Are You Too Busy to Do the Work That Matters?

How managing your emails and phone calls can make your day more productive.

“The only reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen at once.”

– Albert Einstein

Half the year is gone and many small business owners I know tell me they don’t know where the time went. They’ve been busier than ever and yet don’t feel they’ve made a dent in the goals they’ve set for themselves this year.

That’s not surprising.  There’s a difference between busy-busy and productive-busy. Most people are more busy than they are productive.

As business owners, we’ve learned every time management hack, from the Eisenhower Box to eating our biggest frogs first, and yet we never do seem to get ahead. We’re always busy; tired at the end of the day, and are nowhere close to feeling that sense of accomplishment that comes with being a step closer to reaching our personal and business goals.

We’re too busy to even think about them. As soon as one thing is done, another three emerge.

Time is perhaps our most valuable resource, but it sure does fly – and with it goes our energy, productivity and motivation.

Time-mapping is a good tool, but even when you add buffers, it’s hard to plan for the unexpected.

Some say ‘to-do’ lists work great.  Others prefer ‘to-don’t lists,’ Some only create ‘done’ lists. I never really understood the last two because you still need a to-do list to start with, right?  .

To my way of thinking, until we learn to deal with our daily interruptions efficiently, keeping lists is just maintaining the status quo.  Busy.

So let’s take a look at that.

We complain that there’s not enough time in the day, but the reality is, we have the time.  We just don’t seem to be able to control either the people or the unexpected tasks that infringe on it. For the majority of us, that breaks down to phone calls and emails.

In a recent survey of professionals, only 11% claimed to be able to stick with and complete their daily tasks, while everyone reported that the biggest drains on their time were phone calls and emails. I believe the same thing would likely hold true for you too. It does for me.

I know we have relationships to maintain with our clients and it’s important for each client to feel they’re your top priority; but at the same time they should understand that your time is valuable. Your position is that you don’t want to short change them.  Quite the contrary.  You want to give them the time they need and deserve. It just may not be at that very moment.  They’ll understand that.

I’ve come to realize that those very things we think are out of our control can be managed successfully, simply and easily.  Here’s how:

      1. Help people get to the point, without sounding rude.  Regardless of whether it’s a client, salesman or employee who calls or drops in unexpectedly, lay the ground rules. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Nice to see you.  I’d love to chat but I have an appointment in a few minutes.  How can I help you now?’ If it appears like it’s going to run on, remind them of your impending appointment and suggest scheduling a set time to continue the conversation or suggest they shoot you an email.  It’s also perfectly fine to simply say, ‘No,’ I’m sorry I can’t at the moment.’ After all, they don’t hold the monopoly on time.
      2. Create an agenda for those client calls and phone conferences.  Ever get sidetracked on client calls – or even worse conference calls – when a person starts talking about something unrelated to the issue at hand and suddenly the call starts going in an entirely different direction and you have difficulty getting everyone back on track?  In advance of the appointment, send an agenda of items or projects to be discussed and make sure everyone gets a copy. During the call, keep track of what was covered and recap in written form after the meeting.  Be sure to list the action items and the people who will be responsible for them.
      3. Eliminate the email jungle:  Here’s how:

a. Do you spend far too much time searching for something a client mentioned in an email but you can’t find it?  I bet your client has done the same thing.  Make it easy on yourself and them too. Title your emails by project and subject matter and don’t veer off course. At the beginning of each, describe the topics to be covered.

b. If there are multiple subjects, cover them in separate emails.

c. Beware of email chains: Ever send a question via email about something that should be addressed by one simple response but everyone one the chain feels compelled to offer an opinion? To make matters worse, their responses often don’t address the question or are redundant.  Perhaps you could restructure your initial email by saying, ‘This is what we agreed on/mentioned/ whatever, but I don’t see this” or something to that effect.  It may eliminate many if not all of the extraneous emails, and cut down on the clutter in our inboxes.

d. Organization is key. If you’re going to be meeting with a client, copy and send documents and proposals that are going to be discussed in advance, even though it’s been sent before.  The client may not be as organized as you and it will eliminate the need for him to go searching through his files.

These seem like relatively simple techniques. They truly are. But by sticking to them you’ll be amazed at the difference they make in your ability to not only carve out more time for yourself, but help your clients and employees become more efficient and productive in their own worlds as well.

“You can’t make up for lost time. You can only do better in the future.”

– Ashley Ormon



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