1-Don’t respond to e-mail immediately.
Most of my executive coaching clients feel pressure to respond immediately to the barrage of e-mails they receive from their clients or employees. It’s true that you need to be responsive; you can’t simply neglect
a key account. But that doesn’t mean you need to be immediately responsive. Tell everyone in your life that
if there’s a true crisis, they should call or text you. But for less urgent matters, they can use e-mail – and responding in two or three hours is perfectly acceptable. Don’t leave your e-mail program open all the time; that’s asking to be distracted. Instead, shut it down and focus on a meaningful task (for instance, completing a report) for a couple of hours. Then, you can return to your messages before embarking on your next project.
2-Don’t be the bottleneck.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from those who respond immediately to every message are those whose inboxes are overflowing and unmanageable. These professionals rarely respond to others in
a timely fashion, because, given the overwhelm, they can’t tell which messages are important. Make it
a habit to scan your inbox for time-sensitive messages or those that require a response from you to move forward. Flag them and make sure that you always respond in 24 hours or less. If others’ workflow is backed up, yours will eventually suffer, as well – so get them the information or approvals they need to do their job.
3-Don’t agree to every meeting.
It’s a habit from our days as junior employees: if you’re invited to a meeting, you attend it, because you’re expected to. But as you rise in the ranks, it’s time to exercise more discernment. It’s likely that colleagues are sometimes inviting you to gatherings you don’t really need to attend because they want to “keep you in the loop” or avoid alienating you for political reasons. You can save time and energy by questioning each meeting invitation. Make sure you understand what will be discussed, and how, specifically, your input will be useful. If you don’t get good answers, politely decline. You don’t need to waste two hours of your life when you can simply scan the meeting minutes afterward.
4-Estimate and track your time.
If you don’t know how long projects take – from creating a presentation deck to writing a report to leading a staff retreat – then you’re likely to overcommit, resulting in blown deadlines or burnout. Hone your estimation skills with
a simple exercise: for every task you agree to do, create
an estimate of how long it will take you. Then, simply track
it and record it. Over a period of 2-3 months, you’ll enhance your accuracy and have a much better sense of how much you can accomplish in a given period.
5-Review your goals every 4-6 months.
It’s all too easy to confuse being ‘busy’ with being ‘productive.’ To ensure you’re spending your time on meaningful work, it’s useful to review your big picture goals every 4-6 months to verify that you’re making progress. Many professionals set goals on an annual basis, but as I’ve written about in the Harvard Business Review, research has shown that the most successful companies engage in quarterly planning in order to stay flexible, and the same principle applies to successful executives and entrepreneurs.
6-Schedule uninterrupted blocks of time.
Studies have shown that if you become distracted – your phone rings, or an e-mail notification pops up – it can take as much as 25 minutes to fully refocus your attention. Your ability to focus is even worse when your day itself is chopped into small blocks of time and you’re rushing from meeting to meeting. If you need to accomplish a meaningful project, such as finishing a report or developing next year’s strategy, Silicon Valley thought leader Paul Graham suggests carving out large, uninterrupted blocks of time – let’s say a half-day or a full day – in order to immerse yourself more completely. This allows you to make meaningful progress on your most important tasks.