“There is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done!” I remember saying this mixed with many curse words as a new NCOIC. I went from being an expert technician to a leader (or manager really) of people. I was not equipped to handle the myriad of responsibilities that fell my way. However, I would just put my hooks in and do the work and I would get into the “zone”.
A man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (me-high, cheek-sent-me-high) coined the term ‘flow’ to describe this phenomenon. When we experience challenges that are within our capability and we feel the pressure of a deadline we tend to shut down all the noise in our brains and get laser-focused on the task at hand. This is a great survival instinct that helped me to not get fired; however, I did not and still do not want to get buried in work and hope I find some flow. That is not a model for sustained superior performance and it is not a model that will allow you to become anything more than a Monster-guzzling manager.
Unfortunately, my workload never changed. In fact, it typically gets even bigger as things shift around in the organization. I had to adapt and create some systems to survive and eventually thrive in my position. To do this, I had to figure out how to induce flow-like states on a routine basis and I broke down what I did in the three steps below:
Keep the End in Mind: This concept was introduced to me in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, where he says “It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” If we are honest with ourselves, many of the things we do on a daily basis do not support where we want to be. We need to learn what our boss’s vision is for our team and make sure we are working towards that goal while balancing what we want to do make our team even stronger while maintaining some morale.
This step simplified: Constantly keep the end goal in mind and ensure your efforts, resources and decisions support the success of that goal without burning out yourself or your team.
Control the task: We all have the same 24-hours each day. How we allocate that time is in our hands. Sure we are told to be at work from 0600-1500 or placed on a certain task. We can’t always control when and where we have to be; however, we can control what we do when we are there. Are we dragging our feet and complaining or staring at the clock hoping this day will end? I have been there before and nothing productive came out of that and my leadership noticed too which is why I wasn’t given “better” tasks. When I took control of the task and tackled it head-on, I was much more productive. I felt better at the end of the day and my peers began to see me as a SME. Yes, I was given more work and used a lot more; however, the first chance my boss had to move me into a better position, she did.
We need to look to the future. What are things that the next shift will need to do? What are things that will be due next week? Next month? We can often break these things up into bite-sized pieces and make progress towards them today. This sounds like extra work and it is at first. However, once you get into a rhythm, you end up with more time and there is less pressure on your team. My current goal is to stay two weeks ahead on the things I can control and foresee. This gives me wiggle room to be there for my team and to be there for my kids if a makeup soccer game pops up unexpectedly.
This step simplified: Look at the tasks you know you will encounter in the future (starting with the next day’s) and break them into bite-sized pieces you can work on right now. Take the pressure off of tomorrow by taking advantage of a free moment today.
Batch-tasks: Have you ever looked at how an assembly line works? Each station has certain things that are done there. The whole car is not built at a single station. Why? Bakers don’t just make one muffin, they make a batch. Batching is when we do a similar task over and over again. For example, doing 3 decorations in the same sitting. It is single-tasking as opposed to multi-tasking. It is the technician on the assembly line installing the same wire harness on all the cars that pass through that day.
Batching is one of the biggest productivity hacks because it enables you to buckle down on a grouping of things and get them all complied with in one sitting with a better end product. I love to batch EPR reviews during those seasons and I batch my email every day. When I tackle, let’s say, EPRs with this strategy, I get into EPR mode and I am able to get more done at one time. If I were to take 5 EPR reviews and do one each day of the week, it would take me about an hour each. That is 5 hours. However, when I batch them into doing all or multiple at one time, I can cover the same ground in much less time because I do not have to change gears or close out of all my other work 5 individual times.
This step simplified: Once you have the end in mind and are in control of your tasks, batch similar tasks together and work them all at the same time.
Implementing these things or your own variation of them will make you much more productive with your time and set you up for future leadership roles. My mentors who did this stood out among their peers and so will you. Part 3 in this series will cover prioritizing. (In case you missed it, start with part 1 in the series here.)
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