Our industry is full of overachievers. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re a serial over-committer who’s questioning if they even have time to read it in the first place. (You do!) Before we dig in, I’d like to first make something very clear. I’m not sharing these tips because I’ve finally unlocked the secret and achieved peak productivity nirvana. These are survival tips that simply keep me inches away from the workday chomping me up and spitting me out like a frazzled, tired, scatter-brained stick of gum. Now, let’s not waste another second. Here are my quick tips for winning back your day:
We all have those painful, sticky projects that we dread on our to-do list. Whichever is giving you the most stress, build up the courage and do it first. Your mental stability will thank you.
It seems so simple, but I’m convinced it’s where most stagnation happens. It’s shocking how often you get off an energizing, seemingly productive call, only to say goodbye and end up with no follow-up and no follow-through. If you identify this as a challenge for yourself, start the follow-up email while you’re still on the call and use it to document notes and next steps. Then immediately set a calendar reminder for yourself for a few days, a week, or whatever time frame is appropriate to ensure the actionable items are on track.
This comes in clutch for any text-heavy projects or presentation prep. Use your phone’s voice-to-text capability so that you can dictate and transcribe your stream of consciousness and verbal brainstorming rather than typing out. (Can you guess how I’m writing my draft for this article right now?) Once I dictate my thoughts from the car, hot tub, on a walk, before I get out of bed, etc., I then email transcribed notes to myself for a second pass, modifications, and finalization.
Every email you ever receive should get immediate action. You should either delete, respond, forward/delegate, or file. Every time you revisit an email in your inbox, you compound wasted time in your day. If you have no other choice but to flag an email, for the time being, be very careful that you don’t keep landing back on it and get caught in that loop. The goal every day should be to walk away with nothing in your primary inbox. It seems daunting and most days, I can’t accomplish a perfect zero. But the more you practice taking immediate action, the more in control of your inbox you’ll become.
Use it to set even the smallest, yet important, reminders for yourself down the road. Want to add extra accountability for team members? Invite them to the “reminder” so it’s on their calendar too. Additionally, if you have internal notes that you want to remember for an upcoming meeting, set a private meeting for yourself at that time and add notes there. When the meeting starts, you don’t have to frantically search.
This has become a common mantra between my boss and me. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but you are not always the best person for every task. Some people can do it better, faster, and therefore more economically. You also don’t have to be a manager to delegate. Certain tasks can be outsourced to other team members, third-party services, or technology platforms and processes. This takes a substantial level of patience, understanding, and coming to terms with a lack of control. If you can accomplish it, you will unlock a wealth of time in your day.
If you have deep work or important projects that keep slipping through your fingers, set up a calendar invite with yourself. Give it the respect of a true meeting – don’t reschedule, establish an agenda, and execute the points you’ve laid out to accomplish.
I find my day to be so much more productive when the night before I prepare my coffee, clean off my desk, write out tomorrow’s full to-do list and pick out my clothes. That way, you wake up and don’t need to make a single decision until you sit down at your desk.
This list could go on and on, but for the efficiency of your time and mine, that’s all for this quarter’s quick tips. Now get back to work!