I’m guessing the following will be familiar to you, as it is to me. Ambitious people like you and I always have a lot of ideas, plenty of projects, and long to-do lists. Not to mention all those times you are seized by your employees and customers who need you to get things done.
That’s how it is with me, for example, with this blog. I used to write a weekly blog, and I have come to realize that it eats too much of my resources. The blog needs to be prepared and the idea needs to be worked out, then the whole thing is edited, published, uploaded to the homepage, and then publicized on social media. One thing follows the other, and each episode takes up to 4 hours of my time.
Of course, my staff takes some of these tasks away from me, but the ideas and the creative work come from me.
Or better put, what ends up on your desk? What is dumped on you because your customers, colleagues, and bosses turn to you and take advantage of your time and experience?
Let’s differentiate here. On the one hand, there are activities that are due every day. A customer needs an offer, a presentation needs to be ready for the next day, or your employees have important questions that they need to clarify immediately.
On the other hand, there are important long-term projects that you want to keep driving forward.
This is where I would like to differentiate. First of all, how do you deal with the tasks you want to work on every day, the so-called day-to-day business?
Before we consider this any further, I have a question for you: What percentage of your working time do you spend on activities that arise on the day itself? Perhaps you get an email or a call or perhaps your staff, bosses, or colleagues come looking for you, all because they want something from you today.
When I ask this question in my seminars, most managers say that one-third to two-thirds of their day is blocked by activities that arise on the day itself.
Thus, we have to assume that about one-third of your working day – so 3 hours out of a 9 hour day – are already blocked by activities that only arise on the day, meaning you can only plan for 6 hours of the day. If you are also in meetings 3 hours of each day, then you can only add tasks to your to-do list that take a maximum of 3 hours.
However, what most managers do is just write a complete to-do list that contains all their to-dos. Or they write a to-do list for the day with all sorts of tasks that they couldn’t possibly do in those 3 hours.
They have thus already pre-programmed that they will find themselves still standing – or rather sitting – in front of a long or unfinished to-do list in the evening because they set out to do far too much.
I am convinced that you will plan much more cautiously if you know that you only have 3 hours available. What activities do you want to put into those 3 hours? Or however many hours you are left with at the end of the preparation phase of planning your day.
Then write on that list, on that so-called day list, only important things. And what is crucial, of course, is that you immediately start on one of these important tasks first thing in the morning in order to get it off this short list. In other words, this is a call for you to have a short to-do list for the day that only contains those things that are essential to you.
I once heard a colleague say, “On the to-do list for a day, write only three things that you definitely want to advance that day.”
With me, there are almost always more than three things on my to-do list for the day.
The only question is, what are the two or three to-dos with which you measure the success of the day? Make sure you work well on these!
What about the long-term strategic issues? You may know the quote: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day. And we also tend to underestimate what we can do in a year.”
We have already worked on why we overestimate what we can do in a day. Let’s take a look at what you can do in a year. When you try to think of an important strategic task, it keeps falling by the wayside. This is because every single day there are just too many things going on, too many problems, e-mails, meetings, and requests coming your way. How can you manage to tackle a strategically important task despite these distractions?
The simple formula for this is that you reserve 1 hour a day. For example, try spending 1 hour on something as the first task of the day for one month. That’s 20 hours, so 2.5 full days that you have invested in a project, all within a single month. Of course, you can also block entire days if this is possible in your position.
Most managers, however, have deadlines that are measured in weeks, if not months. Thus, day-to-day planning for a project is difficult.
That’s why for 30 days, or 20 working days in a row, block the first hour of the day for your one strategic task. Start with this task before you tackle anything else. Ideally, don’t even enter the office, but work outside over a cup of coffee.
Alternatively, sit down in an empty meeting room or in the cafeteria. If you truly want to do this, you will find a place for it.
Often such tasks fall by the wayside because you think you will need a lot of time to do the planning, but don’t have that much time. So, you are more likely to move from one day to the other, or you don’t even put it on the to-do list at all.
However, if you simply aim to reserve 1 hour first thing in the morning, then this is entirely feasible in the vast majority of cases. You can either come to the office a little earlier or look for the above-mentioned quiet spot.
Another advantage is that you tend to be highly concentrated in the morning, well-rested and fit and therefore will be able to enjoy great progress in your thinking.
Of course, tearing yourself away once the hour is up is difficult, and the next day it will take you several minutes to get back into the activity. But that’s still better than postponing an important task week by week, month by month, and then letting it fall behind.
Perhaps it’s a private task or a private project. Perhaps it’s something professional.
Whatever it is, write down the five to seven most important topics. Then reduce these one-by-one until only a single activity is left and spend the next month working on that one.
What is the one project that you want to work on for 60 minutes each morning from tomorrow, even before you tackle anything else?
This sets the course for finally addressing a project that is important in the long term!
I wish you every success in your implementation!
As always, this blog has brought me a lot of joy and has been a lot of fun to make. Even more so, of course, when I hear from you that you are implementing one or the other items presented here. Please comment on how these ideas help you or what else you want in terms of topics for this podcast.
I will publish one new English blog post in 2020 from now on. I am looking forward have you as my reader in the future.