One Thing at a Time
Most of the executives I talk to about time management tell me you need to do one thing at a time. Many of them forbid the use of laptops or phones during meetings. For example, Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, says that anybody who tries to do email during a meeting probably isn't doing a good job at either of those tasks. Ahold USA CIO John Dettenwanger concurs, adding that time management is mostly about eliminating distractions.
On that note, let me close with a few ideas about what you can do to achieve better focus:
- Whenever you set work aside, make a clean break. Bring each small chunk to a good stopping point where you can continue working the next time you go back to that project. Then stop thinking about that task and move on to something else.
- When you say no to somebody, do so as politely as possible to minimize any agony you might feel later about having hurt the other person's feelings, and then detach yourself emotionally. It's no longer your problem.
- Plan at least an hour a day to work on only one thing. A woman attending one of my workshops told me about a site director with an engineering company who made it a policy for people to work alone between 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning. During this time, nobody was allowed to look at email, use the phone, or talk to anybody else. This rule turned out to be very popular, because people found that they could get a lot done in a relaxed manner during that hour.
- Set aside time each week to think about your big goals, and make it a habit to think about those big goals only during that time. Cut the big things into small, meaningful chunks of work with clean stopping points. Take a little time thinking through what can go wrong; if appropriate, add chunks of work that will help you to prevent those problems from occurring.
- Once you've spent your allotted time thinking about your big goals and what might go wrong, you're free to focus on each of the little tasks in sequence. Spend most of your time just thinking about what's in front of you right now.
Master the moment.
Patrick Brans' latest book is Master the Moment: Fifty CEOs Teach You the Secrets of Time Management (British Computer Society, ISBN 9781906124731). You can learn more about the book and Pat's time-management seminars at his Master the Moment website.