kind, it reduces our morale and our energy. Ultimately, systems make our work easier and faster, in part by making decisions easier and faster.
It’s not just with e-mail. In any area, personal systems make us more productive. A “system” in this sense is nothing more than a decided-upon series of steps we will take in a given circumstance.
Suppose you have a new client. What is your ‘new client process?’ In other words, what needs to happen every time you get a new client — what folders get created? What information should they receive from you? What paperwork do you need for them? Is there a profile in QuickBooks or your CRM that needs to be completed? Even a simple checklist will both speed you up and reduce errors. The results will be much more highly predictable.
When should you create a system or checklist? Whenever you find yourself doing the same task two or more times a month, perhaps, or when you find yourself dealing with an error.
There’s also good reason not to create a system, and that’s when the task itself is wasteful. (See my interview “The Zen of Productivity” with Marc Lesser on accomplishing more by doing less.) I managed to create a very elaborate process of filing papers that has become a burden. On closer analysis, I would be much better off with a simpler filing system, and over half of what I’ve currently got in filing cabinets should never have been kept in the first place.
Systems Enable Delegation
Systems and processes are a vital prerequisite for delegating. Without any written process, we end up saying “it’ll be easier to just do it myself.” And that blocks our ability to grow.
Another red flag is if you find yourself answering the same questions again and again. When the same question is asked multiple times, it may reveal something that could be systematized, made into a checklist or documented process, or otherwise fixed.
Every boss and manager has an obligation to move work down to the least expensive resource who can do it effectively. When you delegate effectively, you become more powerful.
Constantly Reacting? Use Block Scheduling
Yet another red flag raises when people say “I can’t get it all done” or who fix things and the fixes don’t stick.
How do you handle it when you find yourself unable to get all your key tasks done? Christine says, create and defend blocks of time dedicated to key task types. If you’re discovering on Friday afternoon that you haven’t done any marketing for your business that week, then you need to create a block schedule.
This is crucial because a key input for creating high productivity is to work in blocks of uninterrupted time. (Listen to Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer describe his block scheduling system here.)
If you are a slave to your system, your system will set you free.
Visual Management and Focus Management
Christine Giri shares Christine Comaford’s suggestion to, at the beginning of every month, pick the three most important tasks that you must do that month, and put them up on the wall where you will see them from your desk. Every day, do something on each of those three.
This is a form of visual management, to have key goals and objectives in sight, to remind yourself of your priorities and keep you focused — and help you re-focus on those goals.
Stop Working Hard
Working longer or harder does not make us more productive. Without pacing, without periodically relaxing, we cannot be effective in the hours when we actually are working. A rested and relaxed person can be 2 to 10 times more effective per hour of work than an exhausted workaholic. (Al Lee describes how to build your energy level just like a weight lifter builds muscles.)
Take just one good idea from this article and make it a habit. You cannot build ten new habits at a time. By picking one and working on it reliably and repeatedly (Ben Franklin suggests 28 days), you will make it your own. Then, come back and pick another.