SECURE THE JOB YOU WANT & EXCEL
The end goal for every job in an organization should be to produce results that count, on budget and on time (with a minimum amount of wear, tear and stress). To do so, you have to use four critical variables to the best advantage — your time, energy, mind and work space, including the tools there. How well you mobilize each of these four “inputs” will largely determine your job success.
The degree to which you exercise control over how you conduct your job obviously depends on the type of position you hold. The more senior your position, the more discretion and control you have. Everybody, however, works for somebody, including CEO’s.
To get the best results, you have to take control over how you utilize your time, energy, mind and work space to the maximum extent possible. You have to control your work as opposed to letting your work control you.
Some of the most common characteristics of individuals who have difficulty achieving results are:
- Failing to establish a daily and weekly work routine that makes the best use of your time, energy, mind and work space. Certain tasks are best done at certain times of the day or week. You have to match the activity with your natural energy level. Some times are better for you than others for thinking periods, writing reports or returning e-mails and phone calls. There are times when you should make yourself available to talk to colleagues and there are times when you need to work uninterrupted on your own. If you do not carefully plan your daily and weekly routine, you will have a great deal of difficulty getting anything of consequence accomplished.
- Allowing yourself to be constantly interrupted by others or doing it to yourself while you are working. The New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman believes that we are living in “the Age of Interruption” where everyone is going to “get diagnosed with some version of Attention Deficit Disorder”. In such a state, it is impossible to accomplish anything meaningful or creative. Every time you let yourself be interrupted or switch what you are doing, you lose traction work-wise as it takes your mind 15 to 20 minutes to get back on track with what you were previously engaged in doing. This applies to randomly checking e-mails, text messaging, answering phone calls, and conversing with a colleague.
- Being a chronic procrastinator who has difficulty starting and completing important tasks and projects. Such a person is prone to waiting too long to begin what needs to be done and is easily sidetracked from meeting deadlines. Rather than starting early on a project, these individuals put off doing anything until the whole project has to be done in a rush at the last minute or beyond.
- Spending too much time in unnecessary or unproductive meetings. There are few organizations in existence that could not benefit greatly by eliminating 50% of their meetings at every level. It is impossible to get anything done if you are constantly in meetings.
- Multi-tasking as opposed to doing one thing at a time. When you try to do more than one activity simultaneously, such as talking to a colleague while going through your e-mails, neither gets done properly. Multi-tasking is not a way to save time. It is a recipe for sloppy work, missing things and making mistakes.
- Trying to do it all. When you are given a new task or responsibility, that usually means you have got to make some changes in your existing ones. Activities that are of a low value to yourself and the organization need to be regularly discarded or reduced. Trying to do it all usually means nothing gets done well. You need to fish, not boil the ocean.
- Allowing one’s personal life to regularly interfere with one’s professional duties and workday beyond responding to emergency situations.
There are a number of methods you can use to improve your ability to achieve results in your job. While you need to determine what works best for you, the following practices will enable you to utilize your available time, energy and brain power to produce above-average performance:
- Develop your own work “systems” to handle and keep track of what needs to be done. Think of it as engineering your flow of work to maximize your productivity. Become disciplined about following your work systems on a daily basis.
- Try to start work each day with a brief period quietly devoted to reviewing and organizing what needs to be accomplished that day. Tackle your most important tasks and projects when you are freshest and have the most energy. For most people, this is usually first thing in the morning. Do not permit yourself to be interrupted at that time.
- Keep separate to-do lists for your e-mails, phone calls to make, and different categories of tasks to perform. Do not try to store all this information in your mind. Carry a notebook when you are out of your office or workplace to write down ideas and points to remember. Or use your PDA for this purpose.
- Get into a set routine or system of blocking out two periods of downtime each day for handling your e-mails and returning phone calls as opposed to doing so randomly throughout the day. Deactivate your e-mail ringer. Only leave your cellphone turned on when it is necessary to do so, not all the time nor when you are in a meeting.
- Keep your office or workspace well-organized, uncluttered and clean. Place everything you need for phone calls, reports, and each major project or task into separate working file folders. Develop a simple filing system, organized by subject and date, for retaining materials that you may need to refer to later. By doing so, you will avoid wasting time having to hunt for things in your office when you require them. The only things on your desk should be materials and files you are planning to use that day. A disorganized office with piles of files and papers all over the place sends the wrong message to others. People often assume that the state of your office reflects the state of your mind.
- Determine what are your most important tasks and make sure you are definitely spending the majority of your time on them. Keep an action list of your three to five highest priority projects or issues in front of you.
- Concentrate your mind and energy on doing one task at a time and focus 100% of your attention mightily on that task. Thrust everything else to one side. Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both automakers Renault and Nissan, told Fortune magazine that the most important way to achieve results is to “focus relentlessly”. The same dominant characteristic also applied to Steve Jobs and his approach to leadership. Be disciplined about not letting yourself get distracted or interrupted when you are “on task”. If possible, try to set aside regular times each week when you are not to be disturbed.
- Recognize the need to pace yourself in dealing with tasks. There are limits to what your mind and body can do before your productivity starts to decrease significantly. Do not over-schedule yourself by booking too many activities in a day. Give yourself some time-outs between activities to refresh yourself. Try to match what you are working on with your energy level which fluctuates throughout the day. Work exclusively on one task for up to 1 ½ hours and then take a 15-minute break to do something entirely different before returning to your main task.
- Start major projects by first breaking them down into manageable pieces and then establishing deadlines for yourself and others for each of these pieces or steps. Consider preparing a workflow map or critical path chart that covers each of the successive tasks involved in reaching the end result and the dates for completing them. Start to work early on the project and complete each piece in sequence before moving on to the next one. If possible, allow some extra time in the project schedule to provide for contingencies.
- Do not make up excuses for missing deadlines. Get into the habit of completing projects well in advance of their deadlines. Reward yourself and your colleagues for doing so. If a project looks like it is going to require extra unanticipated work, negotiate an extension of the deadline with your supervisor early on as opposed to at the last minute.
- Use meetings extremely sparingly. Try to minimize your time spent in meetings. Always start meetings on time (see Chapter 3, Business Meetings, and Chapter 4, Chairing Meetings, in the Citizen of the World Guide, Be a “Pro” Communicator for more recommendations on meetings).
- Keep all assignments, tasks and projects as simple and as results-oriented as possible. The more complicated you make something, the more time it is going to take. As the American author William James stated, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” Keeping everything simple and focused requires tremendous discipline but the payoff from doing so is huge.
- Strive to deal with each incoming e-mail and piece of paper only once — when it first arrives. Otherwise, each additional time you have to go back to it, you are doubling the amount of effort and time you are spending to act on it. When Winston Churchill was England’s prime minister and received a memo or letter, to speed things up he would often handwrite his response directly on the document and return it to the sender.
- Allow yourself some quiet uninterrupted time to think strategically, to reassess the importance of what you and others are working on, how it is being done, and if it is generating meaningful results. You need to ask yourself whether you are spending the majority of your time on what really counts and on what is going to make a significant difference to the success of the organization. Such thinking should be done on a regular basis at a time when it is best for you to do so.
- Be careful about letting technology (laptops, e-mail, cellphones and BlackBerrys) push your work into your home and family time. Resist making yourself available 24 hours a day and on weekends unless it is an emergency. Use your off-buttons to unplug from work when you are home.
Many of the issues described above are typically covered under the subject of “time management” but that is only one dimension of what you have to manage. The amount of time, energy, mind-power and work space you have available to perform your job is finite. Pay attention to how well you utilize each of these four resources.