An executive I was coaching was in a high pressure job. She had people, email, phones and work all demanding her attention on a regular basis. Her interrupt factor was extremely high, but since she worked in the contract department of her company, her ability to focus on the details was critical. We first met in a group setting where the topic was time management and how to get more accomplished in the time available, without working an 18 hour day. That wasn’t my title, but it is what she was looking for.
Our discussion came to the concept of being able to close the door of her office, turn off email, phones and focus on doing one thing without interruption for an hour. She erupted. “That isn’t possible with my job. People stand at my door waiting for answers, the phone is constantly ringing. That won’t work!” I paused, allowed her to finish and asked her a question: So what is happening right now while you are in this workshop – (which happened to be a 5 hour workshop)? She was silent for a moment and then stated, “Well things are piling up while I am in here.” My challenge to her was to just try it – if it didn’t work, she could go back to how she was handling things now. I chose not to challenge her further in front of her peers at that time and we moved on to another topic.
Since I was coaching her individually, the following week during our conversation she started off with an apology for coming on so strong to me during the meeting. Also, she had tried my suggestion. The previous day she had communicated to her team that she had some stuff to complete. She was going to close her door, put a sign on it stating do not disturb, closed email and also put her phone on do not disturb. In that hour she accomplished more than she had in the previous 3 days and was sold on the value.
The January issue of Success Magazine (which I highly recommend you subscribe to) had an interview with Mike Vardy. He has done a number of studies that indicate the average executive/business owner focuses on one thing for no more than 11 minutes. For every interruption they get, it takes about 25 minutes to recover where they were and start making progress.
The concept of multi-tasking is killing our productivity. It has been proven that our mind cannot multi-task. It actually switches gears from one topic to another, but doesn’t multi-task. We have all been in situations where we have been concentrating to get something accomplished, been interrupted and then either had to start over our thought process, or really wondered where we were and never get back to that same state.
Mike Vardy also stated in his research that multi-tasking actually diminishes our IQ by 10 points. Even smoking pot only diminishes our IQ by 5 points. Chew on that concept for a while!
Yes, there are situations in jobs that require us to juggle a number of things at one time. If that is your job then great, enjoy! I use to be called the “queen of multi-tasking”. I could be processing multiple things at one time fairly well and keep all the balls up in the air. However, when I needed to focus, complete a project, plan for a conference, review a sales proposal, that was all I did. The door was closed, email ignored, phones on do not disturb because I knew that missing one small item could be the difference between success and failure. I also had the benefit of being able to work from home a couple days per week and I scheduled my focus times for those days.
This is essentially about self-management. Who is running your day, you or others? Do you determine your action items for the day the day before? If not, then consider planning tomorrow today, next week this week, next month this month. Make sure you leave time to plan. Without planning you leave yourself and your life in a reactive vs. proactive mode. You wonder why things happen to you, why you need to work late, why it is taking longer than you anticipated. Most of these reactions are due to lack of planning.
So, have you decided if you can manage time? I often ask this in my workshops and get a mixed reaction of yes and no. Reality is no, you can’t manage time. Time moves on no matter what we do. What we can do is manage ourselves. Self-management is the most critical aspect. Like eating frogs – figure out what you are avoiding, do it first get it done. Plan your day. You say it doesn’t work, then step back and take a hard look as to why. You are in a situation with a high interrupt factor, then plan for it. Get in early and get those projects done before everyone else arrives. Put on your calendar time to complete your action list for the day. If you haven’t planned for when the action items will get accomplished you have a much lower chance at getting things done.