“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”
If you’re thinking that the Inbox Zero craze will never work for you, you’re not alone. But consider the alternative. Can you let email continue to have so much control over your time? Do you want to keep feeling overwhelmed and demoralized by your Inbox? What else could you be doing with an extra hour a day? How would it feel to be aware of everything on your plate or to complete a project that you actually enjoy? Start changing the way you manage your Inbox today with these advanced common sense moves.
- Shift Your Mindset
Treat your email Inbox like your snail mailbox. You don’t use your snail mail inbox for storage; and you shouldn’t use your email Inbox for storage. You don’t look at your snail mail, throw a piece of junk mail away, look at a card from a friend, and then put the rest back in the mailbox-right? Start using the Inbox as a place for things to come in, and clean it out regularly.
- Implement a System
Set up folders for emails requiring action:
Action Now: These are the hottest emails that will take over 2-minutes to complete. Try to keep it to 20 so it feels manageable. This is your short list.
Action Later: All email requiring actions that do not belong in any other folder.
Waiting For: The ball is in someone else’s court. If you had all the time in the world, and you still wouldn’t work on these, it belongs in this category.
Someday Maybe: These are ideas. You may or may not every do them. You’re not committed to yourself or anyone else.
Read, Watch, or Listen: Emails that you would like to review. Don’t put emails in here that you must do.
- Create Productive Habits
Stop mulling over email. There are endorphins released every time we accomplish something, which drives you to look for a quick hit. Blame it on biology. Using these advanced common sense steps, your decision-making muscles will build every day and these steps will become easier. At first, it might feel arduous and tiring.
Get your Inbox to Zero at least once a week. When I begin working with my clients, some of them don’t think this will be possible. But within a short time, they are doing it, and feel a huge burden lifted off their shoulders.
Start from the most recent email and don’t skip around. Ask yourself these questions about each email:
- What is this? What does it mean to me? Is it an action item or not an action item?
- If it’s an action item, can I complete it in 2-minutes or less? If yes, do it now.
- If not, delete it or file it into one of the email folders listed above.
Guest post by Tiffany Mock: Tiffany works one-on-one or with small groups to help them design and implement the right systems to better manage the high volume of requests that come their way. Through a suite of tailored hands-on programs, Tiffany teaches you how to reclaim your inbox and unleash your productivity using simple tools and techniques you can use immediately. In 2004, she received San Francisco Magazine’s Best of the Bay award for organizational services. Tiffany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tiffanymock.com or 619-220-0430.
CALL TO ACTION: If you’re curious about how productive you are, take this 5-minute quiz. It’s designed to help you see where you are “spot on” in your productivity and where you need to make some adjustments to experience improved results.
Talkback: What have you done to improve your ability to manage email? Share your examples and insights below.
“A round of golf is the ideal antidote to stress.”
~ Bruce Forsyth ~
Client Jordan Asks: My job has become overwhelming. My work load keeps increasing, and I find myself working long hours to get everything done. How can I take control of the situation and get my life back?
Coach Joel Answers: It’s not uncommon for job responsibilities to grow over time, especially when economic conditions prevent the hiring of additional help. Instead of adding employees, organizations expect individual employees to take on more and more responsibilities. However, there is a limit to how much one person can do. You must learn to create boundaries, or you will become overwhelmed by the additional work.
Here are a few ways you can reduce both your work load and your stress levels.
Focus on what’s most important and make sure high priority work gets done first. Also, make sure your priorities are consistent with those of your supervisor.
2. Schedule your day around those priorities.
Write down your to-do list and don’t get distracted. If that means not answering your phone or checking emails just once or twice each day, so be it.
3. Learn to say no.
There’s a fine line between being a cooperative “team player” and someone who is abused by taking on work that should be done by others or, perhaps, not even at all. Don’t be afraid to say no to projects that are unnecessary or unimportant. Sticking to your priorities and having a well-defined job description can help.
4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
If someone asks you to do an extra assignment, say, “I’d be glad to it if you can get someone else to take the so-and-so project” or “Yes, I’ll take that on, but only if we push back the deadline several weeks.”
