Many of us – Santa Claus and Atul Gawande included – get a great deal of satisfaction in creating lists and checking them off as we go along. In my case, the busier I get, the more lists I generate. With the season full of family commitments, work deadlines and personal goals now at hand, I’m drafting lists for everything from groceries to webinar schedules.
A side effect of creating the lists is letting the “check it off” mentality seep into our sense of time. I often end up measuring time well spent in terms of the number of things I’ve crossed off my lists. Productivity becomes my mantra, and getting lists and inboxes down to zero is the holy grail.
Much of the time, though, all this leads to is overworked, overambitious, overscheduled people.
That’s why I’ve spent some time interviewing a few busy, productive people recently. Here’s some advice they’ve all offered:
If you spend time enjoying the ride you’re on instead of thinking about the next one, you’re likely to not just be happier, but far more productive.
They claim that slowing down is the key to effective time management. Here are a few ways that they suggest doing that.
1. Go to bed early.
This one goes back to the original productivity guru, Ben Franklin. His famous adage about “early to bed and early to rise...” still rings true. Getting started earlier than the rest of your team means that you’ll be able to get things done before the daily flow begins. The extra sleep doesn’t hurt either.
2. Buffer yourself.
There is, in fact, a maximum number of productive meetings that you can have every day. Scheduling things back-to-back actually tends to make you better at running between meetings than at building your business skills.
So, create buffers between your meetings, space them out and take the time to devote yourself to the discussion at hand. That may also mean extending business trips by an extra day or two to accommodate all the meetings you need to get. At the end of the day, giving each meeting the proper attention will be valuable on its own.
3. Take time out to make a personal connection.
In the age of Skype and Fuzebox, in-person meetings have a completely different impact on your process. Yes, they take longer to do, but showing up in this way is both appreciated and often more fruitful.
Sometimes, the same thing goes for just picking up the phone. For example, when scheduling a meeting through someone’s personal assistant, you’re usually going back and forth over email for a while before anything is set up. So instead of waiting around, the moment a secretary emails you, pick up the phone and dial her number. You’ll be able to build a rapport with the assistant, likely find an earlier time in the person’s calendar to meet up, and avoid an inbox full of scheduling ping-pong in the process.
4. Take regular brain breaks.
While some people work well under pressure, it doesn’t always help to push yourself constantly. Schedule an opera night into your business trips. Read mystery novels instead of sales textbooks on the train. Spending time away from work – no matter how much you love what you do - helps you retain a bit of perspective.
5. Block out lunchtime.
Skipping meals won’t make you more productive. Yes, there are times when you’re on a roll. But scheduling back-to-back meetings through breakfast, lunch and dinner will get tiring and make those meetings less successful as the day wears on. Make it a habit to block out time for lunch or breakfast in your calendar. Tell your personal assistant not to book conference call or internal check-ins during that time.
Slowing down to become more productive isn’t a novel concept. Speed is efficient, but also full of mistakes and oversights. Slowing down the way you think about your time – moving away from checklists and on to building relationships - will truly differentiate you as a company and as a leader.
Now to cross this blog post off my list…..