Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and re-think priorities, and the first step is to decide whose priorities are important. Someone once said that if you’re spending all day responding to email and answering your phone, then you’re spending the day dealing with other people’s priorities. Here’s a few good reminders to get your priorities back in check:
1) When you arrive at the office in the morning, don’t answer your email. Instead, first, do the most important thing you have to accomplish that day. Once you’ve finished that, then check your mail.
2) Use voicemail. Don’t take every call that comes in, when it comes in. Stay focused. Unless it’s a call from a spouse, children, or boss, let it go to voicemail and deal with it later. Answer your phone on your terms, not someone else.
3) Shut the door. It takes nearly a half an hour to get back on track after a typical interruption. So you can see how few interruptions it takes to ruin your entire day. I’m the most social guy on the planet, but I also know there’s a time to shut the door and get to work.
5) Consider a to-do list program. Programs like Easy Task Manager, Things, Omnifocus, and others are software versions that follow the “Getting Things Done” principles of David Allen. Make sure the program you pick is what you need for a PC or Mac. There are also some free ones out there, but any can be used on a trial basis first.
6) Read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. While it’s very detailed, and perhaps a little too thorough for me, his principles are fantastic and have made a huge impact on my productivity. Another older book that I find enormously helpful is “Time Management for the Creative Person” by Lee Silber. Fantastic stuff.
7) Stop doing what other people think is urgent, and stick to what really matters. All day you’re challenged with other people’s priorities. That’s fine, but don’t forget yours in the process. At the end of the day, take a minute and review – did you accomplish what you wanted that day? Or were you running around solving other people’s problems? Keep focused, and never forget who’s priorities you’re working on.
8) Finally – make a real committment to change. Here’s what will happen: Thousands of people will read this post, but only about 1/3 will actually do what I’m suggesting. The rest will decide that ordering a book is too much trouble, or paying $20-30 for a to do list program is too expensive, or taking the time to read the “Inbox Zero” site takes too long. And they’ll go right back to being unproductive and miserable. Please – take the time to make real change happen in the way you work, and you’ll find it more than worth it.