What if the key to having a productive day has less to do with how hard you work during the average work hour, but everything to do with a focused activity that takes no more than 30-minutes? In this article I describe the power of a daily technique used by the most productive people.
If you ask these people what they do to be effective, you’d find it’s not the kind of question you can pose directly. I liken it to querying a centurion – “What’s the secret to a long life?” Oftentimes the answers you receive are just as confusing as those given by the most productive. To find the truth behind their anecdotes, you must turn to research involving large numbers of people.
In my book, I share a key finding: a person performs better when they make a detailed, daily plan. In these modern times, what is the nature of this plan and how is it made?
To explain, let’s start with the definition of a “time demand.” It’s something you create each day in your mind – a commitment to complete an action in the future. At some point in your adolescent or teen years, you quietly discovered that reaching your goals meant keeping time demands alive. Seeing one slip through the cracks was awful, especially if it was part of an important plan.
Yet, that is exactly what happens when we enter college. Or get married. Or get a promotion. All of a sudden, the number of time demands increases and we can’t keep up. Some get “forgotten” in the rush and we suffer the consequences.
A small number of people adjust their methods quickly. A few never do. Failed exams, divorces, firings – they happen when we don’t keep up. Even your children’s GSAT performance isn’t immune: wise heads tell us their performance is correlated with quality time spent with them. They don’t pass or fail, you do.
Add to this not-so-subtle pressure is the increased data that flows at you. You see more information in a day than your grandparents saw in a month. Is that a blessing or a curse? It depends on what you do in that 30-minute time-slot I mentioned before.
This time-slot should be used for setting the stage for your day in what I call “Emptying.” It’s the critical opportunity to consider all the inflows of information in which you decide which time demands to execute, and when.
Early in your career, you got by with haphazard Emptying skills. In these modern times, doing your Emptying casually is an impediment. Now, it’s a battleground where you juggle priorities, urgencies, time limits, expectations, personal goals and more. The output should be an optimized schedule that meets your specific needs today and for the future.
Given the importance of this short slice of time, how can we make the most of it?
1. “Emptying” means leaving things empty
The term “Emptying” implies that all decisions regarding incoming information have been made. When you are done, you leave behind completely vacant Inboxes, whether they be digital, voice or paper-based. Their pristine state gives you the peace of mind knowing that you don’t need to return to them until tomorrow to repeat the act.
2. Schedule Emptying for the start of the day
It’s a grand mistake to jump into the first task of the day without conducting your daily session of Emptying. As you do so, check your email Inbox, voicemail, text messages, Instant Messages, notes or any other possible source of triggers for new time demands. Even if the number you currently face is small, prepare yourself now for the inevitable: a potentially crippling, spike in communication.
3. When you Empty, do it at a time when you won’t be interrupted
Employees wonder why the best executives often come in early. Sometimes, it’s to beat traffic, but often it’s because they crave the uninterrupted time it takes to do high-volume, high-stakes Emptying. They realize that their entire day depends on how well they do this intense activity, so closing off their world to interruptions is a requirement. This is far easier to implement at 6:00 AM than at 10:00 AM, long before others have arrived. To enhance the effect, they turn off all devices and notifications on all platforms, the better to focus the activity.
In today’s world in which you must process a lot of inbound information, your skills at Emptying must improve if you are interested in climbing the corporate ladder. There is simply no escape from a job that is yours and yours alone to complete and no excuse if you fail to make the necessary, ongoing improvements.
Blaming your environment, as some do, is not an option. Instead, it’s a sign of incompetence in one area of corporate life where personal mastery is essential to your success.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org