11 New Tips to Accomplish Great Work

26 Mar 2014

Managing the distractions of email, phone calls, meetings and social media is vitally important if great work is to be accomplished. Although appealing, switching off your email and phone for days at a time is not a helpful option. Even worse is instantly responding to every incoming request without prioritisation. In this article I offer 11 new tips for staying on task, without cancelling your Internet connection!

1 - Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time

There is a cost in switching tasks every time you are interrupted. To combat this, create scheduled blocks of uninterrupted time in which to complete important tasks. 90 minutes is a good block of time. Switch off your phone, email and close your office door. Notify colleagues that you will be unavailable and commit to focusing exclusively on your selected task. If necessary to stop interruptions, place a note on your door. On completion of the time block, you can reconnect and follow up on any contacts. In most cases you will not have been missed!

2 - Create a short task list at the start of each day

Most of us keep a list of tasks to complete, either on paper or in our heads. However, these lists are often long and unprioritised. First thing in the morning, review your list and select up to 5 items and write these on a separate piece of paper. Put your long list away and focus on your newly created day list. Get excited about completing these tasks before the end of the day. If a new task presents, simply record it and leave it for tomorrow. Personally, I like to carry my short list in my back pocket and cross off items as I complete them.

3 - Switch from phone to email

This approach will not suit everyone. However, there are many advantages to funnelling most of your incoming enquiries into email. Apart from avoiding unprioritised interruptions from many phone calls, you can quickly check and manage incoming messages when it suits you.

How to do it. If someone contacts you by phone and leaves a message, contact them back using email. Include a note in your email signature and on your phone message bank, "Please use email to contact me, I will always get back to you". If you are consistent and responsive with your emails, others will soon learn to use this method to get in touch with you. In fact, you will find many people prefer it! I have taken this approach since 2007. I receive over 100 emails a day, but around only 1 or 2 phone calls. This approach has massively boosted my productivity, as I can reduce my interruptions and minimise task switching costs.

4 - Triage Tasks

Accept that it is impossible to complete every task or request made of you. Select only the essential and discard the rest with your apologies. Every task has an opportunity cost. Is the activity worth what I am sacrificing to achieve it? Costs include time, money, energy and stress.

5 - The Commitment Test

It is an unfortunate truth that many people have great difficulty in completion of tasks. As such, it is necessary to protect your time on tasks or ideas that others won't see through to completion. One strategy is to ask the requesting person to complete their part of the task first and then get back to you, before you agree to commit your time. You may need to very quickly review their task and make requests for action. If they complete their parts in good time, they have passed the commitment test and you can proceed with some confidence.

6 - Disable your email or web temporarily with software

If you are addicted to checking your email or favourite websites, disable these for a user selected amount of time with a free program:

Program for Mac OS X - Self Control - http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol/

7 - You don't need to be constantly available!

Do you really need to answer your phone every time it rings? Reconsider your need to always be contactable. If your response time changes from 5 minutes to 2 hours, is this really a problem for your clients or boss? During the transition phase you may meet some resistance, particularly from those that consider every task as urgent. Persist and any complaints will soon diminish once others realise you are still completing work in good time.

8 - Banish Internet enabled phones

Do you really need an Internet enabled tablet or smart phone? Give yourself a break and turn these devices off or simply don't use them at all. If someone really needs you they will leave a phone message or email you. Your emails can wait until you get back to the office and you are in a position to respond without multitasking. Answering enquiries on the run often leads to unconsidered commitments or forgotten tasks. Personally, I don't enjoy working with anyone connected to their phone! Do you?

9 - Avoid distractions with rituals

Identify when you get off task and create new rituals to bypass your most common distractions. I used to get off task by checking my email first thing in the morning. I now have a personal ritual that my laptop is not to be switched on until I write out my short goal list. Completing this task bypasses my email reflex, focusing my attention on important tasks of the day.

Watch yourself for a day and record when you get off track. Then devise clever rituals or habits to bypass your distractions and keep yourself on track.

10 - Keep your task and goal lists simple

Forget using advanced schedulers, planners, reminder programs or your blackberry. Stick to a single piece of paper. If you must use a computer, simply use a text-file on your desktop, which is fast to access and load. The simpler your method, the more likely you will keep it up over time.

The beauty of a paper and pen task list is that you can work on it anywhere, anytime. Why not start your day with a cuppa and your task list, either outside in the sun or in a quiet corner. Make setting up your day an enjoyable ritual to prepare yourself!

11 - Follow your own agenda

Often we schedule a task with the same urgency as the person making the request. When accepting a new task, consider it in the context of your own goals. New incoming tasks should not interrupt your selected tasks of the day. New action items can be simply recorded and considered for inclusion on the following day. If your boss is making the request, let her know what tasks will be delayed as a result of this new task, while handing her a copy of this article!

What strategies do you use to stay on task? Please let me know!


This article was written based on many of my own ideas and those adapted from the following highly recommended resources:

Read more of our articles