We teach thousands of people every year various strategies to help them manage their time. Time management seems to be a ubiquitous problem. How do I segment my day to maximize my productivity? What can I do to feel like I control my time rather than letting the tasks that come across my desk control it? How do I help my clients respect that my time, like theirs, is finite?
Master of the Day
As professionals we often misplace value, focusing most of our time on business development and revenue growth. The reality is there is only one thing of true value, our time. We can’t buy time, we can’t negotiate for more time, and once it’s gone there is nothing we can do to get it back. When the concepts and strategies for 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers were taking shape, this theme of time and how the participants perceived, manipulated, and used time was an apparent differentiator for their success. They all saw time in a uniquely flexible way. The participants understood that, although they’ve always been told time was linear, it wasn’t that simple. Rather than look at their time as a rigid straight line ticking by one calendar planning block at a time, they looked at it as more flexible, like a rubber band. It could be stretched, flexed, compressed, and manipulated in a way that best suits their needs. These great salespeople didn’t abuse their time. It isn’t as if they said, “It’s my time and I’m going to spend it however I want.” Rather they troubleshoot various techniques to control it, discarding those that had a negative or neutral impact and incorporating those that had a positive outcome.
There is no cookie cutter model we can provide that will work for everyone. Not everyone is dealing with the same products, services, or clientele. Nor are all people most productive at the same time of day. Some people do their best and deepest work at 5:00 am and others hit their grove at 2:00 pm. Let’s not forget those night owls who toil away in the dark and produce their best work while others are counting sheep. There are, however, time vampires that exist in all of our professional lives. One of the biggest time suckers is the dreaded email inbox. Here is a solid breakdown of the data.
The Culprit: Email
We can be deep in the flow of productive work and hear the ‘ding’ of a new message and have our attention immediately pulled away from what we’re doing. Trying to get back to that state of deep work is futile. Like Keyser Soze, it’s in the wind. I get why we do it, email is a source of new revenue, client communication, internal updates, and so on. I also know how important speed is when it comes to winning new deals and clients, but at Creative Ventures, we have a few guiding principles. One is that speed should never outweigh thought. If we step back and think rather than react to that alert in our inboxes, we can see how detrimental it is to lack an email strategy.
When looking to share strategies that have a direct impact on our readers, clients, and partners it’s always a good idea to focus your efforts on issues that they all mutually share. We discovered various techniques from the top producers we interviewed and worked to find ways to share them in their most simple terms. My favorite, the one I immediately implemented, is the idea of creating boundary constraints to manage communication expectations. For me, this means not reacting to email. I answer my email three times a day. That’s it. Crazy, right? No, this is how I control my time and provides me the opportunity to analyze when I’m most productive. This doesn’t work for everyone but you might be surprised how it could work for you.
Here are a couple of steps you can take to test this strategy in your business.
Understand your most productive time: Everyone does their best work at different times of the day. These are the times where the world kind of fades away and you’re completely wrapped up in deep and valuable work. Cal Newport talks a lot about the value of deep work and we couldn’t agree more. Deep work can be elusive if you don’t create opportunities for it. What’s worse is, once we get to that space, we voluntarily give it up on a whim to check that email inbox. Don’t do that. Create and value the time when you do the best work. This means getting rid of distractions like email. Once you’ve defined that time you can plan your communication around it.
Commit to your Constraints – My constraints are 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, 6:00 pm. I check my email every day at those three times. I use that time to respond to clients and co-workers, prospect, and prepare to attack the new tasks that arise from those communications. These are the times that work more me. Your task is to create space around that time. Define the times you intend to dedicate to email and be steadfast in your commitment to them. If you go down this path, and dedicate time and effort to this strategy, but are undisciplined in its application, this exercise will be nothing more than another time vampire.
Set Expectations – Communication is key. Most people don’t have set email times. People won’t necessarily immediately warm up to the idea. On top of that, most clients/coworkers/managers want an all-access pass to your time. It is your responsibility to set these boundaries. For existing clients, let them know about your new strategy and why. For new business, inform them of the constraints from the get-go. If you set the expectations from the beginning it is just the reality of doing business with you rather than some wild idea. What if I need to get a hold of you immediately? What if something goes wrong? This is why the phone exists.
This isn’t an all-encompassing communication strategy, it is only an email strategy. This is one thing that you can do to take back your time. If done correctly the effects will surprise you.
And in the words of my friend Greg McKeown,
“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”
We’ll share some more strategies on how you can Master Your Day soon!