Recently, my husband and I were caring for two of our grandsons, ages 7 and 10 while their parents took a short vacation. It was wonderful to be with our grandsons for several days and spend some quality time with them and it was exhausting. And I had forgotten the formula for managing multiple priorities.
Parenting = Multiple Priorities. Any parent will tell you that when you are caring for young children, you grab a few minutes to do something and then you check on the kids. You do most activities in short, choppy spurts. You subconsciously have one ear listening for any unusual noises or silence. Continuous interruptions are intrinsic to your everyday life. This constant readjusting – shifting your focus again and again – is mentally and physically exhausting.
How did I get through it when my kids were young? I would do a few things, shifting back and forth, and then I rested for a few minutes. The resting most often consisted of sitting and allowing my brain to rest and reorder itself. Sometimes I was planning the next list of things I needed to do and how I was going to get it done. What did I do when I needed to focus for long periods of time? I did those activities at night when the kids were in bed or when my husband could take care of them.
How does this relate to the business world? Many of my clients share how demanding their jobs are and the countless pulls on their time and energy. They are logged onto the company’s IM (Instant Messaging) system. They are expected to answer numerous emails often as soon as they get them. Their calendars are swimming with meetings, sometimes two or three at the same time. When do they get work done or spend time strategically thinking? Like me when I had young children – late at night or when someone else is taking care of things.
What can you do to be more productive at work?
1. Be an Archaeologist – Spend a few days keeping track of how you spend your time. Look at your calendar and see what meetings you are attending and how often. Then make some changes.
2. Find the Treasure – Find some time in your week to focus and cherish that time. Use it for activities where you need to concentrate and be in the flow. If you don’t have that time now, figure out how to make that time. Block time in your calendar. Agree to take turns with a colleague covering a meeting. Declare a “Meeting Free” part of your week and get others on your team to agree.
3. Stop and Rest – When you are in the midst of a lot of activities, find time to stop and regroup. Go for a 20-minute walk. Eat a “Task Free” lunch. Spend 5 minutes staring off into space and breathing.
4. Put up Boundaries – Don’t let work be something you do all the time. Shut off your phone after a certain hour. Stop checking emails till late at night or as soon as you get up in the morning. Establish a time you will leave work each day. Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you need some uninterrupted time. Take a vacation and completely unplug from work.
5. Find an Accountability Partner – We all have the best of intentions when making change. However, we often break promises so easily to ourselves. Find a partner, then each of you make a commitment to a change and hold each other accountable to the change.
6. Make Small Changes – We are neurologically wired to resist big change. However, small consistent changes can yield powerful results. Make one small change and then build on it. Stop checking emails at 10 PM and then when you have that under control move it to 9:30 PM. You will be much more likely to stick to the change.
Find the formula that works for you. What works for me is to take small breaks to stop, breathe, and refocus. What allows you to be your best self? What is one small change you want to make starting now?