Lucille Ball said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” One of the side benefits” to getting organized and developing skills to get things done, people begin to see you as a go-to to get even more accomplished.
This extra work or activity can quickly take over your systems and threaten to overwhelm you. There are five things you can do that can keep you on top of the action.
- Have a plan. You have to know where you are going to be able to get there. Always make time to plan your day, your week or whatever interval you need to organize.
- Break it down. David Allen talks about next actions. Don’t look at the entire project, you may never get started. Break it down into component pieces and focus on the next step.
- Set priorities. When managing multiple projects or actions, you need to know which are the most important (not necessarily urgent) and work on them first.
- Set timelines. If you decide a project can be finished “whenever” that’s exactly when it will be done. Whether you plan by the calendar or work by context, you need to know when things need to be completed. Alway buffer your timelines to allow for the unexpected. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver.
- Maintain your systems. The reason you created your systems was to help you gain control. Keep using them to maintain control.
When things begin to pile up, it’s easy to react to the urgent and let everything go somewhere in a hand cart. An investment of time in planning and using your systems will keep you from being overwhelmed.
I spent the better part of last week on my death sick bed. Flying back from a extended-weekend visit to Vancouver, I felt the onset of a sore throat. We arrived home and I began to mega-dose on vitamin C, hoping that would contain the situation. It didn’t. I ended up with some flu/cold combination that affected my temperature, my stomach, my head, my chest and most other parts of my body.
So, now I’m back in the office after a long unplanned break: the message light on the phone is blinking; both my virtual and real in-boxes are overflowing; last week’s next actions are now overdue; my staff and my manager all want a piece of me; and I just want to go home a crawl back into bed. How do I get things back on track?
It’s time to get back to basics:
- Collect: Grab everything that needs your attention. Whether you use David Allen’s mind sweep or you prefer a list format, go through your messages, e-mail, missed actions, etc. and capture all the items that require some action.
- Meet: Sit down with co-workers. This is the people version of collecting. Find out what was managed was you were away, what new issues have arisen and add these to your mind-sweep list. This is also a good time to thank them for covering your unexpected absence.
- Process: Once you’ve collected all the open loops, figure out what you need to do to close them. Whether it’s as simple as throwing a brochure in the garbage or as complex as planning a management retreat, you need to identify the steps needed to move the item forward.
- Prioritize: Next, you can organize the action steps into lists of what you’re going to do.
- Get it done: Now that you know what you need to do, get started. It may take time and effort to get things reorganized to move forward, but don’t stop at the end of step four. Here’s where you can pull things back on track.
One other observation: the better you’re maintaining your system day-to-day, the smaller the impact of unexpected absences. If you are already behind when an illness strikes, it will be that much harder to bring things into line.