This post from one of my favorite bloggers, , gave me pause to think about my own time management skills. And although most would consider me a pretty productive guy, I must confess that there is much room for improvement. Obviously our daily routine should be focused on those things that are truly legitimate priorities. Too often, however, I find my limited hours eaten away by problems resulting from the poor planning of me or those in my family or on my staff team.
Michael, of course, emphasizes the importance of a simple daily to-do list, along with scheduled breaks throughout the workday. However, the point that hit me hardest was the one about multi-tasking:
Do one task at a time. Multi-tasking is, at best, over-rated. At worst, it is a myth. Instead, you need to focus. Starting, stopping, and switching tasks before you finish costs you time, energy, and productivity. Instead do one discrete task from beginning to end. Check it off your list and then go to the next task. After a few of these, you will feel the momentum build.
The fast-paced nature of our world really has conditioned us to be diligent in multi-tasking. If I’m totally honest though, my reality is that I seem to always be multi-tasking. Even during personal conversations with others, if I’m not careful, I can become very distracted by my own internal self-talk, which constantly reminds me of those uncompleted to-do items, those phone calls to return, and the errands I need to run.
Then there’s my love-hate relationships with Facebook and Twitter that also gnaw for a portion of my time. Without some very clear boundaries, I can easily make it to the end of the day absolutely exhausted but having accomplished very little that was supposedly important enough to make my to-do list.
Here are five practices I’ve found that help me stay focused and productive:
1. Shut the door. I have my office door open much of the time because I want to be accessible to people. However, there are times when the task at hand requires my full attention and ability to concentrate without distractions.
2. Disable the sounds on the cell phone. Sometimes that means putting my phone on ‘silent’ mode. Other times it means disabling the sounds that notify me of incoming emails and/or text messages. I’ve found that most people these days much prefer to communicate via text and email so that they can exchange information without feeling that they’re disturbing the other person — and probably so they don’t get their own schedules tied up with small talk.
3. Let your calendar reflect your priorities. I routinely block off portions of my calendar for family events (i.e., school plays, occasional lunch with my wife or kids, etc.). I also block off portions of my calendar to focus on research, study, and preparation for teaching, speaking engagements, or leadership development opportunities. During these important times, my office door is usually shut, and my phone is in silent mode. (Obviously, my ministry assistant knows it’s OK to interrupt me at times — like when the pastor needs to see me or my kids are sick.)
4. Be willing to get away. Sometimes the demands of life and ministry really mount up. Interruptions, while often providing ministry opportunities, can undermine my ability to stay focused. Occasionally I find it helpful to just move to a different place to get some work done. Sometimes that’s at my house. Sometimes it’s at the park. Sometimes it’s in a secluded area of the church, away from phones, emails, and drop-in visitors. Let’s face it: Whatever doesn’t get done during your time in the office will invariably find its way into your time at home. And that robs you and your family of much-needed quality time together.
5. Be committed to taking a regular day off. Taking a regular day off not only sets a clear boundary for others, but it also models a leadership example that lets those on my team know that rest, relaxation, and family time are vital to our personal health and growth. As an added bonus, the promise of a regular day off provides a light at the end of a chaotic tunnel that can offer hope during our busiest days.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
What things do you do to help stay focused and productive at work?