5. Dare to delegate.
Is there a task that could be done more quickly or efficiently by a coworker?Learning to delegate effectively will help you reduce your workload.
6. Set boundaries (and stick to them).
For example, make it a point to never work through lunch or to eat at your desk or take work home over the weekend. Setting boundaries will help you maintain a work/life balance that provides you enjoyment, peace and fulfillment in all aspects of your life.
7. Take advantage of time management training.
If your company doesn’t offer it, look online or check out your local library. Learning to manage time more effectively and get more organized will help you get more work done in less time.
8. Get the tools you need to be more efficient.
Are there tools or software programs available that can make you more efficient and thereby reduce your workload and stress?
9. Brainstorm with team members.
If you’re overworked, chances are your coworkers are feeling in over their heads, too. Take some time to share ideas about how to cope, share the workload or be more efficient. But, stay positive! Don’t let your brainstorming session turn into a woe-is-me pity party.
10. Ask for help.
If you’re feeling stressed or depressed about your workload then you owe it to yourself and your supervisor to voice your concerns. Don’t suffer in silence and let the pressure affect your work performance and relationships with those you care about at home. If your boss isn’t receptive, look for a mentor, colleague or trusted friend who can serve as a sounding board and help you find solutions.
One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stress is to learn how to get more done in less time. Joel’s book, Time Management Mastery, will help you prioritize and schedule your work more effectively. Get your copy today!
Talkback: Have you been forced to take on more work? What are you doing to manage the extra demands on your schedule? What other actions could you take to reclaim control of your workload?
Image courtesy of gerenme / iStockphoto.com
“Leadership is an active role; ‘lead’ is a verb. But the leader who tries to do it all is headed for burnout, and in a powerful hurry.”
~ Bill Owens ~
Client Tony asks: We’ve had some cutbacks recently and I’ve been asked to take on a lot of additional responsibilities. I’m feeling exhausted and burned out, but I’m afraid to slow down. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers: You are definitely not alone, and in today’s business environment, many of my clients, like yourself, are having to take good old-fashioned time management to a new level. Here are four of my executive coaching tools that will help get you back on track.
- Schedule yourself first
- Set and maintain boundaries
- Monitor overload warnings
- Schedule yourself first.
Work overload combined with fear of losing your job has a powerful negative impact on your physical and mental health. This can become a vicious cycle where you feel constantly exhausted, less able to be productive, leading to even more stress, etc. You need to break this cycle now by putting your health first. Don’t start your day in overdrive. Cut the adrenaline rush and avoid burnout by spending the first half hour of the day in relaxation mode. Disconnect from technology—don’t answer emails or check your Facebook page. Spend this time reading, listening to music, staring out the window, or playing with your cat. Eat a decent breakfast rather than grabbing a cup of coffee as you head out the door. (Hint: TV news and talk radio are NOT relaxing.)
- Build boundaries.
Start by isolating your time-suckers. For many people, it’s emails or phone calls. For others, it’s meetings or drop-bys. (You know drop-bys—those colleagues who peer through your office door five times a day and ask, “Got a minute?”) Then bundle. Set a specific time (or times) each day to return emails and phone calls. Turn off the nasty little chime that rings every time “you’ve got mail.” Develop a courteous but firm response for the drop-bys, or stand up and have a brief exchange while you move them—and yourself—toward the door. By sticking to scheduled times for e-mail, meetings, and other distractions, you’ll manage your time more effectively and get more work done.
- Develop delegation strategies. You may be able to have a subordinate handle much of your email and phone communication. You may be able to combine, or even eliminate, some of those meetings. But for really effective delegation, give away an important project, something that makes your co-worker or subordinate feel important. Make it something that will bring satisfaction and recognition. By delegating important work, you will be preparing your subordinates to advance and avoiding burnout at the same time.
- Monitor overload warnings.
Your body will be the first to let you know if your job burnout is reaching the danger zone. Are you having trouble sleeping? Experiencing back pains, stomach upsets? Having accidents or mishaps at home or at work? Getting frequent colds or flu? If putting yourself first and setting boundaries is hard for you, it may take practice. If any of these job burnout warning signs occur, repeat steps 1 and 2 above until they go away. Your body and your boss will thank you.
