How to Tame Your Clock

One of the complaints I hear most often from colleagues and clients is: I don’t have enough time to work “on” my business. I don’t even have time to finish what must get done. Lots of things are in the works, but little gets finished. Sound familiar?

We may start out with good intentions. We have plans for the week, plans for the day; yet somehow in the end a lot of what we had planned doesn’t get done. Why is that?

There are two typical reasons. First, we don’t actually schedule time to do what we had planned; and second, we allow distractions and interruptions to eat away our time. When operating in this mode we are being reactive rather than proactive. Fortunately, these are just bad habits and both can be changed with patience and diligence. To be proactive we must schedule and block enough time on our daily schedule to actually do the work. We must also disallow interruptions by consciously and consistently putting a buffer between ourselves and the things that distract us.

To tame your clock, switch from being reactive to being more proactive. Make commitments recognizing the time they will take and determining that you have the time to follow through. Not keeping commitments becomes frustrating for everyone and adds to your sense of overwhelm. Learn to say “no” unless you’re sure you can keep the commitment. Your only other option is to get the help you need to stay the course.

Here are the recommendations I make to clients who are struggling to gain control over their time and their achievements.

Plan what you’d like to accomplish for the next week. Friday (or Monday morning if you prefer) is a good time to review the past week and plan for the next one. Block at least one hour on your calendar. Pick a time (say 4 p.m.) and block an hour to work “on” your business. If you don’t do this step first, the activities of the following week will be undirected. Without a plan and schedule you become reactive instead of proactive.

Refer to your Short Terms Goals when making next week’s plans. Be sure to include the Actions you determined would lead to your Goals. If you don’t make a point of focusing dedicated time on them the chances are they won’t get done.
Set priorities for what must get done. Make sure the priorities are put on your calendar first. For example, if you have a production deadline to meet, make that top priority. Maybe you can’t do the whole thing at one time, so plan to finish one segment only within a defined time period. You will get better at calculating time required as you practice this new habit of focused time.

Set mini-goals for each scheduled block of time. If you are doing research to prepare for an important case, make it your mini-goal for the 2 hours on Tuesday from 10 to 12 to draft your thesis and have at least two primary references. You have determined you can do this if you dedicate uninterrupted time to it.

Focus on the project at hand. Put your attention and focus exclusively on the work you have scheduled. Work toward achieving your mini-goal. If you find your focus wanders, just recognize it and go right back to your focus. Do it again and again. Soon you’ll find you will be able to stay focused for longer periods.
Build in buffers to stop interruptions. Here’s where a lot of people have trouble. The ph0ne rings; someone needs something that should take only a short time to deal with. E-mail comes in that piques your interest, so you open it and decide to respond right then. These are all things that will quickly usurp the time you’ve blocked for planned work. When interruptions do occur, defer or delegate.
You want to take control of these potential distractions and keep them out of your way. He.re are some suggestions that have worked for many others.

Forward your ph0ne, let calls go into voicemail or leave the area where your ph0ne is located. You don’t have to be available for every ph0ne call. It’s better not to even personally screen the call with caller ID because the temptation will be to pick up more often than not. For many people it’s just habit to pick up when the ph0ne rings. That’s a good habit to break. Unless you’re expecting an important call manage to route your calls away for an hour or two when you need the time.
Set your e- mail server to download mail only on demand . Otherwise you’ll be tempted to look at your e- mail as it comes in. That can be a huge distraction. For most businesses 2 or 3 times per day is adequate to stay on top of e-mail communications. The rule of thumb for e-mail business etiquette is to respond within 24 hours during the business week. Some businesses have different requirements, but chances are you can still segment the time you spend on e- mail.

Many people check e-mail at the beginning of the day and once again at the end.

Let others know you are not available when you have scheduled work time . Close your door or move to another work location, and make sure you have what you need to do the job. Gently remind anyone who enters your sanctuary that you will get back to them later.

Once you’ve committed the time on your calendar to work on something, keep it sacred. You’re bound to get interruptions, so your job is to set up buffers that will allow you to continue as planned even when someone wants your attention right now.

There’s no point in setting goals if you don’t carry out the plan to achieve them. It seems that the people who not only plan, but actually carry out their plan, are the ones who more consistently reach their goals.

Assignment:

Schedule one hour on Friday (or Monday) to plan your schedule for next week. Determine your priorities, set a mini-goal and block the time on your calendar to do the work. Deflect ph0ne calls, defer e- mails and give yourself an environment that’s conducive to accomplishing the task at hand.

Review your accomplishments at the end of next week. If you’ve followed these guidelines, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much you’ve achieved. . .and how much more in control you feel. Don’t expect to be perfect the first week. Changing old habits takes time and diligence, but learning to tame the clock is well worth the effort.