Are You Managed By Your Computer? 9 Ways To Get Your Life Back!

What are the most productive people doing? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and yet some people seem to have things under control, get things done, and get ahead. Is there a secret? Yes, after years of interviews with top performers and highly engaged employees, we have discovered there is a secret. These movers and shakers all basically say the same thing – Gotta work smarter not harder. Work with a clean InBox. Really? Can that be done? Yes it can.

Our ideal inbox – We want white space not white noise!

So, here is a summary of the 9 main ways to be more productive, and take back your life.

1. Avoid gathering monkeys and don’t touch things twice. Productive people never put anything in a holding pattern because touching things more than once is a huge time-waster. Don’t save an email or a phone call to deal with it later. As soon as something gets our attention we should follow 4 rules and Move it to either: 

  1. Our calendar
  2. A folder
  3. Someone else – then delete the original
  4. The trash – delete it

Also, to deal with those nasty long threads of “Reply all,” save the last one with the thread attached and delete all the others. The over-visual stimulation of looking at emails upon emails is truly exhausting! If, as leaders, everyone comes to you and you in turn help them, that’s great, but also be sure they leave with their problem. If you collect their problems, like monkeys, and begin to handle them for everyone else, pretty soon you are running a zoo! Help them to solve their own problems, and then let them do so. I know leaders who actually go looking for problems and in solving those problems, it helps them feel important, but it is also killing them. Frankly, we need to spend more time solving our boss’ problems, and less time solving our employees’ problems.

2. Plan your Interruptions and for tomorrow. Somewhere in our calendar for our administrative day or office day, we should plan 2 hours for “interruptions and email.” You know it happens all the time so plan for it. Instead of thinking you have 8 hours to get your priorities done, revise your thinking and understand that you actually only have 6. Arrange your schedule from there! Productive people end each day by preparing for the next. This practice accomplishes two things: it helps you solidify what you’ve accomplished today, and it ensures you’ll have a productive tomorrow. It only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to end your workday.

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

3. Tackle tougher stuff when you are more energized. Maybe you are most energetic early in the morning, or after a workout so match your energy to your required area of concentration and focus. After those tasks are done, tackle the stuff that is more fun and less challenging. Matching your energy to your activity is important. If you wait to handle your most challenging conversation with your boss, client or employee until you are tired, that is what we call a ‘recipe for failure!’

4. Win the battle of urgent vs. important items. In a world determined to have its priorities become our priorities, we end up chasing chipmunks and not lions. All these little things that have to be done right now get in the way of things that are really important. This creates a huge problem as urgent busyness looks important but often has little real impact. Don’t mistake activity for achievement.

Productive people are good at spotting when putting out fires is getting in the way of their performance, and they’re willing to ignore or delegate the things that get in the way of real forward momentum.

“Time is what we want most, and what we use the worst.” ~ William Penn

“If you don’t have time to do it right once, how are you supposed to find time to redo it 2 or 3 times” ~ John Wooden

5. Learn to say no. It’s healthy. Sadly, in an effort to be helpful we are too optimistic with our intentions and our time. We over promise and under deliver and then we feel bad. Sometimes we feel so bad that we become irritable, shamed, or despondent, and not because we let someone else down, because we let ourselves down.

Don’t try to be perfect, just be a little better and it may start with learning to say “no.” No is a powerful word that ultra-productive people are not afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Be very clear that you are saying no. Saying no to a new commitment honors existing commitments and gives us the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty we have saying no, the more likely we are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Learn to use no and it will lift your mood, as well as your productivity. No is the magnifying lens of focus.

6. Designate specific bands of time to use your cell phone and computer. Respect people first! It is ok to be attached to technology if you simply communicate with people your plans to access email and your cell phone. Ultra-productive people don’t allow cell phones or email to be a constant interruption.

If you allow your phone or computer to be a distraction, you aren’t in the current moment you are in the next moment. We seem preoccupied not with what is going on, rather with what else is going on! In addition to checking email on a schedule, take advantage of features that prioritize messages by sender. Set alerts for your most important vendors and best customers, and save the rest of the email until you reach a stopping point. Some people even set up an auto-responder that lets senders know when they’ll be checking their email again.

7. Don’t multitask. Bing Bong Bing Bong. So as you concentrate on an important note to your boss or top customer, your instant message goes off and your pop-ups are informing you of incoming messages. Stop the Bing Bong. These distractions obscure our focus and turn us from servant leaders into slaves. We are now distracted and off-track.

Multitasking reduces our efficiency and performance because our brain can only actually focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks at the same time.

So instead of thinking we are 50% on a conference call and 50% using our computer we are actually somewhere between 0%-100%, and neither task is getting any attention for big chunks of time. For instance, you think you only type on your computer during non-essential conference calls (those calls you show-up for because you have to, the ones that you are not interested in or contributing to). What you are actually doing on the computer during your non-contributing conference call is simply deleting computer messages and certainly not typing to your most important customer or your challenging employee.

Multitasking is a huge misnomer and an utter waste of time! Ultra-productive people know these distractions are costly to clarity in our thinking, decision-making and productivity. Research at Stanford University concluded that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information are unable to pay attention, recall information or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

In the same research, they found that heavy multi-taskers who think they multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multi-taskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch.

8. Don’t be afraid to go off the grid. Give one trusted person a number to call in case of emergency and let that person be your filter. I remember several times I vacationed in remote locations with poor cell phone and WiFi access. I was off the grid! Amazingly, when I returned 7 days later, all the important issues had resolved themselves.

I deleted 90% of my email right away, as many issues were behind us. Also, after everyone knew I was not reachable, my email volume totally dropped. Only when I started up on email again, did the traffic pick back up. If you want less email inflow, stop your own outflow! Going off the grid is a good exercise for our other values in life, including establishing confidence for others to resolve their own issues.

9. Put technology to work for you. Technology catches a lot of flak for being a distraction, but it can also help us focus. Ultra-productive people put technology to work for them. Beyond setting up filters in their email accounts so that messages are sorted and prioritized as they come in, they use apps like IFTTT, which sets up contingencies on your smart phone and alerts you when something important happens. This way, when your stock hits a certain price or you have an email from your best customer, you’ll know it. There’s no need to be constantly checking your phone for status updates.

Want more information on these tools? Here is a great link: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-email.htm

No computer is gonna manage me!

Good luck,

Jim

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