Remember paper planners? Think back to rotary phones, Mac LC computers, and brick-sized cell phones. Back in the day – you can say that when it was 20 years ago – I was a franchisee for Priority Management. In the days before electronic everything, digital, and the Internet, we provided executives with a daily planner, an organizing tool that they could work from and in and out of. While technology has changed the playing field, the game is much the same today. Leaders still need to find a way to tame their schedules and their days.
How? “In the old days”, we didn’t have to tell them to minimize distractions by not checking Facebook or Twitter.
But, as relevant today as it was then, there are four areas that leaders need to control each days:
With whom you meet. Appointments in your calendar are time-sensitive. That is, they have a starting point and an ending point. Here, the question also is: when are you going to work? Do you set aside time to have an appointment with yourself? Time to think? Warren Buffett was famous for his nearly blank schedule book. “You gotta control your time,” he told Bill Gates.
The Oracle of Omaha also advised people to “read 500 pages like this every day,” holding a thick stack. “That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.” Whether it’s reading, writing, thinking, or doing another activity to develop and learn, it won’t get done unless leaders schedule time for it.
What you do. These are simply your activities, which can be one-offs and multiples. One-offs are “actions,” and multiples are “projects,” which are nothing more than a collection of actions. Now, how do you prioritize these actions and projects? What are the differences between a Priority A and a Priority B? Which do you delegate? And how do follow up with the person to whom you’ve given the task?In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes the “4 Quadrants.”
Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
Quadrant 2: Not Urgent and Important
Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
Putting your activities into these quadrants can help you see more clearly which need to be done now, which can be done later, which can be delegated to direct reports, and which can be delegated to the trash.
Information. Today, there is information bombarding us from every direction: from people both inside and outside the organization, from the Internet, from books… How do you organize all of this data and try to begin to make use of it? Where do you keep it? Is it secure? How can you find it when you need it?
Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “information overload” in the 1970s. The term describes the difficulty of making decisions because of the presence of too much information. This, keep in mind, was before the Internet. The International Data Corporation estimated that the amount of data in the world doubles every 1.5 years. How long does it take the data on your desk, your email, from anywhere, to double? Leaders have to get a handle on it, prioritizing it much the way they prioritize tasks.
Workspace. Finally, your workspace can be conducive to productivity and efficiency – or not. If you can’t find reports, phone numbers, email addresses, or files, you can waste time rooting through piles on your desk, or virtual piles in your computer or tablet.
What’s lying around your office? For every paper or email you get, there are four potential options: do it immediately, delegate it, delay it, or throw it away. Delay is the big impediment to a clean workspace. To keep it organized, try one of the other three actions.
A bonus to a tidy workspace? Studies show that people who keep organized desks/offices are more likely to make healthy choices.
Our one-day Priority Management workshop helped teach executives how to deal with each one of these areas. We were working with paper at the time. What do you use today? Everything from electronic calendars to Trello to Evernote to FollowUpThen.com can help.
The tools have changed, but the principle is the same: control these four aspects of your work, and you can become more effective. You have an operating system that allows you to manage your work more efficiently.