The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The 80/20 Principle, The Four Hour Work Week. Corporate self-help aisles are full of books promising increased effectiveness with half the effort. Having historically been very cynical about ‘management’ books, I became a convert a couple of years ago when I read the infamous ‘magical’ Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
And I stopped, 13 years after starting, smoking at least ten a day, I just stopped. And I was freaked out to say the least, that a book could have such a direct impact on behaviour that I assumed was permanently ingrained. But it made me reconsider how sniffy I’d been about business books, and I decided that perhaps they might be worth a go.
I’ve read (or cheated using the abridged
1. Check emails twice a day – and no more than that. I’ll caveat this by saying it does depend on the sort of role you’re in, but more often than not, if something is urgent people will call you or come to see you, they won’t leave it to email. I check emails when I arrive at work at 9 am for an hour or so, and then again around 2 pm. I also endeavour to delete anything that’s been dealt with or doesn’t require action to keep my inbox clear.
2. Plan your day – this is easy to say, but so many people don’t do this. Outside of email checking and other meetings, at the beginning of the day, I plan in an hour at a time for specific tasks. Check out this article for why working in hour chunks with regular breaks makes you much more effective https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/your-8-hour-day-isnt-working-heres-why/
3. Resist any involvement with projects that don’t have a direct impact on your objectives - Again, it’s easy to say, but being stubborn to the point of selfish about what you will and won’t spend your time on is critical to being effective. I’ve spent a lot of time in previous roles bound up with projects that really shouldn’t have involved me, so as time has gone on I’ve become very strict about only spending time on things where I can add value, and it’s going to produce a result, everything else can wait.
4. Where appropriate, discard the idea that being in the office for long hours means you’re more productive, as it doesn’t - Some of the most ineffective people I’ve worked with are the ones tied to their desks from 7 am to 10 at night. A few thoughts immediately occur to me, one, is that person only working on the valuable projects that impact their objectives, two, if not, is that because they’re under too much pressure and should they be pushing back and three, do they struggle with time management?
5. Clean desk – again sounds obvious, but I know very few people with a completely clear desk policy. I’ve insisted on it, I don’t have any personal items, pictures etc. Just a small pile of papers which need to be actioned or saved, and I have found that thinking clearly is much easier when my surroundings aren’t cluttered.
These are the rituals I’ve taken away from books and other advice and tried to implement into my day-to-day work, and they’ve been incredibly effective. At least a couple of times a day I bring my thoughts back to what me and my team are trying to achieve and I challenge myself to look at what I’ve been working on over the day, if that’s primarily admin or a distracting project, I bring myself back to core activity and plan another hour in.