It’s great to say you’re going to remain productive despite distractions, but work doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
There are outside factors. Phone calls. Meetings. Emergencies. Family.
You can’t control everything in your life, and when a curveball comes your way, it can throw your schedule into disarray.
I can’t help you control life. Sometimes, things will hit the proverbial fan. But I do have a handful of tips to help minimize how often your calendar gets bombarded with unexpected requests, so that you can remain productive through it all.
1. Say Yes Only When You Can Follow Through
The “yes” syndrome is a major area where you can cause problems for yourself. This is a tricky line to walk though. Say no too often and people assume you can’t manage your work load.
Say yes all the time and people appreciate you, but only until you fail for the first time. A well manicured to-do list will help you know exactly what is possible on any given day and what is not.
It’s a powerful tool that will make it easier to say yes and mean it…or to say no and explain why it’s not feasible – not necessarily because you’re “too busy” (the last thing you ever want to say in a business setting), but because you have previous engagements or are committed to another project. Better yet, it allows you to provide a conditional yes related to when you are available.
2. Only Provide a Timeline if You Can Guarantee It
For most people, deadlines and timelines are requested daily. Unfortunately, they are rarely accurate when given because there are so many moving parts.
A website will be done when all of the approvals and various departmental responsibilities related to it are completed – I can’t will it to happen sooner. Nor should I promise it as such.
And yet, some sort of timeline is a must. To ensure you provide what is needed by your superiors or clients and don’t over or under promise, use your to do list to accurately estimate how much time is likely to be needed and then provide a buffer for that time frame.
3. Be Assertive with Your Schedule to Remain Productive
This comes back to the issue of saying yes too often. To trust your to do list and remain productive, you must first ensure it is safe from intrusion. Your schedule needs to remain flexible, but only for emergencies, not every stray issue that crops up.
If everything is important, nothing is important.
So be assertive when people ask you to interrupt your current schedule with a new task that may or may not actually be that important. Ask them if it can wait. Can it be done by someone else? Can they figure it out themselves?
If the answer to all three is no, only then should you allow something to interrupt your schedule.
4. Don’t Agree to Tasks if You Can’t Log Them
The mobile phone is a hindrance to productivity as much as a boon. The ding of a text message, buzz of a phone call, or beep of an email can distract you from even the most important meetings.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, I put my phone on Do Not Disturb for the entire work day. The only exception to this was for the month before and three months after my daughter was born.
Even then, I turned off all notifications not related to text messages and hit ignore on all calls. If it was that important, they would call my work phone. Otherwise, the messages and inquiries could wait.
How much time do I get back from this? It’s hard to tell, but by five every day, I have between 10-15 messages in need of answering. That’s a lot of lost time if I sit and answer everyone (and the subsequent follow ups) as they come in.
5. Have a Dark Period Once a Day
A good to do list can be accessed anywhere, even when you close your door, block out your calendar, turn off your phone, and disconnect from the Internet. By blacking out the world around you, you can focus on the very nature of the task with no distractions and remain productive all day.
Not only will you get more done faster, you’ll be able to spend more time evaluating your list and ensuring everything is an actionable task that can be performed independent of technology or location.
A productive day is one in which you feel you got enough done. Will your entire list be checked off? Probably not, but if you stay on point, don’t overcommit to new requests, and manage to carve out some off-the-grid time for yourself at least once during the workday, it’s a success.
Also published on Medium.