This society is constantly changing, now we have multiple things competing for our attention all at once, and very often, they’re in the form of email or instant message or text message or voice message or some kind of message. They come in all hours. And email was never, designed to be the end all management tool. Email is just a tool but you as manager take control. You set the objectives for the day. You have the supporting goals that help you reach your objectives. And you use email towards that end when email becomes the default management system, in other words, you check first thing in the morning, you check last thing at night, you check around the clock during the day, you literally have your day driven by what kinds of messages come into you, then your day changes. How does it change? Most of the quick messages that we receive in the course of the day, represent short-term tasks. Some are more important. But when email becomes your default management system, you end up getting very adept at handling short-term, urgent and loudly screaming tasks while letting go of longer, more involved and often more important tasks that require piecemeal, contemplation and accomplishment on a daily basis for a consistent number of days — 8, 10 days, 10 weeks, what have you. So you have to watch out, when you let email dictate your priorities, you automatically eschew towards a different set of tasks that may not necessarily be the ones that are going to propel your career. Now, it’s entirely possible that you are hired in a position specifically to handle email that comes in, say for your company department of division. But for most people, most of the time, that is not the case and it’s probably not the case for you. So you want to get better and better at focusing on the big issues, the important ones that will help to make your team successful, your department, your division, your company, your organization or if you run your own business, your own venture.
You want to stay focused. You want to be in the now, the here and now. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has written many books, many books in English, has a wonderful passage. He says, “If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the fork in my hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and the flavor of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.” And unfortunately, this is what email and instant messaging and text messaging and all these bleeps and blips that compete for our attention are in some cases, prompting us to do, they’re dragging us into the next and the next and the next message, the next couple seconds into the future and the next and we’re not slowing down, focusing on the task at hand, focusing on the here and now, giving our attention in one primary direction, doing what I call the art of practicing one thing at a time. And when you’re handling first time kinds of projects, break through types of systems, when you’re contemplating new product, a new service, a new way of handling customers, when you’re really on some huge issue that requires the best of your thinking, the best of your thought, then practicing the art of doing one thing at a time that is totally being focused on that issue is going to be your most effective way of proceeding. And you’ll be finished faster with a better solution than any other way you can precede. Now, some people have no choice. They report to two or more bosses which complicates everything. Earlier, when I talked about the reasons why tasks pile up, and I cited 22 of them, reporting to more than one boss or in other words, conflicting deadlines, two different bosses give you deadlines for two different projects, really does add to a career professional’s sense of complexity and certainly overwhelm. So the secret of reporting to two or more bosses is, if this happens to be your situation, is what I call calendar management. “What is calendar management?” you ask. Okay, good. You literally show your calendar to each boss. In other words, your appointment book or your scheduling calendar, your scheduling software, your screen, whatever it happens to be, if you’re working on a project that over the next eight days will essentially take up five of your days, then it’s easy to indicate to somebody visually that you have these three days, here, here and here where you could tackle this other assignment.
So suppose you’re going to a HR conference, you know you’re going to be meeting some people and you’re going to write a follow-up note. I write the note in advance if I can, “Nice to see you. Glad we caught up.” And since I still mail people notes in the mail rather than just send an email or text message because I think something in the mail has more impact today, people are usually getting bills and junk mail. When they get an actual note from somebody, a thank you card, it stands out. Since I have the stamps and envelopes already, everything’s addressed, even I need to change my note at the last minute, I can drop that note into the mail box across the street from wherever we met. The person gets it the next day, thinks I’m ultra-efficient as well as ultra-kind. So manage beforehand.
That is supported by conditioning your environment and employing multiple stations. Conditioning your environment means that you set up in your life all the commodity items and goods that support you. So if you wear contact lenses, you never know when you might need to put your lens in a tub for a moment, you keep a tub in your gym locker, in your desk, in your briefcase, in your glove compartment.
Clear spaces automatically lead to the perception of being in control. When you feel like you’re in control, you are not overwhelmed. And even if you are physically overworked, even if you’re putting in enormous hours, still, having your physical spaces under your control will help and it’ll help enormously. Any time during the day at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the afternoon, you can also strike what I call a dynamic bargain with yourself. And here is how the dynamic bargain works.
Suppose it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and you mean to really get out of the office today by 5:00. You look at what’s before you; you see that there are three tasks. You mentally gauge that you can accomplish all three tasks by 5:00. You can do this. And so you strike the dynamic bargain with yourself. “I get these three nailed – I’m not going to take on anything else, I’m not going to beat myself up and stay longer and, you know, just make this another day where I don’t have a life for the rest of the day after work – this time I’m going to get out of here at a reasonable hour, I’m going to enjoy myself.” So you strike this bargain, “I finish these three, I’m getting out in a reasonable time.” That’s your bargain. With me so far? Okay. Good. I know what you’re thinking. I know what you’re thinking. You can make this bargain but no matter what happens, something else comes along.
Your boss comes by, somebody comes by, an email comes over – some other task screaming for your attention which is urgent and important, upsets the applecart and all of a sudden your dynamic bargain seemingly goes out the window.
Now you’ll be lucky if you handle this new task plus one other of the three you have slated. So what do you do? You re-strike your dynamic bargain. Your bargain now becomes, “I will handle this newly imposed task because I have to, because people are waiting and I will tackle one of the other tasks I had in mind. And when I finish both, I’m going to get out here at a reasonable time.” So once again, under the circumstances, you took control, you feel good about what you accomplished. You don’t feel overwhelmed. You get to have a life that evening. You come back, do it again the next day.
So there you have it – a variety of perceptions, observations, tips and techniques so that you can avoid the feeling of overwhelm – so that you can be in control more often more of the time, you get a lot done. Others will marvel at your effectiveness. Your career star will rise and you’ll have more energy that you thought you could.
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