Busy. Everyone is busy. So busy that there is not enough time to do everything. So busy that people like David Allen can write bestsellers about how you can get everything done. I am often asked how I get everything done. Family. Church. Career. Music. Photography. Cycling. Reading. Some people have even told me that I must have a 36-hour day. But I don’t. I have the same amount of time as anyone else. I am very focused on making the best use of the time. I am always looking for ways to improve the use of my time at work and at home.
When I was working as an executive at a Bay Street firm, I found a number of ways to take hours off my work week.
Be ruthless with email
Without a doubt, email can singlehandedly destroy personal productivity at work. I made it a rule to handle email messages only once: read and archive, read and respond, read and delegate, defer (reluctantly), delete (happily). Every once in a while, I find myself using email for more. And every time it becomes a significant loss of personal productivity. How many times have I read the same email over and over? How many times have I tried to create a filing system for email only to find that I waste hours moving messages from an inbox to a folder. And, in all probability, never to find the message again.
Since I moved to an inbox zero, act and archive email model, I have shaved hours each week from my work and personal schedule.
Avoid too many meetings
I used to see many executives overload their calendars with low-impact meetings. For myself, I began to ask a basic question: do I need to be at this meeting? Is there an agenda? Can a one-hour meeting be cut back to 30 minutes? Although there was never any shortage of potential meetings, eliminating the low-impact meetings freed several hours each week from my calendar.
I have absolutely no hesitation to block time to get things done. I keep an open door policy but when I need to get things done, I close the door. And I watch my calendar carefully. If I see something in the calendar that does not make sense, I cancel it. If I need to reschedule a meeting for a higher priority task, I reschedule the meeting. But I make sure that I have the time I need to get certain tasks finished.
Use the kill switch
A former boss once told me that the reason why people work so many hours is that they are not focused on getting the task done. I also have dropped tasks that were not worth finishing. I read a lot of books. And there are a number of books that I start but do not finish. Why? Because the book is not worth finishing. And I found that at work there would always be numerous issues or good ideas that simply were not worth the time and effort to chase. I gave myself permission to use the kill switch on things that should be stopped.
Act quickly on as much as possible
If you can make a quick call, make a quick call. If you can sign-off quickly, sign-off quickly. If you can respond to an email right away, respond right away. I do not tolerate clutter in my work areas. Act, delegate, file or discard. Those are the primary models I use to process the work that crosses my desk. There are times when I reluctantly defer. And that is when I often see a hit on my personal productivity. But if something can be handled in a couple of minutes or less, right now, then I do it, right now.
Make time for the important things in life
I love to spend time with my family. I love my work. And I love to ride, take pictures, play guitar and read. If I fill my life with time-wasting activities, then I cannot turn around and complain that there is not enough time to do the things that I really want to do. Balance and control. Balance and control. That is what drives me to make the best use of the time.
Learn to relax and renew
I still have some distance to travel. I do not relax very well. My wife would say that I am totally useless at relaxing. I always have this sense of guilt if I am not doing anything “productive”. As I am getting older, I have learned to give myself permission to take a bit of a break from time to time and unwind. To sharpen the saw.