Eugene Peterson, in his book The Contemplate Pastor, suggests that busy people might be busy because they let other people decide what they will do instead of deciding themselves. In his case, he feels people who do not understand the work of the pastor writes the agenda for his day’s work because he is too slipshod to write it himself. He is probably being too self deprecating, but he makes a valid point. We are all experts in what we do and are the most qualified to decide in advance what those things should be in the coming weeks. But if we fail to schedule those tasks in our planner, our planner will soon become filled with other people’s priorities instead. And those things may not be the most important ones for either ourselves or our organizations.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of us are reluctant to say no for various reasons. And some of us simply prefer to be busy since it makes us look more important, and busyness feeds our egos. The solution, of course, is not to work faster, or work longer hours, or sacrifice our weekends. You would not start mopping the floor as if you noticed a leak in the plumbing. You would turn off the master valve to cut off the water at its source. In the same way, you should tackle the busyness problem at its source by stopping the incessant flow of tasks. Only allow the essential ones to reach your action plan for the day or week.
This involves the following steps.
Use a planning calendar and block off time for those essential and most important tasks that you already have written on your “To Do” list or stored in your memory bank. Schedule them as appointments with yourself during the balance of this week and next week, allowing up to 50% more time then you think they will take. If you plan just a week in advance, you will still be well ahead of those various requests, because most people want things done right away.
Do not fill more than 75% of your planner’s available time. You must leave unscheduled time for those essential, urgent tasks that might materialize in the future. If nothing further materializes, you can work on those other less important tasks still on your “To Do” list. Limit each scheduled block of time to 90 minutes or less, followed by a 15-minute break. All tasks that are not essential should remain on your “To Do” list until you have time to work on them. Once an item is scheduled, cross it off your “To Do” list. That 90-minute block of time to work on a task or project allows for more time than the task is estimated to take, which allows for interruptions. This is explained in other articles.
You must also immediately start saying “no.” There are other blog articles containing advice on how to do this, as well as my e-Book, How to Say No When You Want to Say Yes, published by Bookboon.com.
Let your default reply be “no” when asked if you are available at a certain time. You will know by flipping to that requested time in your planner to see if you have that time already blocked off for your own use. This makes it easier to say no, because you can honestly say that you will already be buy at that time. The caller does not need to know what you have planned at that time unless the caller happens to be your boss. In that case, let the boss decide whether to change your current plan since he or she is the one responsible for seeing that the company’s priorities are completed on time. You will be off the hook. The point is you cannot do two things at the same time. One will have to wait. Let the boss decide. For example, you might say, “I was planning to write my monthly production report at that time. Would you rather I leave it until the following week?” Chances are the boss would rather delay the completion of the new assignment.
If the request to complete a task or attend a meeting or whatever does not conflict with something already scheduled, of course schedule it there without any argument – if it is as important as those remaining tasks on your To Do” list. That is why you only schedule about 75% of each week in advance. However, you will find that many requests will conflict with tasks you already have scheduled.
Once you get the reputation for getting all the important things done on time, there should be little resistance from others. Most executives respect those working for them when their deadlines are always met or exceeded.
To exceed deadlines by completing them before the expected date, you must be proactive by working ahead on all repetitive tasks and anticipating the requirements of many other assignments. This is explained in detail in my e-book, The Proactive Manager, published by Bookboon.com.
For this system to work seamlessly, you must schedule time for essential or important tasks as you receive them without first adding them to your “To Do” list. This is being proactive, and most tasks should be completed within two weeks. If not, you may need more help. You must delete, delegate, or outsource everything except those things that only you can do.