Friday, April 16, 2010

the art of getting things done

If you are anything like me (and you probably are since you read this blog), then you probably find yourself in the midst of the "I'm so busy" trap most of the time. Maybe it's you telling all of your best friends (or ex-best friends by this time) how busy you always are and how your are always in over your head and how there is always too much work to do...OR you're surrounded by people who come into work each day telling you how much there is to do and how they can't seem to find their way through the piles and how it never seems to slow down...OR you have a boss who is always running around trying to get things accomplished and is always running late because they are so busy and keeps asking you when all of the projects he has given you to do will get done...and the list goes on.

We seem to live in a culture where people enjoy wearing the "I'm so busy" badge of honor - and we are often the first people to award that badge of honor to others. Our new heroes are the people who are too busy. I saw a sign the other day that said something to the effect that the new generation thinks 9 to 5 is a cute idea. In a connected a fast-paced a high expectation world -- it always seems that there is too much to do, too little time, and too many demands. HOW CAN I EVER GET EVERYTHING DONE?

First philosophy...then practicality:

1. Philosophically, one must admit to themselves that they will NEVER get everyting done. There will always be more to do...more demands...more paperwork...more of everything. That's how life is. Even if we feel caught up, there is another project (or 2 or 3 or 4) looming that if we started on them now would make life easier for everyone. Accepting this fact is point #1. Point #2 is that leaders have to learn to self-prioritize. It would be great if God (or even our boss) gave us a list of priorities that if we followed would make life easy. But that is not going to happen. Being able to self-prioritize is really the ability to look at ourselves, understand what is important to us and others, and then make a decision to act on those that we feel need both immediate attention and what is important for the long haul (see Stephen Covey's Quadrant I and II issues). I believe this is a philosophical issue because it is not a check list or a calendar or an organizer or any other is a way of thinking and living. Perhaps the ability to live with ambiquity and paradox helps here.

2. Practically, there are certain ways of approaching our work and life - and actual action plans to take - that can help us get things done. I am by no means an expert on this issue, but here are a few ideas that work for me:

  • process paperwork - I find that paperwork can eat my lunch if it starts piling up. I set aside at least one day week where I have 2-3 hours to do this (sometimes less, sometimes more). If you know when you are going to do this, you can tell people when you will be getting to it, relieving stress and guilt over getting paperwork finished.
  • wake up early - I'm at the office no later than 6:30 every mnorning, giving me at least 90 minutes before anyone else really arrives and things start happening. During that time I answer emails, process paperwork, organize my day, set things out that I need later on, etc. It's quiet, peaceful, and it has become routine. The key here is routime that helps to get things done. Find your timne and stick to it.
  • block off time - there are chunks of time marked on my calendar to accomplish items that need to get done. My assistant knows those are for the most part sacred times and meetings do not necessarily take precedence over them. If I have two hours blocked off to work on a project, I spend those two hours working on that project. These chunks of time are set up in advance, giving me time ahead of due dates to get things done.
  • delegate - we all know this is important, but the reality is that leaders get to their positions for the most part becasue they don't delegate early in their lives...they DO THINGS. Now that there are multiple priorities and projects due, one must learn to give things away to others and trust them to get the job done. Major reports and projects should be the handiwork of many people.
  • set time limits - people can suck up time...and that includes ourselves. A 5-minute conversation turns into 30 minutes of chatter. It may be may be may even provide new ideas...but it takes time. Learn to master the use of the line, "I have only five minutes right now." That way, the next time someone comes into your office (or you walk into theirs), you have a better chance of only staying 5 minutes rather than 30.
  • keep a clean desk - it's difficult to say to someone "I'm so busy" when they look at your desk and see nothing on it. We can increase our "badge of honor" if our desk is piled high and have paperwork laying on our tables. I think we are afraid that a clean desk may say to people we don't have enough to do (don't ever look inside my desk drawers - they're a mess). A filing the desk at the end of the day or week...having someone else clean your desk...whatver it takes, not only will you feel less overwhelmed when you come in the next morning, but you have a sense of control and pride in your clean desk (a new badge of honor).

That's all I have time for - I'm too busy to write anymore - there is so much to do today - my boss is expecting 2 reports finished by the end of the day...see you next Friday!


Anne said...

Delegation has to be key here if you do it well (i.e. well briefed, clear responsibilities, enough support and review). One of the most common reasons not to delegate though is too busy ;-)

Anne Currie
Tracking Your Time

Don Christian said...

well put, Anne - delegaton actually takes we need to have time to delegate and need to delegate to hace time - what a wondeful paradox!