“Clarity precedes success.” – Robin Sharma
Have you ever tried to change your diet? Typically, the recommended starting point is to track every morsel of food that goes into your mouth. I get my clients to use the same method when it feels like distracting social media, texts, phone calls, and incoming emails begin to control their daily life and rob them of precious time.
Over the years, you may have tried hundreds of methods to get organized (ok, maybe six), only to later fall away from your nifty new strategic plan and go right back into firefighting mode. Ring any bells? Maybe it’s time for a new tactic.
A man before his time, Napoleon Hill gave us this pearl: “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”
I follow him in that thinking. I make this mean keep it simple, create room for change, and choose to do one small thing to improve your day and stick to it.
Make A List or Mind Map It
Start now and start small. Make a linear list of all of your incoming socials, texts, phone calls, and email messages as they happen. Take note of every daily action and reaction, one message at a time.
Or, mind map the tracking if you prefer a visual approach. A mind map looks like a spider diagram that helps visually organize information and show relationships to the main idea; draw it as an image starting in the centre of a blank page.
There’s no cookie cutter method; your business is unique and so are your personal preferences. You know what works for you, so why not start today? This exercise could take a couple of days or a couple of weeks — it depends on how much change you want to make. Remember: start small.
In a case study with my client Jack, his list-making strategy of choice was paper and pen. These are my favourite tools as well. Each day for two weeks, he made a linear list of all incoming and outgoing messages with details of how long and how urgent each one was.
Take An Objective Look
After you’ve completed your list or map, take a close objective look for what jumps out at you. Discover your biggest time thief and tame it.
• Do you check your email 20 times a day?
• Does texting monopolize your time?
• Or do noisy socials dominate?
As part of your tracking, figure out if you have more energy in the morning or the afternoon. Do you have morning-bird oomph or afternoon inspiration where you get your second wind? This knowledge will be important when it comes to getting clear so that you can set yourself up for success. Jack was more energetic in the afternoons, so a later start to the day was extremely important to him.
Once Jack recorded two full weeks of daily incoming email, we sat down to deconstruct his efforts. Turns out, his major time thief was his email habits. He read each email as it came in but didn’t have time to reply until the afternoon. This method gave him the feeling he was “on top of things” but he had to store his daily checklist in his head and dump it onto paper at the end of the day. As an afternoon person, he preferred sitting down at 5:30 p.m. to read and respond to the bulk of his incoming messages.
We also detected that he answered each phone call as it came in and replied to all texts within a few minutes. He knew his productivity was suffering because he was splitting his mental energy but didn’t realize just how much until he saw it laid out on paper.
Don’t keep your task list in your head. Compulsively checking incoming email messages can give you a false sense of accomplishment, yet it overburdens your mind and memory. In Jack’s case, he had no time for special projects and often no time for lunch.
Batch It Up
Batching is a way of organizing similar tasks and actions in chunks. With your tracking list or mind map in hand, look for patterns and similarities.
Batching tasks is a time saver. In Jack’s case, changing the way he approached his email freed up one to one and half hours a day. Jack tried out a few methods before he settled on batching his communications three times per day. What suited him best was 10:00, 2:00, and 5:30.
• 10:00 Spot the emergencies, deal with them, and leave the rest.
• 2:00 Follow up on important issues, if any.
• 5:30 Clear up everything for the day and — more importantly — lighten the load for the next morning.
Jack now has better control over his day. He now has time for leisurely lunches with potential clients and more importantly for family and friends. He said, “A feeling of lightness came over me just now. I feel empowered with my new email message boundaries.”
Stick To It
After you’ve had time to change one small piece of your day, consistently follow your new streamlined process for a few weeks to see how it feels. If something isn’t right, tweak it. Monitor processes on a regular basis and if they stop working for you, stop yourself, re-examine, and tweak where needed. Clarity will come.
Still not convinced?
If you think you don’t have any spare time to spend on tracking, start with 15 minutes a day or as little as an hour a week. Take a few notes and watch the patterns arise. This small action can help keep you and your business on track.
Is it that simple to whip your daily routine into a machine of productivity? Yes, if you start with one change, take small steps, and stick to your boundaries.
Quick Tips to Try
• Why not put your phone on silent for an hour if it’s your main source of distraction?
• Why not create more boundaries in your day?
• Why not take a rest or go for a walk? Give yourself a break.
Jack successfully weaned himself off his old compulsive reactionary methods of responding immediately to every incoming message. Hooray! One more solid boundary set. With some time and effort, you can set boundaries and tame your time thief too.
Still feeling stuck? I can help you start now so that you can enjoy more free time. I’m here to support you.