Do you dread checking your email inbox on Monday morning? Do you experience anxiety watching email after email come in and wonder how you’ll find the time to read and respond to each? How do you navigate the myriad of to-do lists, tasks, and emails with the time you have available? Do you find yourself drowning in work with backed up and new tasks to tackle without an end in sight?
What if I told you there is a way to develop a disciplined habit to get through a week in a productive manner with the time allotted? What if you could learn to focus only on your top priorities?
In my years of leadership experience, I have found the most effective leaders are masters of their time. I believe the next-generation leader must master time and tasks by triage and focus.
To set the stage, I want to remind you of the Eisenhower Matrix that I discussed in a previous blog. A quick recap: The Eisenhower Matrix defines leadership actions to take in relation to a task’s importance and urgency:
- If the task is Not Important and Not Urgent: “DELETE”
- If the task is Not Important and Urgent: “DELEGATE”
- If the task is Important and Not Urgent: “DO”
I want you to use these three leadership actions as the basis to establish a system of triage and time batching with your emails and tasks.
Establish the System
Before you can establish a new habit, it is critical to establish a system to reinforce the habit. The first action is to commit 15-30 minutes one to three times daily when you can triage your emails and tasks versus spending time in and out of your email inbox. Inc. Magazine published an article on weekly wasted work time and stated that leaders in the workplace, “wasted 3.4 hours a week handling low-value emails and 3.2 hours a week dealing with low-value interruptions that easily could have been handled by somebody else on staff.”
Next, establish when you are at your best. Are you a morning person? Or do you work best in the afternoon? Whatever time you identify, batch 1-1.5 hours at least three times a week and set those time blocks solely for your “DO” list of tasks; remember, these are the tasks only you can do. Make these time blocks a recurrence on your calendar so time is allocated weekly. Not only does this keep you organized, it also provides a peace of mind that you’ve made time to tackle the most difficult tasks/emails at a later time when you are at your best.
Now that the system is in place, let’s look at actions to triage.
The triage bins are based off the Eisenhower Matrix quadrants of “DELETE”, “DELEGATE”, and “DO” that are mentioned above. Set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but triage your emails. Nothing else! Don’t try and act or think you can respond to it quickly – it won’t work and you’ll get distracted. Speed through as quickly as you can. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can triage by staying focused and on task.
The “DELETE” tasks are self-explanatory (subscriptions, other, etc.) and you need not bother with them. The “DO” tasks are completed when you have batched time. The “DELEGATE” tasks will require you to forward to direct reports with clear and concise guidance on your intent. The key aspect when giving guidance is to provide purpose, critical requirements, your desired outcome, and most importantly, when you want them to report back on progress and/or have the task completed. Providing your expectations of reporting and completion then frees you of the task (and email). You can then set a reminder of when updates and completion are due and store the email in a folder.
Some of you are now saying, “This sounds great, Luis, but you don’t know my schedule and all of the tasks that I have to get done. My boss always takes my time and my subordinates are always coming to me with requests for guidance. How can I batch an hour three times a week to get anything done?” Great question – and not uncommon to hear.
Detractors usually come in three flavors: Boss-imposed, subordinate-imposed, or self-imposed. So how can you mitigate each one? For boss-imposed detractors, consider having a conversation with your boss and explain how you are working on productivity and have set aside certain time blocks weekly to accomplish your top priorities. Enlist their support to not infringe on that time. Sometimes it’s not feasible, but it’s your responsibility to communicate your developmental actions and how you’re trying to improve yourself and the organization. Sometimes it comes down to adjusting your batch time versus deleting it.
Subordinate-imposed detractors are also about clear communication. Let subordinates know when you don’t want to be disturbed. Explain why you’re batching time and how it can benefit them and the organization as a whole. Bach time requires a quiet workspace. One without distractions. If that requires you to work from home, do so. If you need to go to a coffee shop, or another floor in the building to seclude yourself, then do so.
Self-imposed detractors include email, phones, and social media. When executing batch time, be at your best by silencing phone alerts and anything else that will take attention away from your work. Let your direct reports know to hold calls and impromptu visits. Turn off your email browser so the email notification “squirrel” doesn’t grab your attention.
Marshall Goldsmith once said, “Lasting goal achievement requires lots of time, hard work, sacrifice and dedication to a process that is maintained over years.” What habits are you developing to master your time? How can you establish a system of triage to complete your top tasks? How are you being your best week after week? If you are unsure, the method outlined above can help get you started.