For seven years, I worked for a nonprofit, managing teams in various departments and communicating with team members and colleagues. Inevitably, this meant a lot of communication with a lot of different people.
This is one of the biggest challenges facing any growing organization. As you get bigger, you create systems and hire people to help you scale for growth. But with each step towards bigger, you increase your distance from the work you set out to do. Or at least, that's the temptation.
In my case, I was spending four to six hours a day in my email inbox, on the phone, and in meetings. And I wasn't getting any of the real work that needed doing, done. It all felt so overwhelming.
Some days, I just went from one meeting to the next. Others, I'd send and receive hundreds of emails, ending the day with a false sense of accomplishment, like my worth was tied up in my ability to reply to everyone else's needs.
I was busy doing many things but wasn't accomplishing the most important things.
The difference between busy and productive
The difference between busyness and productivity is this:
Staying busy is what happens when you are caught constantly responding to the most urgent needs around you.
Being productive is the result of actively addressing the most important items on your own to-do list.
The latter takes discipline and a good deal of saying no, but it can mean a lot less stress and anxiety for you and a lot more of the essential stuff getting done.
Most everyone I talk to is busy. We all have more than enough to do on our plates. We can't possibly respond to every need that comes our way. So being intentional about how we do respond to the daily demands on our time is essential to doing work we can be proud of.
But this is much easier said than done. The main areas people struggle with this are:
- Having too many things to do.
- Constantly responding to other people's requests.
- Talking about doing things instead of doing them.
A simple way for you to stop being busy doing so many things and start focusing on the most important things is for you to regain control of your schedule. The fruit of such a decision can be nothing short of life-changing.
When you start making your schedule work for you instead of the other way around, you begin to focus on what matters most. And you leave the rest in the “someday” category. It can feel pretty liberating.
Three daily disciplines to master
So let's go back to my days at the nonprofit and how I regained control of my day-to-day. There were a few things I did, but in a nutshell, I stopped reacting to my day and instead starting attacking it with intention. Here's what that looks like:
- Decide to do one important thing every day. Having a daily to-do list of a dozen items that each take at least an hour to accomplish is going to leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Instead, set one absolutely important task for the day that you have to do. Everything after that is gravy.
- Wait an hour before checking email. Use this first hour of the day to focus on your most important priority. And here's the kicker: actually do it. Don't procrastinate or wait; just get the deed done. You'll be surprised how much momentum you feel throughout your day after doing this. (Pro tip: check email once in the morning and once in the afternoon.)
- Batch your meetings. Even on days when I only had a handful of meetings, I noticed that it was hard to get into a productive groove when every couple hours I had a meeting or phone call. The disruption made it difficult to focus. I was drifting from one thing to the next, being ruled by other people's schedules, but wasn't getting my own stuff done.
That's it. Don't react to your day; attack it. Make your schedule work for you, not the other way around. [Tweet]
Still struggling? Start here…
You don't have to be amazing to get started. I struggle with these things on a daily basis. One of the most embarrassing parts about being a full-time writer is that I still have to fight for time to write. Every single day.
But if I don't schedule it and prioritize it, it doesn't get done. And I know I'm not the only one. So if all this feels overwhelming or like too much to handle, just pick one discipline to start: Try waiting to check email or schedule anything for that first hour of the day, and then do the same for the last hour of the day.
That alone would give you back an extra 10 hours a week (one hour at the beginning of the day and one at the end, times five). And this is just the beginning of a whole world of possibilities.
What could you do with an extra ten hours a week? Share in the comments.