Take A Cold Shower to Focus Your Energies

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a one-person shop, part of a small staff, or a member of a large team – there’s simply more work to get done than there is time to do it in. In my own business, there are days when I’m amazed that I actually get anything accomplished at all!

But have you noticed that when you’re faced with a deadline – and I mean a hard, no-way-out, major-crisis-if-you-miss-it type deadline – that you somehow manage to shift into hyperdrive and complete the work?

Why is that? Simple. You have no choice. You block out all distractions, call upon all your inner resources and strength, and get it done.

The mind is actually quite capable of doing this. Think about taking a shower. It’s a cold winter morning. There’s snow and ice on the roads. You really don’t want to get up and go to work, but you have to.

You get in the hot shower and just stand under the water. It feels good. Maybe you worked out last night and your muscles are sore. You could just stay in there all day long – boy, does that hot water feel great!

Then, suddenly, without warning, the hot water runs out, and the shower turns ice cold. Here’s the question: how long does it take you to finish the shower? Ten seconds? It’s positively amazing how fast people can accomplish something when properly motivated.

It’s the same thing with physical exercise. When I workout at the Y or in a hotel fitness room, I like to use the elliptical trainer.

I do two things to make sure I’m working hard enough. First, I wear a heart-rate monitor. (Most machines have a receiver that picks up the signal from the chest strap.) And while this is a good measure of effort, it doesn’t really do the job as a motivating tool.

For this, I use something top secret and very powerful. Something so diabolically simple it should almost be illegal. What is it? Music.

Okay, I know that was a bit of a disappointment, but sometimes the simplest things are the most effective.

But here’s the key. The music isn’t just to keep me company while I’m exercising, it’s to set the cadence for my running. It challenges me to stay on the beat of each song.

I just select a group of songs that have the right beat. I’ll start off slow, pick up some speed with the next song, and then vary the cadence to give myself an interval training workout.

This is really effective because if I find myself starting to slip off the beat, I have to work even harder to get caught up – the song isn’t going to slow down and wait for me! And when the batteries run out as they occasionally do, my workout suffers because I’m never as focused as I am when the pressure is on.

You can take a similar approach in your own work. Here’s how.

Some people come to work in the morning, sit down, and decide what they’re going to do first. Others take a few minutes to organize their day. Still others, the “A-Types,” have their day planned out the night before.

But it really doesn’t matter in any case, because once they actually get started, the phone rings and they spend ten minutes on a call. They get back to work. Eventually. Because just then someone stops by with a “quick” question that ends up taking 15 minutes.

And then it’s time for a one-hour meeting that drags on to 90 minutes. And then it’s time for lunch. And before you know it, the morning is shot and you’ve gotten nothing done.

But that’s okay, because you can always move it forward to tomorrow. Well, that’s good, because you didn’t have anything planned for tomorrow, did you? No, tomorrow is just as full as today was, and the day after that is full as well.

So what’s the answer? Well, several people, myself included, guard their time with an almost religious fervor – no one and nothing are allowed to interfere with a scheduled activity. And if you’ve realistically allocated, say, two hours for an action, writing this article, for example, then when the two hours are up, the article is done.

It’s really like setting the immovable deadline or cold shower for yourself intentionally – creating a clear sense of urgency that’s as real for one activity as it is for the next.

But what if the phone rings? Don’t answer it. You have voice mail. What if the chime on the computer says you have e-mail? It will still be there in an hour.

What happens if someone has a question for you? Explain that you’re knee deep in a project with a deadline and ask if you can see them in the afternoon.

There are very few jobs where waiting a few hours will cause serious life-threatening problems for the company or for an individual. Yours is probably not one of them. Neither is mine.

And there are many problems that can occur when you let yourself be interrupted:

Train of Thought – By the time you deal with the interruption and return to work, you will have lost valuable time, and it will take some effort to actually pick up where you left off. So a ten-minute call can end up costing you half an hour.

Lack of Preparation – When you accept an interruption, you are at a disadvantage. The other person knows why she’s calling and what she needs. You, on the other hand, have no clue. It’s much better for both parties to connect when both of you are prepared to discuss the subject.

A Dangerous Precedent – Once people realize that you will address their issue right away, they will expect you to do so every time. And even if the initial problem was serious, the next one may not be, and yet they will expect the same immediate response.

It’s far better to set the expectations to a more reasonable level: you are not able to drop everything for them, but you will get to it very soon, and then they will have your undivided attention – no interruptions when you’re working on their issue from anyone else either.

Here are some of the ways in which I’ve successfully adopted this approach. First, I turned off the automatic e-mail checker, and second we very rarely answer the phone when it rings.

In fact, unless I’m expecting a call from you, the only way to reach me is to schedule time on my calendar.

You may think this is strange advice coming from someone with my strong commitment to customer service, but it’s exactly because of this commitment that I take this approach.

If I’ve allocated a block of time to prepare a keynote for your conference, it’s unfair – even irresponsible – to allow anything to interfere with that time. If I’ve allotted a morning to write this newsletter, an unexpected interruption can cause me to miss an important production deadline – delaying the delivery of next month’s issue.

Now, in all fairness, I’m not 100% successful at this. I’m human. When the phone rings, my first tendency is to reach out and answer it. And when I’ve sent out an offer of some kind, I like to see my e-mail to check for responses.

But I can tell you that since I’ve started working in this way, I’ve noticed two important things:

1. My productivity has increased noticeably

2. My clients haven’t been impacted in the least

Remember, this isn’t something you can implement overnight, but it is an approach you can start working towards gradually. What better way to serve your customers than to be able to do more for them with the same amount of time, effort, and resources?