I’m Way Too Busy!

One of the things we hear con­stantly from our members–and, for that matter, our vendors, clients, and even our friends–is that they’re too busy.

Too busy to return calls. Too busy to attend conferences. Too busy to stop by for a visit on the weekend.

With all the pressures put on people these days, it’s no wonder they’re having a difficult time get­ting everything done.

So why is this happening...and is there anything you can do to make life a bit easier–or at least, less hectic?

Do More with Less

As the economy continues to spread its tentacles deeper and deeper into all aspects of our busi­nesses, many organizations are be­ing forced to reduce staffing levels.

Of course, the actual work that needs to get done remains at the same level, so you have fewer peo­ple doing the same amount of work. Simple fourth-grade math will tell you that that means more work for everyone still working there.

In other words, you need to do more with less.

Oh, there are some strategies you can implement to try and reduce the workload: eliminating unnecessary and non-productive functions, automating repetitive tasks, and outsourcing pieces that aren’t your core competencies.

But even taking these steps isn’t a complete answer; someone still has to manage the automation and coordinate the efforts of the out­sourced pieces.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

This is the “battle cry” chanted by managers across the country to their “troops” battered by layoffs; training, travel, and hiring freezes; and generally low morale.

I never quite understood this one. If I’m supposed to work “smarter” now, then what was I do­ing before–working dumb?

While the reduction in staffing has created a high level of stress for those still employed, in some ways, it may have an unexpected–and largely unrecognized–benefit.

Our own attempts at adding staff over the last few months have prov­en to be an exercise in futility and frustration, as applicants submit resumes laden with errors, show up late for interviews, or come dressed for these interviews as if they were going to a Grateful Dead concert or to a family picnic.

It’s quite possible that these newly unemployed people didn’t deserve the jobs they had before, and probably made things at their previous jobs more complicated, in­stead of contributing to the success of the organization.

It’s Not About Time Management

The natural reaction to be­ing overworked is to try various “time management” strategies. The problem is that “time” can’t be managed. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Period. You can’t “man­age” that. What you can do is place a high value on every one of those minutes, and make sure you’re get­ting the most out of each and every one of them.

Becoming “hyper-productive” means that you have to focus on what’s important, and eliminate any and all distractions.

Major Distractions Include...

Unfortunately, the list of dis­tractions that can divert your focus from key tasks is endless.

Here are a few of the most com­mon:

Meetings–Most meetings are an incredible waste of time. They’re generally conducted without any specific objectives, usually don’t have an agenda, and frequently include the wrong people.

Computers–They were sup­posed to simplify our lives and make our offices less cluttered. While they are extremely useful for many things; in fact, they have sim­ply created more stacks of paper to be dealt with. And the seduc­tive lure of Facebook and general browsing have created their own set of problems in the workplace.

E-Mail–Of course, one of the most time-consuming activities is dealing with e-mail. In the “olden days,” people wrote letters to each other. They had to consider what they were going to say, actually write it out in “longhand,” and put it in the mail. It would take a few days to get where it was going, and then the process would repeat in the other direction. Now we can send an e-mail and have the mes­sage delivered literally in the blink of an eye. And because we can send it out that fast, we expect the re­sponse to come back just as quick­ly. If that’s not bad enough, most people have their e-mail programs set to sound an alert tone when new messages arrive–talk about distractions!

Phone Calls–Last, but not least, in the same “Pavlov’s Dog” manner, we seem to believe that any time the phone rings, we need to drop everything and answer it. The problem is that when the phone does ring, at best it’s some­one you need to speak with...and neither one of you is prepared. At worst, it’s someone you don’t want to talk with, or still worse, a wrong number or a telemarketer.

Take Back Your Day!

To enable you to function and get everything done you need to, here are two simple adjustments you can make:

1. Don’t become a slave to e-mail. Set a specific time of day when you’ll handle them (two if you must) and disable the notifica­tion so you’re not tempted to look at them during the day. In general, don’t check e-mail first thing in the morning–a “quick check” will turn into hours of follow up.

2. Don’t take unscheduled in­coming calls. Instead, use an online scheduling tool like Tungle.com to assist people in setting up specific appointments when both of you will be prepared. It may seem like “bad customer service” to do this, but, in fact, most people appreciate that you’ve set aside a specific time dedicated just to them.

Implementing these strategies will help you get more done and reduce your stress.