Delegate One Big JobKnowing how to delegate effectively is one of the most important and valuable time management skills anyone can develop. Delegating tasks is not something you do to avoid your responsibilities; it's a technique you use to fulfill them. Moving tasks off your plate frees you up to focus your energies where you can make a unique contribution. It may not be in your nature to depend on anyone but you. Break the habit and the irrational belief that you are the only person who can do things right. It's time to discover that other people can offer fresh and wonderful ideas. Focus on the fact that, like you, most people are responsible and enjoy making a contribution. It can be difficult to know what to delegate, and how to do it in a way that saves, rather than costs, you time. There are two categories of tasks that can be delegated:
- Noncreative, repetitive tasks are done regularly (generating regular reports, crunching numbers, answering phones, routine correspondence, preparing packets, confirming meeting attendance).
- Special projects, onetime or infrequent tasks (creating a brochure, launching a new initiative, planning an event, designing a product, researching and acquiring a new computer)
- Expert: Giving the task to someone who can do it better or faster than you is an instant time-saver because it requires the least instruction and supervision from you. If there is no expert in-house, consider hiring an outside expert.
- Equal: Giving the job to someone who is just as qualified as you reduces the time you must spend explaining the task to a minimum and offers a high likelihood that the work will be done adequately--even if the person on the project approaches it a little differently than you would.
- Beginner: Giving the job to someone who is not as skilled as you requires the largest investment of time to teach and guide, but you may develop a loyal helper who feels grateful for the opportunity to learn.
Quit MultitaskingThe Journal of Experimental Psychology found that it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you're working on when you switch back and forth among several tasks. This means that if your day is a random free-for-all in which you hop from task to task, your work will literally take much longer because of the real time you lose switching gears. Think about it: If it takes you 10 minutes to get oriented to a new task every time you switch gears, and you switch gears 10 times a day, that's over 1.5 hours of wasted time. Not only does multitasking have a quantitative impact on your day, but it can also damage the quality of your work. Managing two mental tasks at the same time significantly reduces the brainpower available to concentrate on either one, ultimately damaging the quality of your final product. Severe multitaskers experience a variety of symptoms, including short-term memory loss, gaps in their attentiveness and a general inability to concentrate. Avoid multitasking by grouping similar tasks. Create a simple schedule--such as quiet work in the morning and people activities in the afternoon. Or, you could organize your day around your core responsibilities, setting aside two hours for creative work, one hour for financial tasks and five hours for people management every day. You could even organize your schedule by day--devoting Mondays to marketing, Tuesday through Thursday to client service, and Fridays to finance. As an entrepreneur, you have maximum control over your schedule--and you should take advantage of that freedom to organize your time in a way that brings out your peak performance. --Julie Morgenstern
Break Your E-mail AddictionE-mail is the biggest source of distraction in the workplace. We interrupt ourselves every five minutes to check our inboxes, hoping for something more interesting, more fun or more urgent than whatever we're working on in that moment. Continuity in our thought process and, not surprisingly, our productivity plummets as a result. E-mail has created what I call a staccato work environment--where everything has to be "now, now, now!" We assume people expect immediate responses, because an immediate response seems possible. But just because messages arrive instantaneously in your inbox doesn't mean that you have to respond immediately. I have clients who consciously choose to WAIT before replying, even if they see an e-mail right away, to avoid training people to think they are always available. Not everything is urgent, and not everything is e-mail---some projects, requests, decisions and correspondences take time and thought. Years ago, it may have been impressive to get back to someone the moment they sent a request. But today--if someone answers your e-mail within minutes of your sending it--what is your reaction? Don't you wonder why that person is sitting there with nothing more important to do? Three ways to kick the e-mail habit:
- Completely avoid e-mail for the first hour of the day. E-mail is addictive. It interrupts continuity in our thought process and steals productivity. If you can fight off e-mail the first hour of the day, you can control yourself all day long. Instead, use that hour to focus on your most critical, concentrated task.
- Keep your e-mail alarm off. Check e-mail at designated times of each day--e.g., 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. If an issue is that critical or urgent, someone will find you!
- Stop "just checking." Process e-mails fully during your e-mail sessions. Read, respond and immediately delete or file e-mails that can be answered in two minutes or less. For e-mails that require more thought or research before responding, schedule a specific time later in your schedule to deal with them.
Tackle Tough Tasks When You Are At Peak EnergyYou'll get them done in a fraction of the time. The morning is best for many people, but if your brain doesn't kick into gear until later in the day, you may need a different time. Attempting to concentrate at a time of day when you're sluggish is highly inefficient.
