There was a recent blog post floating around from Social Edge called “How Social Entrepreneurs Stay Organized”. The post brought to light an issue that many of us struggle with, which is how do we organize around an onslaught of information and requests. You know those times when the phone won’t stop ringing, the e-mails are tumbling in by the hundreds, and the vibrate alerts on your smart phone are so numerous you are seriously concerned it is going to blow up. What are we to do in these situations to manage our life, be effective, and not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. Maybe your life always looks like this.
We are all a bit different, wired in different ways. Because of this, I have found that we will all gravitate towards different solutions to organizing our life. Here is a list of tools and procedures I have found to work for myself and the successful people that I work with.
1. Hire an assistant
A good assistant. I’m talking about an administrator, I’m talking a real and very high capacity assistant. Next, delegate everything that someone else can do. This is tough, and answering this questions is often difficult to do. If you have trouble answering that, than turn the tables. Hire a very high capacity person to be your assistant and then flat our ask them “what am I doing that you could be doing instead”.
2. Isolate and Focus
We have different things that help us focus. For me, a cup of coffee and good music help me focus. For you it might be total silence, loud music, or something else. Whatever it is, identify it and isolate yourself to that spot on some sort of regular basis. This might include turning your phone off, turning off push e-mail, ext. I try to do this once a week for two hours and I get more accomplished in these two hours that in the next two days.
3. Make an Action List
Lists are amazing tools. There are all kinds of great technological tools to make lists, but I still contend the greatest project management tool available today is the white board. Every spare inch of my office walls are covered in white boards. I also have a 6′ tall roll away white board in my office to take on site with me. Whatever means you choose, try making action lists and then sticking to them. Marking things off will help you create momentum and see what you are getting done. It brings focus to your efforts.
4. Use Technology
There really are some great technology tools out there to help you get organized and accomplish tasks. Personally, I would suggest the 37 Signals software, paired with some collection of Apple Products. A word of caution though, technology is stupid. It only does what you tell it to do, and nothing more. You might consider hiring a company like Thrive to help you implement some of this technology and effectively organize around it.
5. Create and Communicate Deadlines
Don’t just create deadlines, but communicate them. For example, instead of letting e-mails sit in your inbox, honestly and very briefly respond and tell people when you will provide the requested information or answers. This gets the feeling of pressure off of you, helps you take control back, and lets those waiting on you know when to expect a response. For example, on Monday I may communicate to someone in a brief e-mail that I have assigned myself a task to respond to their e-mail on Friday. Now I don’t stress over it every time I look at my inbox. I only concern myself with the tasks for the day.
The keys to all of this are focus and discipline.
Without them, we really won’t accomplish much of anything. As much as we like to say we can multitask, the reality is no one really can multitask. It’s just controlled distraction. Try having an engaged conversation with someone and typing an e-mail about a different subject at the same time. You can’t. You might become distracted from one and focus on the other, but you can’t effectively accomplish two or three important tasks at the same time. Learn to find focus time if you want to get things accomplished, and learn to engage teams. You can read more here about the advantages of finding extra capacity in winning teams.