Ask someone if their day was productive or not and then ask why. You will likely get answers based upon the activities that filled the individual’s day. They attended 10 scheduled meetings, had lunch with a client, took five phone calls during the commute, and answered 40 emails between meetings.
Sounds like a lot! But was it productive? One year from now, which of those activities will matter and which won’t?
We are talking about the difference between activities that are easy, activities that are urgent, and activities that are important. Easy activities are answering emails, attending a meeting that someone else put on your calendar, etc. Urgent activities are brushing your teeth, answering your boss’s phone call, and taking a sick pet to the vet. Important activities are talking to a client about the outage your firm caused last week, prioritizing your team’s work based on a recent reorganization, and scheduling a lunch with a client’s new executive sponsor.
Most persons spend the bulk of their day on the activities that are easy, a smaller part of the day on things that are urgent, and almost no time on those that are important. Back to the question above… Which of those will matter one year from now? Or put another way, which of those will have an impact at annual appraisal time?
Here’s how to redeem your time so that you avoid the easy and focus primarily on the important, with a healthy respect for those things that are urgent:
Habit number 1: Know what is important
Step 1: Take out a sheet of paper, write your name in the middle and put a circle around it.
Step 2: Now, think about the individuals who will have the biggest impact on how your success is perceived at year-end. Your boss, almost certainly. Who has your boss’s ear? Maybe some senior leaders in your company whom you directly or indirectly impact. Maybe a few critical clients. Write down their names in a ring around your circle. Be critical to keep the list short, perhaps 2-8 persons.
Step 3: For each name in the ring, write down the three most important achievements they are looking for. Each name will have a different list as each person has individual expectations of you.
Sleep on the results, scrutinize the paper regularly, and make changes as the environment changes. The paper at the beginning of the year might be very different from the paper at the middle of the year. The habit is to regularly evaluate every step of the process above so that you understand what you are aiming for.
Habit number 2: Prioritize your time to achieve what is important
Now that you know what is important, it’s time to prioritize your time. Take a critical look at your calendar. Be proactive with your schedule by blocking time and scheduling meetings to focus on what is important. Set aside slices of time to handle future, urgent requests, but contain those requests into the slices you have set aside for them. Make a commitment to not react to every calendar invitation, every email, every phone call, and every instant message demanding your time on things that are not important.
Habit number 3: Communicate with your stakeholders
Achieving what is important is irrelevant if your stakeholders don’t know it. Stay in communication with your stakeholders to know what is important and to re-evaluate step #1 above regularly. Make sure that your stakeholders know that you take their needs seriously. Most importantly, communicate what you are achieving on their behalf.