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DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #23

Turn Your Day Upside Down

I asked an overwhelmed client to log her typical day. Here was her response:

  • 8am - Get to the office. Check voicemail. Call one person back, send emails to 2 others. Check 63 emails. Respond to 5 or 6.
  • 10am - Grab coffee and go to 10am staff meeting.
  • 12pm - Cafeteria for takeout lunch. Check more email. Respond to 2 people who responded to me earlier.
  • 2pm - Worked on a few easy tasks just to get them done and out of the way.
  • 3pm - Finally had time to work on customer presentation. Answered a few instant messages.
  • 4pm - Webcast.
  • 5pm - One last check of email and voicemail.
  • 6pm - Leave for home.

What struck me immediately is the one hour spent on the customer presentation. Having worked with this client, I knew that the customer presentation was CRITICAL! It was for a large customer opportunity that would really help her company make their financial goals. It was by far her highest priority. And during a 10 hour day, only 10% of her day was spent working on it.

Sound familiar?

We all have priorities. We hopefully know what is expected of us at work, and hopefully know how we are measured. But we are pulled in so many directions from email, phone calls, and meetings that even the best intentioned among us get derailed. We end up allocating our time almost opposite of our priorities.

So how do we change this? Throw away our computers and phones and revert back to the stone age of the 1980s?

Before I address this, I want to thank those of you who forwarded my newsletter to colleagues and friends last quarter. If you find this valuable and wouldn't mind taking a second to use the button above to give others an opportunity to subscribe, I would appreciate it!

Technology is a wonderful thing. Email replaced hand written memos. Voicemail replaced paper phone messages. Social networking and instant messaging made it possible for anyone to contact anyone, anywhere. Smart phones gave us worldwide access to all of it. But technology should not set priorities. Our time really should be a thing that we allocate purposefully, based on what result we want to achieve.

So what if we tried to turn our day upside down? Let's try allocating our time and managing our day to work on the most important, highest priority things first. Let's be strict about containing the time that we work on email, voicemail, and quick easy tasks except to allocated hours. With that in mind, my client's day might look like this:

8am-10am Work on Customer Presentation
10am-11am Staff meeting (can't be moved)
11am-11:30am Work on Customer presentation
11:30am-12pm Voicemail and phone calls
12pm-1pm Lunch
1pm-2pm Email
2pm-3pm Work on customer presentation
3pm-4pm Work on easy tasks
4pm-5pm View webcast (if necessary)
5pm-6pm email/phone/wrap up

You might notice that the amount of time spent on the customer presentation has now gone from one hour to over three. This has come only at the expense of email and voicemail. Also, you might notice that the client is:

  1. Not looking at email, voicemail, or instant messages until high priority item has been addressed.
  2. Not answering the phone except for absolute emergencies.
  3. Allocating specific time for email and voicemail, and not responding real-time.

Do you think you could handle ignoring the voicemail light and the blinking instant message icon until lunchtime? I'm not even going to mention the buzz from the Smartphone when we get a text message, or the temptation to respond when your friend updates their Facebook status from "dating" to "single"!

The big question is "what will your manager think?" Even though it may feel this way, I highly doubt that many of us are measured by the volume of email we process or generate, or by how quickly we respond to voice messages. I would be OK with my boss critiquing me for being slow on email knowing that I accomplished the important tasks.

This is not a new idea. Stephen Covey's rule number 3 from his book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" states "Put First Things First".  This book was published in 1989, when instant messaging and email were barely on the horizon. Technology has made it even more difficult to focus on priorities on a daily basis.

By the way, I am certainly not immune. I actually have to leave the office and unplug to work on priority items. Maybe that's why my third quarter newsletter is coming out during the last week of September!

If you are having issues with accomplishing your priorities, you may want to start with turning your day upside down. If you need help, please feel free to give me a call!

As always, I welcome your comments on this article.  Feel free to email, Twitter, find me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or post to my blog!

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associates