Personal leadership coaches work with clients in challenging situations to custom design strategies for creating life balance and improving work productivity. Could this be the right move for you? Contact Joel now to find out how he can help!
Talkback: Do you see yourself in the scenario above? Have you tried some stress or time management techniques that worked for you? Leave your comments here, or ask Joel a question for a future Q & A with Joel.
Brian Asks: I’ve positioned myself into a number of opportunities which can raise my visibility with my firm’s leaders, but now I’m in the position of having to execute on that work while also maintaining my pipeline of new projects and my actual day job. How do I best handle this type of situation?
Joel Answers: As an executive coach and career coach, this question comes up often with my coaching clients. Following my advice, they seek out projects that will increase their visibility only to find that they suddenly have too much work to do! Don’t worry—the answer doesn’t involve working an extra 20 hours per week. Here are the three steps you should take to ensure that you can complete your highly visible projects without neglecting the rest of your work.
Step 1: Make the high-visibility projects your #1 priority. These are the projects that will lead to more and better opportunities in the organization. They are your keys to advancement and greater influence in the company. Put them first.
Step 2: Delegate as much as possible. Through careful delegation to your subordinates and team members, you can clear part of your workload while providing them with an increased sense of empowerment and responsibility. Don’t just dump a bunch of busy work on them. Give them real projects that they know are important. Some of them may be looking to advance to the next level as well, and they’ll jump at the chance to prove that they’re ready to handle your job once you get promoted.
Step 3: Prioritize what’s left. Once you have delegated as much as possible and blocked off the time you’ll need to complete your high-visibility projects, determine how much time you’ll have to do the rest of your work. Create a list of what’s left and prioritize it so that you’ll be able to see what you need to focus on.
You might also want to consider executive coaching to help you advance in your career. A coach can help you look at things from a different perspective so you can see exactly what steps you need to take to stand out, get noticed, and get ahead at work.
Find out how an executive coach can help you get ahead in your career by taking Joel’s free coaching assessments. You’ll get a personalized response with tips and suggestions specific to your situation.
Talkback: Have you had to balance your current responsibilities with additional projects that could get you noticed by company leaders? How did you do manage it? Leave your feedback in the comments, or ask a question for a future Q&A with Joel.
“If you manage your multitasking, you’ll be much more effective than if you simply hop from project to project without driving them to completion.”
~ Mitch Thrower ~
Chris Asks: My question has to do with a specific skill: multitasking. I am horrible at it. Can anyone in management still be a great leader without multitasking skills?
Joel Answers: The value of multitasking is overrated. In fact, several recent studies indicate that it is better to focus on one task at a time. Multitasking has been shown to negatively impact memory and IQ, make it harder for you to learn new things, and even cause accidents, resulting in several states making it illegal to do two seemingly simple things at the same time: drive and talk on the phone.
Here are some of the disadvantages of multitasking:
- Attention and memory loss. People who frequently juggle various types of electronic communications and media have trouble focusing their attention, take longer to switch between tasks, and don’t perform as well on memory tests as those who don’t, according to a study by Professor Clifford Nass that was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Poor cognitive performance. Zheng Wang, a professor at Ohio State University, recently released a study showing that multitasking made students feel more productive, while actually reducing their ability to perform well on cognitive tasks such as studying.
- Lost productivity. Contrary to what was previously believed, switching between tasks actually makes you less productive. Every time you switch from one task to another, you lose a little bit of time while your brain shifts gears, and all of this lost time adds up.
Instead of rapidly switching your attention between multiple tasks, as an executive, you need to be able to prioritize your tasks. By focusing on the things that are really important, you’ll be much more productive than your multitasking co-workers.
Learn how to manage your time instead of letting time manage you: Buy Joel’s book, Time Management Mastery, and learn how to budget your time and energy to accomplish the things that are most important to you.
Talkback: Do you multitask at work? Do you feel that the advantages of multitasking outweigh the disadvantages? Is there anything you’d like to ask Joel—about multitasking or anything else—for a future column?