Why do I always get passed up for promotion?
The vast majority of us open up our email first thing in the morning. It’s natural, we are curious and we dive straight in, some of us even do it the moment our eyes are open.
“My partner has her mobile on her bedside table. In the night there are moments when the phone lights up the whole bedroom, no sound, she’s turned that off, but nevertheless I’m now sitting up in bed wondering who turned the lights on while she sleeps on. I am not a morning person but she is. I can recall a time when I was, it was a time before the advent of email and messages arriving in the middle of the night from far away places.
Once awake she would sit up in bed and proceed to do her email. She would do this quietly at first. I am not fully awake, needing time to adjust to the new born day. But then she starts involving me, she knows the art of sharing, the key to a successful relationship. So half awake I am now unwittingly ‘doing email’ except after some time I realize that it’s not my email I’m doing, it’s her email. The dog is now awake and with a good morning lick across my face I roll out of bed.
And so my day begins.”
It is a fact that the majority of knowledge workers, I would even venture to say that 95% of us, begin the day with email. Maybe not in bed but then on the train or while sitting in the morning traffic jam or in any case first thing when we arrive at the office.
Is this good?
Well, we’re certainly able to keep informed if we managed to read all the mails that came in during the last 9-10 hours. I say managed because we are not always able to process all that has arrived in our In Box and if that is so we begin to pile up a backlog. Virtually every one of the thousands of people I have had on my training since the advent of email admit that they look at an email at least 5-6 times before taking any action. Emails requiring action are more often than not left in the In Box. So what we have then is a kind of “email-soup” containing:
– mails needing action,
– action mails that have been completed,
– mails that we have not gotten around to read because of the sheer volume piling up in our In Box,
– read mails,
– and all the new mails that have streamed in during the last few hours.
Add to that the fact that 75% of the people we survey before a training (Source: PEP®worldwide-Europe Personal Work Profile survey) use the In Box as a To Do List. And what do you now have?
You have a perceived heavy workload. I say perceived because it isn’t necessarily a heavy workload, but it understandably feels that way.
Jerry, who recently completed the PEP® Program, told me he used to lie awake at night thinking about all the things that he had to do. “I wouldn’t do anything about it and so the next night the same occurred, night after night.” This “feeling” comes from not having a clear picture of all that must be done and when. What is missing is a System where you can park emails and other To Do items in time and then have them reappear magically on time.
But a To Do list is not sufficient in itself. Each item on the list must also contain a very essential ingredient, and that ingredient is Importance. So how does one assign Importance to a task? Well if your boss is breathing down your neck to get something done then it’s Importance is pretty clear. Now let us say you have to assign Importance yourself without anyone breathing down your neck. How do you do it?
In the working environment you need to have a clear picture of your job Purpose. All activities that align with and contribute to the achievement of your job purpose are Important. These are your Key Tasks.
But we are still missing something and that is our second ingredient, Time. Having determined what is Important and then factoring in Time, we are now able to assign Priorities which is a requisite for the next step which we call Planning.
In an effective Planning both Time and Importance are inseparable. The reason is that Time is essentially a scale which goes from this very moment we are at now into the future to arrive at the point when specific action has to be completed, the deadline.
Without the ingredient of Importance you can easily be kept busy with a myriad of low value activities and this is what we often see as PEP® trainers while coaching people in their working environment. They are so busy with all the demands and requests made on them that they have little time over for their “own work.” And so the solution is often overtime and for those who are not able to work overtime because of family commitments or for some other reasons, we have a growing backlog.
So what happens to your Planning when you open up your email first thing in the morning? Well, usually the Planning goes out the window. I mean we are now busy handling and actioning all the new emails that have arrived since we last looked and they have a tendency to supersede what you had planned for the day.
What is the clever thing to do then?
What we have found through many years of coaching and training is that effective people dedicate the first hour of the working day to an important task or activity and not their email. They do more than that which I will get around to but this is an important first step in increasing your effectiveness and getting things done.
Another thing that they do, as most of us have experienced and may be experiencing at this very time, when they find themselves with not enough time to satisfy all the demands and requests made on them, is to revisit their Key Tasks. “Need more time?” Try eliminating low value activities. They lead you away from your Important activities.
What about the managers who spends the majority of their time dealing with operational issues, dropped balls and putting out fires? When asked what they would like to change the most common wish is “ to have time for the longer term strategic issues.” It amazes me that this is so prevalent and that so many managers remain trapped in the day to day operational and that their function as a leader is neglected.
The way out of the trap is to routinely reserve an afternoon per week dedicated to long term strategy. You don’t want to do this in the office. A quiet place with no distractions is needed. A place where you can stimulate those brain cells. Some use mind maps, others find Baroque music just the right medium to get the creative juices flowing. Whatever your personal preference the environment needs to be a place where you can concentrate.
Then, says Bruno Savoyat in his book “Gewoon Doen!”(Just Do It!), you need to answer 3 questions:
“Where are you now?
Where do you want to go?
How are you going to get there?”
The steps you need to take to get from where you are now to reach where you want to go are activities that can be planned in time. That is on the condition that you have broken them down into smaller do-able tasks. Not to do this is a recipe for failure.
Big time consuming activities have a tendency to be put off simply because they require a great amount of time, which most of us don’t have, add to that the fact that they can also be overwhelming not only the by their sheer size but also by the fact that it is not always clear what needs to be done or even how to start.
Many years ago Cathy, our Office Manager, would intuitively apply this very technique with her small children: “On rainy and cold Sundays the children would play in their room the whole day. Before dinner it was time to clean up. The problem was the whole room from wall to wall was now covered in toys. My 5 year old son would freeze…total inability to confront the task at hand. I was not going to clean it up myself, so I placed him in a corner with legs spread, a container for the toys next to him, and said ‘ just put away the toys you see between your legs.’ And step by step, section by section, he cleaned the whole room putting all the toys away where they belonged.”
Cathy taught her infant son to convert something big and unpalatable into smaller biteable chunks and it worked.
It works for us too.
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