When I was first starting my coaching business over 20 years ago, every self-help book seemed to focus on time management as the holy grail of business performance. I bought the organizers (this was before smart phones!) and would follow along with the best way to organize my day by time allotment. What I found was that being more organized around my priorities was a productive first step, but I found that I still wasn’t achieving my main priorities. Fast forward to the present day.
I’ve learned a lot about performance productivity since and have figured that planning is certainly an integral part to achieving key goals. The problem was my stress level was still high. I felt overwhelmed and the system I relied on was not working. If we just focus on time management, we lose sight that one still has to take action on these plans. With this comes interference that could be distractions, poor time allotment, and being in the wrong performance state.
The first key element of planning is scheduling. Just having a “to-do list” with all of your items is inefficient. Placing each item in a scheduled spot on your calendar is crucial. We can get easily distracted and having a planned schedule gives you a starting point for performance. It amazes me that when business professionals have a meeting scheduled, they show up. Yet if they schedule a 45-minute block to complete a sales proposal they find ways to not honor that time and get caught up on something less important.
Second, the old way of time management is flawed because we over-estimate how long a task will take to complete. So we invariably overschedule ourselves, which breeds overwhelm and stress. It is time to be honest with how long a task will take and stop saying yes to everything that comes on our desk. What are the biggest tasks or projects that lead to the greatest return on investment? Non-essential tasks must be delegated or ignored. For instance, in my own business creating my podcast is important for my brand and has brought in coaching and speaking business.
Finally, planning your day’s tasks is useless if you are not going to take action toward them. This is the performance end of it. Do you actually take the necessary action toward completion? In today’s fast paced, distracted world the answer is usually “no.” In a previous podcast I talked about dealing with distractions and how training focus is a vital skill to performance. Here are a few key takeaways from that episode:
- Control your external environment, which includes having an organized desk and computer home page, and close your office door. You need to be able to access the relevant folders and files in a timely way without constantly searching for them. Having a closed door during your most important work blocks will minimize distraction.
- Control other distractions. Turn off email notifications and put all calls to voicemail. This is time to focus on one task, without being constantly interrupted.
- Frame your 45 minute blocks of time with a kick start 3-minute visualization of how the next 45 minutes will go and see the completion of the task. At the end of the 45-minute block of time, utilize a 2-5-minute recovery break to clear your head and shift focus to the next 45 block of time that is scheduled. The break would include getting up from your desk, doing some light stretches, drinking some water, and giving your mind a break.
- Get into the performance state you want to be in for that next block of time. This includes your mental, physical, and emotional state. What energy level to you need to bring? Do you need to be calm and composed for the next sales call? Plan ahead the performance state that is required for success.
Time management is the old way to look at productivity. You instead need to plan your day around the most important tasks that will lead to your success. Begin to schedule your day in blocks of time that are non-negotiable. Make a priority to value your skill of focus more by controlling your environment, using routines to kick start focus, and recovery to insure you are in the correct performance state for the next block of time. Performance is about taking action, so move forward on those tasks.
However, the key task for me is the content creation which takes me about an hour. In the past I tried to produce the audio, put it on iTunes, and market it on social media. I thought at first the other action items for the podcast would take another hour, but in reality it took several hours. The problem became wasted time that could have been utilized for other higher priority tasks. I have since outsourced all of those tasks to a professional company and have been thrilled with the results. I’m not wasting my time on items I’m not good at that take me away from other higher priority tasks.