We all have the proverbial “balls in the air”. As business executives, entrepreneurs, business owners and people we are busy! There are usually multiple things going on during a day. With deadlines to meet, clients to call, proposals to finish, sales to close, team meetings, conference calls, emails, texts, voice mails, traffic, kids, dinner, sports, facebook, friends … the list never ends. With our To Do lists growing by the minute and an overload of communication we juggle more and more until eventually we have so many “balls in the air” that one of them is bound to catch fire.
How many times do you hear from a colleague or client, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I had a fire to put out.” or “I can’t get that report to you today. I am in the middle of handling a fire.” These expressions are far too common and when our attention gets pulled off everything else to deal with those fires our work, life, and reputation can suffer.
They key is to budget our time wisely to avoid those balls from bursting into flame. I have developed a system that helps to prioritize the never ending To Do list. When applied daily it will streamline your day while making you more productive at work and more present at home.
- Make a list – Yes, you have heard this many times but it is repeated because it works. Making a list helps you to clear your mind and without it you are unable to organize your thoughts and schedule. While making a list do not worry about what you put down, large or small it all goes on here.
- Classify each item on the list using the ABCD method.
- Identify which items are “Urgent” first. These items must be done immediately or they could “burst into flames”. Urgent items require your undivided attention and quickly.
- Next look at what is “Important”. Important items need to be addressed before they become urgent and in danger of demanding your attention at the cost of everything else. These tasks typically have a set deadline and clear expectations of the benefits and risks in not meeting it.
- The third category are Relatively Important items that can be completed at a leisurely pace. These tasks must be completed but there is not a particular deadline associated with them so you can complete them as you have the time in your schedule as long as they do get done. The fear with this category is that you forget about them entirely until a deadline manages to rear its head.
- The fourth is Relatively Unimportant. These items are simple things that you want to do but forgetting about them wont hurt anyone. For example you may have mow the lawn on the list. The worst thing that can happen from not mowing your lawn is your neighbor hates you. Sure it needs to get done but when compared to calling back a client, finishing a proposal, taking your child to the doctor and filing your taxes mowing the lawn really does not matter.
Once you have completed your list shut the office door and tackle the urgent items. You must be willing to set time aside to deal with urgent and important items. This requires clear communication with your team. If your door is opened every ten minutes to hear about a customer question your Important tasks will never get done and eventually everything will be Urgent. Decide what setting is the easiest for you to get work done without being interrupted, set clear expectations with your team and start checking off that list. If you are in a start up company this may require coming in earlier than everyone else so that it is quiet.
Once you have completed all the Urgent and Important tasks for the day take a break to grab a cup of coffee and celebrate your success. The list never stops growing so if you do not take a moment of pause stress and feeling overwhelmed can set in. Sometimes all it takes is fifteen minutes to clear your head and acknowledge that your list is quickly getting smaller. After your break proceed to the Relatively Important tasks that can be completed slowly. This may include things like recapping with your sales manager or checking on inventory. These things need to take place but there is no immediate rush or concern with them getting out of control if you do not get to them immediately. Using the afternoons for these tasks makes them more enjoyable. Since you already accomplished everything Urgent and Important you can interact with people without stress looming over your shoulder. If you get everything done in this category you can move on to what is Unimportant.
Beyond making yourself a list and tackling objects using the ABCD method I recommend scheduling your communication. There are so many ways for people to reach you these days. Many of us have two cell phones that receive calls, text and emails plus a potential Skype application. Next we have our laptop or desktop and the office phone meaning three voice mails to check. Personally we have our Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Pinterest accounts to check and manage. All of this is before we actually communicate with… drum role please… people! That is right people still exist in a face to face fashion and interacting with them is important. With all the digital communication it is easy to be constantly bombarded by noise, chaos, and demands without actually getting much of anything done. Simply responding to communication request all day means that you are not in the drivers seat. You do not control your schedule and therefor cannot budget your time. Making a communication schedule will put you back in control. Set times during the day where your phone and email are off so you can focus. Chose when you want to check and reply to emails and phone calls. Time budgeting requires you to make decisions that will improve your quality of life.
Work has enough demands and life is challenging without your balls catching on fire. Make a conscious decision to budget your time and take the steps to ensure everything you are juggling stays manageable and in your control. Quality of life is still important and so is your sanity. Start today.