Day-to-Day: Getting out of your own way

One day on a late October afternoon several years ago, I remember I was sitting in my office on a call with a business associate, wondering how it could be that I worked so hard during the day and felt completely wiped out, yet I felt that nothing had really been accomplished, like I was treading water… Have you ever been there?

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6 steps for managing your day-to-day

Though I continued entering the obligatory responses to my colleague on the call…. Yes… ok… right… I agree… etc. my mind was somewhat in a trance wondering if it was possible to feel refreshed and that I had accomplished something at this point in the day, every day, and if so, how to achieve that. There are a lot of business professionals that have worked this out and have a system to this, right…  I mean I must be missing something, I thought. I researched the topic and found some good books and some good blogs, but none of them really hit home for me.

So, what does one do when they need a result, an answer that is solid and well thought out, but easy toachieve?  Well, naturally, they call in the Marines!  As luck would have it, our Director Of Operations had over 25 years of good old solid USMC experience, so I asked him what he thought.  It came down to a few solid building blocks for a framework that I use today and encourage our employees to use as well.  What we found was that if we just remember the principles and build our unique work load around them, we could achieve some solid results. To date, we estimate our efficiency has improved by about 50% and most of the time everyone feels pretty good by the end of the day… we have accomplished what was intended and usually feel fairly good after 8 to 10 hours of work.  Here are the principles we found worked for us and our day-to-day workflow:

Keep a pool of tasks 

During every day we are presented with or remember things we must do.  If we keep a list of the items that need to be scheduled and update that list when new items that are needed come up, it is almost certain that they will get accomplished

Schedule key tasks in Outlook or CRM 

From the pool of task, every day before you start work or the previous day before you leave, select the tasks for the day and enter them in your CRM or contact manager like Outlook.  This way the burden of having to remember what to do will fall on the system and not require you to remember, leaving you free to cruise through the day.  Make sure to schedule an alert for 15 minutes before you leave so that you'll have time to plan the next day before you leave and tie up loose ends.

Minimize "do drop ins" 

Answer as many questions with email or skype, or other similar tools.  If a person is not standing in front of you or sitting beside you, the time involved is greatly reduced.

Guided Discussions 

If a meeting is necessary, make sure to have an agenda and follow it.  If a person interrupts to ask a question, answer it if it make sense to, but if a second person interrupts with a question, let them know you will "take this one more and then move on."

Tie up loose ends 

Take the time to check tasks off your list and acknowledge what you have accomplished…sounds unnecessarybut what we've found is that it adds energy to our day knowing we've got things accomplished.  It also serves asa coach to let you know when you aren't as productive as you feel you should have been.

Keep notes electronically 

It made a big difference when we moved from taking handwritten notes to entering them electronically.  That way the paper on our desks is minimized, the notes are always (well almost always) properly filed and searchable, and the freedom from having a clean desk is an amazing energy boost.  We use Microsoft Office OneNote, but Evernote and some of the others are just as good.

Once this is in place, the day almost always flows smoothly.  But what happens when the "monkey wrench" gets thrown in?  There are unplanned disruptions almost every day in almost every job. The question is one of how to address them and not let them interfere too much with your production.  Oddly enough, I found the answer in one of my free reading books (non-business related), written by Carlos Castaneda.  One of the main characters of the book, Don Juan, stated (paraphrased) "People's actions don't bother you when you have no more expectations of any kind.  A strange peace becomes the ruling force for you, that of detachment.

Without expectations, every interruption or unexpected situation can be overcome.  I realized that while most people label everything as a blessing or a curse, the truth for me is that everything is a blessing or a challenge, and just that shift alone takes all the sting or worry out of the picture, so that I can keep cruising even though I have to address it. I also plan time for the unexpected in every day's task list and that provides both time to take on an extra task and a more relaxing feeling since I know I have some padding in my day. 

In summary, for things to change, you have to change.  It's so much easier to ride the horse the way it is going, don't you think?

Cliff Hall