Did you run out of time today? Again? Ugh, it seems you never have enough time.
You begin your work day with full intention of being productive and before you know it your boss asked you to take care of something, your co-worker needed information for her 11 am meeting, a client called with an emergency, and your chatty colleague just had to tell you all the details about their weekend hiking trip. The day is over and your list is hardly done. It might even be longer!
Understandable, responsive, and entertaining, but you are left with a lingering to-do list and a really loud sucking sound from the time vacuum cleaner.
Productivity experts offer helpful suggestions such as managing your e-mail and social media, using productivity software, and getting organized. These can be useful tactics, but they can also be useless. You will never have enough time until you consistently do these two things.
#1 – Be Crystal Clear on Your “Have To” List. And it can’t be long.
Chances are you’ve heard this before, but the reality is your “have to” list is TOO long and you’re not willing to shorten it. That’s because it’s not easy. But not deciding comes with a price. As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, say “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
My first lesson in choosing my own list happened during my 10 year AOL career when Bob Pittman was COO. Bob lead the team that created MTV and eventually became their CEO. After being on AOL’s Board, he became the company’s COO and joined forces with CEO Steve Case to take AOL from successful company to worldwide brand. Good to great has it’s trade-offs. Shortly after he arrived he challenged all of us to stop doing most of what we were doing.
Then he explained. He said make a list of the top 10 things we’re spending time on and of those stop doing all but the top 3 or 4. Those were the high-impact “have to do’s.” The rest were either “like to do’s” or“nice to do’s.” And those can be hard to cut because the “like to do’s” and “nice to do’s” may be more interesting or fun or a pet project. The problem is they simply suck time from the “have to do’s” and leave you with far less impact and far more frustrated.
We all have the same amount of time in each day. There’s no way we will ever get everything done on our list. We must shorten our list to what’s absolutely most important and focus 80% of your time there.
#2 – Say No Easily and Often
One big reason many women lose time to get the “have to do’s” done is because they are not willing to say “no.” Saying “no” is so socially and emotionally uncomfortable that we say “yes” in a heartbeat and figure out how to get it all done later. Which leads us to feeling rushed, tired and frustrated all over again.
How can you start to say no more easily and often? One way is to not immediately response with a “Sure”, “Yes”, “No problem.” Just give yourself a few seconds to think and create a pause. Then have a go-to phrase you can use to bide some time, like “Hmm…let me get back to you” or “Perhaps, let me check on a few things first.” You can follow-up with an email with a “Sounds like a great idea, but I can’t.” or “Right now I’ve got other commitments.”
When unplanned interruptions and requests happen during your work day, try these versions of saying “no”:
If your boss or project manager tells you to take care of something immediately, ask him or her “Okay, I can do that, but first help me choose which of these other activities can wait in order for me to put this at the top of the list.”
If your colleague asks you the same thing, say “I hear what you need and want to help, however, I can’t right now. What I can do is get to it by….”
If a client calls with an emergency, make sure to assess it truly is an emergency that needs you immediate attention by asking “I hear your concern and we definitely need to do something. I am juggling a number of priorities so by when do you need this taken care of?”
If a co-worker wants to tell you her weekend adventure or just shoot the breeze, say “You always have an interesting story to share. Right now, I have to get a few things done. Can I hear your story a bit later when I can truly pay attention?”
Saying “no” in it’s many forms takes practice and gets easier. The big payoff is that you set yourself up to have enough time to get it all done. Today. Again!