Operating on Perpetual Overload?

Check Out Your E-Habits

Another week has ended. And, despite moving at the speed of light, you've once again barely made a dent in your more important goals or projects. Just about everyone wishes they had more time to focus on the really important things: Activities directly tied to job or key business objectives. Spending time with key people ? at work and at home. Exercise. Fun.(Remember "fun"?)

Intellectually anyway, we do understand the need to differentiate "forest from the trees" priority-wise. But with more "trees" to manage than ever, it can be tough even locating the forest, never mind spending any meaningful time there. By far, the biggest source of new trees contributing to the workload logjam is email. But to view the problem of email as a problem of volume only is to miss out on the real problem. If the practices of the thousands of executives and managers who've attended Time/Design's? Power of Focus Management seminar are any indication, email itself is not the problem. The number one impediment to focusing on the big picture is how we respond to these "electronic trees." In other words, if you want more time for your high priorityactivities, look no further than yourself.

We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us

Here are three e-habits that undermine our ability to get to our high impact activities and some effective Focus Management? techniques that can help:

1. Lost in the E-woods by 8:15 am

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk in the morning? Check your email, right? We say we want to spend more time on our forest activities but our behaviors indicate a love for the "e-trees." Yet, when you begin the day by jumping into the trees, it's easy to get lost in the woods. Sure you're busy, but before you know it, it's quitting time and you never got near the high-impact stuff.

Solution: Don't worry; you can still check your email. Give your forest activities the attention they deserve by making a separate list of your current goals and projects. Then use the time while your email is downloading to review this list and build in time that day to work on one or more of these big picture activities.

2. E-Hugging

If the findings of a pre-course survey on the work habits of managers and executives at a major cable television network are any indication, the American office landscape is populated by "e-huggers." These employees reported logging into email on average, 16 times a day, with one manager checking in a whopping 50 times. Based on an eight-hour day, this manager is interrupting her focus every 9.6 minutes. These constant self-interruptions make it virtually impossible to spend any meaningful chunk of time in the forest.

Solution: If your email program constantly prompts you each time a new message arrives, minimize temptation by either turning off this feature or closing the program altogether. Then resolve to check your email no more than three times a day. A morning, midday and end-of-day retrieval is optimal. If you are an ardent e-hugger, begin by weaning yourself down to six. Use the time you would have spent reacting to email to proactively concentrate on the big picture.

3. E-voiding the Forest

The pre-technology way to avoid buckling down was a stroll to the coffee machine. With the arrival of email, procrastinators never have to leave their desks. The 8:00 am leap into the e-trees and the continuous e-hugging throughout the day are but symptoms of a larger problem ? eprocrastination. Not convinced? Take the Focus Management? Pop Quiz: You have 45 minutes. Are you more likely to? A) Start on that high impact project you've been putting off all week or B) check your email. If you said "B," join the club. Out of the thousands of people who have responded to that question, very few said they'd tackle the project. As for the rest of us, we tell ourselves that the reason we go for the email is because it's faster and easier. But that's not the only reason everyone heads for the virtual trees. Handling the small stuff addresses our uniquely human need to feel productive. With easily five major projects in varying stages of incompletion at any given time, employees rarely feel "done." Email satisfies our need to complete something. That is, until the next time.

Solution: "Forest" activities invariably entail "big verbs" (e.g. plan, develop, coordinate, research, relocate, etc). The trees involve small verb tasks like call, email, order and so on. This distinction is important because the brain automatically skips big verbs in favor of small ones. Given the choice between developing the strategic marketing plan and checking email, the later will always win because the course of action is readily apparent. What you need to do is break your big picture activities down into the kind of small action verbs that will satisfy our need for completion. The way to do this is by determining the very next action needed to move the development of strategic marketing along ? like "call Fred," "see if conference room is available for a 2:00 brainstorming meeting," or "make a list of possible marketing ideas." Then use that 45 minutes before the meeting to knock off one or all of these manageable next steps. Don't look for the rising tide of email to recede anytime soon. Instead, the key to focusing on the big picture is to learn to manage your focus. Gain control over your attention and you gain greater control over your life.