Your energy levels can have a profound impact on your effectiveness. Pay attention to your natural energy cycles when you tackle tasks. If you've been doing mentally taxing work for too long and begin to tire, try switching to a group of physical tasks to restore your energy. If you're not tuned into your natural energy cycles, you may be trying to tackle your most challenging activities when you're feeling sluggish and wasting your peak energy on less demanding tasks. Study yourself. Clues to your energy cycles and preferences lie in the way your days operate. For example, if you keep promising yourself that you'll wake up at 6 a.m. to exercise but haven't made it to the gym even once, it's probably a safe bet that getting up with the early birds doesn't jibe with your body. Understanding your natural daily rhythms gives you a point of negotiation--you might not always be able to do things at your optimal time, but if you're aware, and willing to make the effort, you can pull it off more often than not. Take the time to create a schedule that provides your ideal balance. The best way to do this is to learn how to make a Time Map for yourself. --Julie Morgenstern
Define Your Goals and ActivitiesTo feel nourished, energized and balanced, you need to define big-picture goals and activities for each category of your life. Many people set career or financial goals but neglect to set goals for other critical areas of their lives. If your life feels out of balance, think about where you are spending the majority of your time. Chances are that your time is being spent in those areas of your life for which your goals are clear-cut. For each of your major life or work categories, write down your big-picture goal. Consider your deepest values and ask yourself "What would make me happy in each of these key areas? When all is said and done, what am I working toward? What do I dream of attaining?" Let's define the difference between goals and activities.
- A goal is a destination. It's what you want to achieve.
- An activity is how you get there. It's the specific means to your higher goals.
Big-picture goals are based on your core values, and they tend not to change much over the course of your life. For example, warm and loving relationships, well-adjusted kids, financial security and wealth, expertise in a particular area, an inviting and comfortable home, and a sense of connection to your community are all values you are likely to hold onto throughout your life. Keep your big-picture goals simple and heartfelt. Once you know what your big-picture goals are, choose two or three specific activities that will help you achieve those goals. There are many ways to achieve any one big-picture goal. But to keep your schedule in balance, limit yourself to no more than three activities per goal at any given time. Think about it: Six life categories multiplied by three activities each is 18 activities you will need to fit into the "closet" that makes up your week. You can revisit and change your activities monthly, quarterly or annually. But two to three activities per goal is plenty for now. --Julie Morgenstern
Dedicate The First Hour Of Your Workday To Your Most Critical TaskToo often, we spend the first hour or two of our day checking e-mail and seeing what everyone else needs from us before getting to our own critical to-dos. The problem with that is if you postpone your most important task until you take care of everyone else's needs, the burden of the unfinished task hangs over your head all day, weighing you down with dread and guilt. If you knock it out first thing in the morning, the relief buoys you up all day long, energizing you and boosting your productivity as you tackle the rest of the items on your to-do list. Decide the night before exactly what you are going to tackle during that hour. Ask yourself, if tomorrow flies out of control, what one task (not two or three) would I be excited to get done--what can I do to generate revenue by 10 a.m.? Deciding the evening before will give you a chance to mull it over in your sleep. Once you arrive at your desk in the morning, you can hit the ground running instead of wasting half of your precious hour figuring out what you should do. Try it. Turn off your e-mail alarm, turn on your voice mail, and begin your day with a single focus--completing that critical task. The energy you'll get from accomplishing it will fuel you all day long.
Create a Golden Nugget BinderAs entrepreneurs, we are constantly in search of professional development. We attend seminars, lectures and trade shows, and along the way we amass tons of handouts and research that can quickly turn into a disorganized mess. We need to learn how to select the most important information from all the papers we collect and apply it to our work. As you sift through all of your research and handouts from meetings and seminars, transfer all of the tips, facts and information that are new and useful onto a single sheet of paper. Then place the sheet in a loose-leaf binder (or appropriate topic file) marked "Golden Nuggets." In addition to saving on storage from having tossed all the non-nuggets, writing all those Golden Nuggets down has another benefit: It will help you retain the information, making you more likely to apply it.
Choose Paper or Electronic for Your Contact EntriesIf you keep your calendar on the computer but find yourself making appointments when you are at a meeting and scribbling them on paper, enter them on your computer the minute you get back to your desk rather than relying on the written record. If your database of business contacts is on the computer and you collect a business card at a conference, enter that information in your computer's Contact Manager, and toss the card. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep all phone numbers in an old-fashioned Rolodex, and someone e-mails you his cell phone or other contact information, automatically transfer it to your Rolodex. Remember: There should be just one place to look! If it's hard to motivate yourself to take the time to put things away, change your outlook. You're not putting things away; you're positioning them for their next use. Remind yourself how great it will feel to look for the phone number of an important business contact, and voila! It will be right there in your database, the first time you check. --Julie Morgenstern
Mark Your Spot When Getting InterruptedAccording to a study by the Institute for Advanced Management Systems, it takes at least 20 minutes to get back to the level of concentration that had been attained before the disruption. Leaving a "Next Action" Post-it can eliminate that reorientation time completely. If you need to stop in the middle of a project, make it easier to pick up where you left off by writing yourself a little "Next Action" note. On a brightly colored Post-it, placed directly onto the document, indicate where you left off and write down the very step you need to take next. For example: "Need to read last three pages, write summary, highlight changes, check address, draft closing paragraph." Investing a minute to mark your spot before you stop will save you time currently lost to getting reoriented. --Julie Morgenstern