You’ve got a lot on your mind. Both personally and professionally, we all lead demanding lives and find ourselves pulled in different directions, responding to different pressures both constant and unanticipated. Life can be stressful. Some of these stresses are amazing opportunities – a promotion, an entrepreneurial pursuit, competing for funding, working a major client project, scaling your business, maybe a baby on the way. Some other stresses are not a labor of love and are less pleasant but necessary tasks – delivering a tough conversation, managing your teams inadequate performance, working with an unrealistic client or boss, finding a next position when between opportunities, dealing with a divorce or other family challenge. Some of the stresses are more perpetual – the P&L of your business, emails, board meetings & reporting, travel, personal expenses, professional interruptions on your personal time or personal interruptions disturbing your business focus.
We all have hectic days, weeks, months, sometime even a year+ depending upon the confluence of events, opportunities, and responsibilities going on in our lives at particular time periods. Busy is good. Inefficiency is not good and only adds more stress. Here are a few keys to reducing your activity while driving your productivity:
Ask any parent of a middle school aged child who has given that child an iPhone and they’ll likely tell you it’s like an addiction. These kids unknowingly build attention deficit challenges through a psychological dependency on the damn mobile device. Kids can’t effectively clean their room or do homework if they’re constantly checking for Instagram updates or hearing the bing or buzz of incoming texts. This is no different for busy professionals. You’ll never work on your business if you’re always working in your business. It’s critical that we all schedule time to completely detach from electronic devices and incoming phone calls to study, ponder, create, write, or do whatever we need to do to define strategy for our business and life. Turn your mobile to silent, turn your email and email notification off, for god’s sake turn off Facebook, turn off the laptop altogether if feasible (the constant screens also take away from our concentration), let your team know not to interrupt you until X time, embrace the silence or put on mood music or white noise to help channel your mind on what’s happening. Change your logistics if necessary, it works. Try going to a university library for one morning every month and you’ll be astonished how the change in venue helps provide a change in clarity. Stop reacting, start thinking, make simple plans – constant responses will never alleviate broader ideation. Sometimes we simply need to slow down and get away in order to speed up.
A lot of the stress on your shoulders really isn’t all that important. Create a couple (not a lot) of key folders where you can put emails in proper place for review. You want to keep up on your industry so you likely have inbound newsletters, LinkedIn notifications, and other insights-driven material that is important to read and keep up to date. Narrow it down to only a couple that matter and unsubscribe from everything else. In your settings, create delivery mechanisms so those emails go straight to your labeled folder and not in your main email view. Only read those at a single time of day or better yet, a single time of day only one or two days per week – put in on your calendar and don’t deviate. Create another folder for emails you know you need to respond to and drag/drop them for review at 2 or 3 specific times of day (think 7am, lunch, 5pm), put in on your calendar and don’t deviate. When you do review your emails your goal should be to only read it once whenever possible and take action – respond right away (and delete), place in folder if necessary, or simply delete anything that isn’t a priority. Email is an incredibly effective tool, but can be a productivity killer – manage your email, don’t let it manage you.
Whether you’re looking at an entire year or a single day, you shouldn’t have more then a few critical macro goals because as soon as you add too many, you dilute the focus on the most important priorities. It’s much more important to perform with excellence towards the critical objectives than to be merely good at any number of objectives. Say “no”. “No” frees you to focus on what is most critical. Of course we need to be responsive to our employees, clients, some colleagues, and family, but many times another’s request simply can’t be your priority and/or not in that moment. I do countless favors for people and I’m not suggesting we be curt with anyone, but we shouldn’t take on tasks that are going to take away from our top priorities. Sometimes the person you need to say “no” to is yourself – don’t get distracted by ‘in the moment’ shiny quarters off the main road, save those ideas for time at the university library as noted above. Keep your focus on the task at hand.
Say “no” guilt-free.
This isn’t a new concept. Compartmentalizing your day into time blocks is crucial. Decide what tasks and responsibilities are critical for you to perform with excellence, prioritize those events into a daily plan, incorporate the plan into your CRM or digital calendar with reminders/alarms, and simply follow-through. If you’re not leveraging daily organizational systems through your CRM or Google Calendar, you’re doing more work than you need to – technology can do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to worry about recall. And after each day review your calendar – did you execute what you needed to? Groom your tasks for the next day or if you didn’t do them that day, perhaps it’s really not all that important and you should delete it altogether. Organize your day and your stress will go away.
Dude, get some exercise! You need time for yourself and I’d argue nothing provides more value to sharp cognitive ability than expending some physical energy through cardio training, strength training, and/or playing sports. Endorphins are released when we exercise, notifying receptors in our brain that trigger positive feelings not dissimilar to the impact of morphine (no, please don’t go find morphine!!). Exercise literally makes pain go away. We sleep better, we think more clearly, our metabolism works more effectively, we have more energy – this is a no brainer. Schedule time in your week, ideally 5+ days, dedicated to uninterrupted exercise FOR YOU. Some days it’s tough to get up early or find a gym on the road or whatever the challenge, but nobody ever regrets following through on their workout once it’s complete. No matter what, make the time to test your body and exercise.
I’m sure you all have other ideas around focus and efficiency, I’d welcome your comments.