You are welcome to reprint this or any of our productivity-enhancing articles in your organization's newsletter or on your website providing the following attribution and hyperlink appear with each article. 2004 Time/Design. Gain control your focus and gain control of your life. To learn more about Time/Design's Focus Management? tools, training and coaching, call 800-637-9942 or visit www.timedesign.com

http://www.timedesign.com

Time/Design is a leading provider of time management training and tools offering practical and realistic strategies for managing commitments, communications and information.

In The News:


pen paper and inkwell


cat break through


How to Hire the Right People

One of the biggest challenges any business owner or manager... Read More

Communication: Managements Responsibility

I've just watched, again, an episode in the Back to... Read More

Forecasting Support Costs

Did you know that maintenance accounts for 50% to 80%... Read More

Provisioning/User Management System Upgrades: Part II ? Building Awareness And Building Approval

Somewhere in the world is a person who wants to... Read More

When Politics Prevent Innovation - Or? Still Fighting Battles and Losing Wars

The objective is to beat the competition and make money.... Read More

In Leadership, The Critical Convergence Drives Great Results

The Leader's Fallacy lives! We subscribe to the Fallacy when... Read More

Improvements In A Large Public Electric Utility In South America

The company decided to develop and implement an improvement program.... Read More

Muggers in Our Midst - When Rumour and Gossip Pay You a Visit

'I heard it on the grapevine' the old song goes.... Read More

The 5 Things Great Managers Sense about their People, Every Day

Using all of your senses, to help you test how... Read More

Diversity Training: The Worst Possible Reasons to Request Executive Funding

You're on your organization's diversity committee. You have the best... Read More

Narcissism in the Boardroom

The perpetrators of the recent spate of financial frauds in... Read More

OJT - On The Job Training

IntroductionManagers have two powerful ways of improving the performance and... Read More

Innovation Management ? Diversity Can Make All The Difference

Companies are welcoming a diverse range of employees (The Sunday... Read More

How To Decrease Profits Without Really Trying

Hurting your sales efforts can be accomplished easily with the... Read More

Performance Evaluation: How To Create Change

STEPS TOWARDS GIVING A GOOD APPRAISAL INTERVIEW: Give specific feedback.... Read More

Managing People - No One Shows You What To Do

Imagine the following scenario - you pay a visit to... Read More

10 Ways To Work Through A Business Slowdown

In running any kind of business, it's inevitable that sometimes... Read More

What Every Manager Should Know About How to Maximize the Two People Inside

Every one of us, in reality, has two people inside:... Read More

IT Expenditure - Why Businesses Spend Huge Amounts on Ineffective IT Investments

Another IT White Elephant!It seems that almost every day we... Read More

Use QA As Your First Step To Outsourcing

Quality Assurance, or QA, is often given short shrift in... Read More

Innovation Management ? Raw brainpower versus experience

Creativity can be defined as problem identification and idea generation... Read More

Performance Appraisal Scenarios: Improve Your Communication

IMPROVING COMMUNICATION DURING THE PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL: If the employee has... Read More

Competion or Cooperation?

It has been said, there is no better way to... Read More

Top 5 Services Your Company?s Accounting Department Should Outsource

Accounting is one area which every company has to maintain... Read More

Tales from the Corporate Frontlines: Adapting Human Resource Functions

This article relates to the human resource functions competency, commonly... Read More

Stopping The Brain Drain: How To Capture Key Business Knowledge Before It Walks Out The Door

The verdict is in: More and more baby boomers will... Read More

Bye-Bye Boring Meetings! Make Yours Remarkable!

It's the middle of the night. You've woken up with... Read More

Crisis Management Essentials - How to Communicate Effectively During a Crisis, Emergency or Disaster

A crisis, emergency or disaster can happen at anytime and... Read More

Transparency: A Key To Your Effectiveness

Last month I talked about the Skilled Facilitator principle of... Read More

Lone Rangers Suffer without Tonto

A lone ranger is someone who prefers working in solitude... Read More

Contract Management Software: the Solution to the Problem of Coordination

Charles Petrie, from Stanford, released a short article entitled "The... Read More

Out of Control?

There are papers on the floor, across the desk and... Read More

Counseling Interviews for the Marginal Employee

ACTIVE LISTENING: The most frequent cause of failure in therapeutic... Read More