As a consultant I face the same kinds of daily work pressures that most people do. In a typical day I work on a wide array of projects involving a diverse range of topics. I also have the typical daily interruptions from having calls with clients and my staff. Because CCG is a virtual company and we all work out of our homes we don’t have meetings to attend, but my schedule is frequently peppered with conference calls. And like most people these days I get deluged with emails that require a response.
Over the years I have developed some time management techniques that work for me. My particular solutions might not work for everybody, but there are always techniques that can make your day more productive. And being productive means not having to work late to catch up on those things that you didn’t get done during the work day.
My first technique is that I have a morning ritual to get my day started off right. I try very hard not to schedule conference calls too early in the workday to eat into this time. I am an early riser and I often start very early. But no matter what happens I make sure that I am at my desk by 7:00 in the morning.
I use the first hour to take care of what I call repetitive housekeeping tasks. I read the emails that arrived overnight and will respond to the more urgent ones. I take time during this hour to either write one of these blogs or else to at least think about future topics. And I use this hour to try to keep current with what is going on in the industry. Over the years I have developed a list of news sources that I trust to tell me about things I ought to know. During this hour I am not doing client work, but am instead taking care of housekeeping. I found that if I am not this disciplined then the housekeeping never gets done right.
The other technique that has worked really well for me is that I schedule production work time in the same manner that I schedule conference calls. I don’t actually put these time periods on my calendar, but I look ahead each day and designate some blocks of times for getting work done. As a consultant I produce a lot of work in the form of complex spreadsheets, long reports or detailed memos. These are the things that I tackle during these work hours. Of course, I tackle them any other time I’m not busy, but during these work hours I block off outside influences. I don’t read email or answer the phone, just as I wouldn’t if I was talking to a client on the phone. I’ve found that when I know I won’t be interrupted that I can be at my peak of productivity. It seems, at least to me, that worrying about being interrupted is almost as bad as an interruption.
The last technique I use might best be called mindfulness. I just started using that word recently because I saw an article that said that Google and a bunch of other large corporations had formal mindfulness programs. In my case, what I mean by this is that I set aside time every day to just think. I am either trying to solve a specific problem for a client or else I think about some industry topic that interests me.
Because I work at home I tackle mindfulness while tackling very routine chores. I might go and load the dishes in the dishwasher, walk the dog, or clean the cat litter. But while I am doing these tasks I am generally deep in thought and this is something I do deliberately. My wife says that she always knows when I am in this contemplative mood and she stays out of my way. And she might as well because I never remember a word she tells me when I am lost in thought. But she doesn’t seem to mind the chores I get done! Again, this is something that I do deliberately. I don’t usually schedule these in the same way that I do work time, but this is something that I do every day at least once each morning and afternoon. If I was in an office environment I would likely just walk around the building or somehow get away from the desk and give myself the time that I need to think. I solve many of the problems I face this way and if I didn’t do this I would be a lot less productive
When clients tell me that they are too busy to accomplish their work goals I generally tell them about my own habits. The fact is that we are all different and my techniques might not work for you at all. But I do know that being productive is something that can be scheduled and managed and that if you control your day you are going to be a lot happier.