“The appearance of activity should not be confused with the evidence of progress.” These words are posted on the bulletin board in my office. Yet, I sit right under this quote checking email and taking random drop in appointments all day. Is checking email the best use of my time? If not, then why do I spend so much time working in Outlook?
You probably know the old adage “Let the important take precedent over the urgent”, but sometimes the important doesn’t get a second thought. I keep a fairly good list of items that need to get done and I practice aligning those with my quarterly objectives. For many, that is where you need to start. In my case, I have the list and I know what I need to work on, but I just can’t make progress because I find myself working on the urgent.
Success has been defined as the continual achievement of predetermined goals. Most of us, especially those reading this article, find accomplishment as a measure of success. At the end of the day, when we have checked a lot of tasks off our list of things to do or we have achieved a major milestone, we go home with our heads held high feeling successful. If this feels so good to work on the important then why do we spend so many days putting out the fires? Wouldn’t it be great to feel that way every day? What difference could we make, in our lives and the lives of others, if we executed like that every day?
I once sat in a room with a group of CEOs and one of them literally said, “but email is my job.” He went on to explain that he felt that replying to emails all day continued to move his organization forward in a positive way. We all challenged his thinking by asking him how email improved profits or found new customers, but he just kept defending his position. I must admit I am not much better than this CEO. If you are sick of the office chaos then I challenge you to follow me, the hypocrite, down the road of self-improvement.
A few ways I believe we can work on this together include staying out of our email, suggesting those who drop in without an appointment set an appointment, and simply, just start working on the important things first! I feel I’m a major hypocrite sitting here writing this article. Why did I write an article on a topic I am failing at currently? Maybe I feel if I write it down it will force me to improve? Maybe it’s because I know that at any moment one of you will reply back and call me out on it. Either way, I am committing to start new today.
So where do we start? It starts with the basics like every day time and email management. There are two extremes, and neither are good. There are those that don’t respond to emails and those that get lost in their email and never get anything else accomplished. As with anything else, email management and daily time management comes down to a balance. A balance between appropriate levels of communication with staff, vendors and others while still trying to make forward progress on the big projects of the day that will move the big rocks forward.
I’m still figuring out my balance between the two. With all the impromptu meetings and thousands of emails to weed through, it’s challenging but I am not giving up like the before mentioned CEO. I have made an initiative to start my day on the most important thing I need to get done and then set time on my calendar for email mid-day. Then work on client meetings etc. in the afternoon and to try and stay out of my email until the end of the day. The days that this actually happens do make me feel more accomplished and successful. Hopefully the more I do it, the more the good habit will take the place of my deep-rooted bad habits.
I’d love to hear best practices you use to keep up with email and time management. What’s your secret? What books or seminars did you attend that helped you focus on the important more than the urgent? I feel this is my year to get myself in line with what I want to accomplish and to do that I am going to need to take control of the hours in my day. How about you?
“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” Alfred A. Montapert