As improbable as it may sound, you can wrest control of your time, and your workday, back from the chaos that reigns at even the best-managed workplace. The key is planning.
Here are 4 tips that, when implemented consistently, will mean a world of difference to your productivity and sanity. I will be the first to admit that they are not rocket science – far from it – but I urge you to actually try them before dismissing them as overly simplistic.
1. Put some limits on your open-door policy. Of course you need to be accessible to your employees and higher-ups. But this doesn’t mean they should be allowed to interrupt you anytime, all day long.
Establish regular, set office hours during which people are encouraged to drop in with questions, or just to say hi. And also establish (and publicize) “do not interrupt” times when the door is closed, someone else is in charge of answering the phone, and you are getting things done. During these times, make it clear that you are unavailable unless there’s a true emergency (such as the epic coffee pot flameout of 2019, or whatever the equivalent is at your workplace).
2. Batch tasks. We lose a lot of time and mental focus when we shift gears between different activities – think about when you take a break from a project to check email; it always takes a bit of time to get reacquainted with what you were doing when you turn back to the project. These little blips can add up to significant time losses, and batching is very effective at minimizing them.
So check (and respond to) email just a few times a day – as few as you can get away with. Return phone calls at a few set times during the day. Batch all of your new-hire paperwork to the extent the law allows. And so on.
3. Don’t multitask. I know, I know. By now, you’re probably very adept at speaking to an employee, composing an email, and listening to a voicemail from your CEO, all at the same time. But here’s the dirty little secret about multitasking: You don’t actually get any more done. You just do more things badly.
Focus on doing just one thing at a time. You’ll accomplish more, and your results will be better. You’ll even save time, ironically enough, as you’ll do more things right the first time around (and won’t be wasting hours tearing your office apart looking for that folder you stashed somewhere as you were listening to voicemails).
4. Cut that to-do list down. Way down. You have a million things to do. Prioritize the list by importance, and throw the bottom half away. Seriously. Or, at the very least, move the bottom half to the top of tomorrow’s list.
There are few things more demoralizing than looking at a to-do list the size of Texas, with no earthly way to get everything on it done in a single workday. So stop trying.
Today, tackle only what you can realistically do today, and leave the rest for tomorrow. This way, you will be left with a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day rather than a feeling of hopelessness.