We all try to cut corners at times to get a leg up on the work that seems to come at us like an out of control conveyor belt. But the work never stops. As a matter of fact. most of the time we work at a frantic pace and are just barely keeping up. When that happens nothing works because we lose sight of the process. We don’t have one anymore. Just maintaining the status quo seems like an accomplishment, and getting ahead of it is no longer an option. At the end of the day, the ROI just isn’t there and there’s no time to sit down and plan a better way. Sometimes, we end up eating our profits. We don’t need to work harder. We just need to be smarter about how we work.
Take the Lucy in the Chocolate Factory, for example. While we all love Lucy and her shenanigans, she’s the perfect embodiment of how sometimes the most expedient solution backfires. We commiserate and laugh because we can relate. There’s a little bit of Lucy in all of us. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t from time to time bitten off more than they could chew, intentionally or otherwise. Take a look and see what you think.
The task seems easy enough. Pieces of chocolate roll down on a conveyor belt. Your job is to wrap each piece that comes along and put it back on the belt to be packaged. You develop your daily rhythm to the speed of the conveyor belt, which seems like an easy enough task when things run at a slow to moderate pace but as the belt picks up speed, your best laid plans fall apart. Sound familiar?
Let’s take a look at how we can refine what we’re doing and creates a process that promotes not only efficiency, but clarity, productivity and growth.
Establish Daily Rituals
1. Check in on yourself 3 times a day: While I do know some people who do this hour by hour, I believe it adds undue stress. A 3- times a day rule provides flexibility while at the same time helps to keep you accountable and forward facing.
a. Morning : after you get to work, allow for some quiet time to lay our your day and determine your focus. Think about what you could do today, that would allow you do leave work tonight with a sense of accomplishment.
b. Afternoon: check on your progress. Make adjustments as necessary.
c. Before going home: Take care of loose ends. Write your emails and do the callbacks you didn’t get to do earlier and mark your progress – on paper.
Getting Down to the Basics:
1. Create your calendar and checklists: Remember, you’re in control of both, so in a very real sense, you are your calendar and you are your checklists. According to Stephen Covey, ‘The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.’
a. Along with your to-do list, make a to-don’t list. On your to-don’t list, be sure to include all those little things you waste your time on that you could easily delegate or put off till later.
b. On your to-do list, and using your Eisenhower Box, break out the important tasks for the day and break then down further into achievable steps. We have a habit of procrastinating over those tasks that are either overly complex or just plan tedious. Breaking them down and starting to tackle them step by step first thing in the day creates progress and momentum and will lead to a successful conclusion – not to mention a sense of accomplishment.
c. Don’t cram everything into your day, spread things out. Leave breaks in between to clear your head. Never schedule more than two top priority items a day. Doing less allows you the time to do more of the things that are meaningful to making progress and creating success.
2. Never put people off. Answer those calls and respond to those emails, but if you haven’t the time to get into depth, simply saying ‘Let me get back to you on this,’ is perfectly acceptable. People will appreciate your courtesy and understand you’re in a time crunch and want to be able to respond when you can give them your full attention.
3. Always carry a notepad. Don’t rely on your head to remember a good idea, conversation or a point that needs follow up.
4. Never overpromise. I can’t stress this enough. People who tend to overpromise not only put undue pressure on themselves, but generally under-deliver, because although they’re intentions were the best, they’re not always in charge of the variables. Promise to meet deadlines – and meet them. If you come in ahead of schedule you’re a hero. If you come in late, you will have failed in the eyes of the client.
5. Make as many things as possible, automatic routines. Since we spend so much time during the day performing the same tasks and responding the same questions, establishing a set pattern of behavior allows us to spend less energy thinking about how and when to do things and takes the decision-making out of the process. We don’t have to decide what to do. We know what to do, and just do it. It becomes automatic and when it does, it also frees our heads to plan activities that really matter.
6. Put related tasks together. You’ll get them done quicker.
7. Give yourself permission to say ‘No.’ It’s your calendar. If it’s not an emergency, it’s perfectly ok to say ‘This is not a good time. Can I get back to you?’
8. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Get the broad strokes done first and then go back in, fine tune, edit or add accordingly. In ther words, block out what you need to do to get from point A to point Z and then go back in and fill in the rest. When you get bogged down on the small details early on, it’s easy to lose track of the goal.
9. Organizing your mind is one thing. Organizing your desk is another. You need to do both. While I know people claim that although their desks are covered with papers and folders, they know where everything is, psychologically, a messy desk undermines your efforts at focus, clarity, motivation and stands in the way of progress. Create simple organizing systems that will allow you to get your hands on things when you need them and unclutter your environment. That goes for emails too. Do you really need to get emails from companies and stores you stopped being interested in years ago? Unsubscribe. I know people with thousands of emails in their inbox and they can never find what they need when they need it, let alone remember who sent it to them. Create folders. The same goes for your deleted folder. I know people who maintain thousands of emails they’ve deleted from their inbox but have not set their application to actually delete them when they shut down for the evening. Folks, if you deleted them from your inbox, there’s no reason to keep them. Tomorrow is another day.
10. Expand your head. The only way to keep those creative juices flowing is to make learning something new every day, a part of your daily routine.
11. Build breaks into your day – especially when changing tasks. A walk around the block works wonders.
12. Remember to laugh. It recharges your soul.
Getting back to Lucy, while I don’t know many people who don’t love chocolate, like everything else in life, too much of a good thing has a negative effect. We may get a quick rush out of all the things we cram into our day – a quick sense of accomplishment, but in retrospect, it doesn’t get us far, and often puts us steps behind where we should be. To step forward, we need to regroup. The downside of eating too much chocolate is that it for a short period of time we’re living off a false ‘high.’ When we come down, we’re tired, cranky and less energetic and less effective. Not only that, we’re guilty we ate so much! We can make the same analogy for business.
Don’t focus on the quantity you get done each day, or how expedient your solutions might be. Focus on the quality instead. Focus on what’s meaningful, and set your systems in place to make the everything else secondary and/or routine. I’m sure you have others who would love to pitch in and help.
“Knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that`s good taste.”
– Lucille Ball