Posts Tagged ‘Organization’

This week I tried something new in my scheduling at work.  I blocked out all morning hours on my calendar between 7:30 and noon to work on major, newer initiatives.  There is always a much longer list of tasks to get done than can be done, but the issue that was starting to bother me was the feeling that my days were more and more dominated by the emails, calls, messages and unplanned conversations initiated by others than they were by major accomplishments I want to achieve.  The obvious problem is that allowing my schedule to be dominated by others leaves no time to get the big picture, important things done – ground that needs to be taken in order to look back at the end of the year and say “This is how I made a significant difference.”

So I turned off instant messaging, refused new meeting requests in those blocked hours, let the phone calls go to voice mail, refused to go chasing instantaneously after every shiny new email that came in as soon as it arrived, and instead jotted down a very short list of the more important things I needed to get done.  Then I spent the morning and sometimes longer making sure I made very good progress on those items before resuming my other daily activities or responding to others’ requests.

The end result?  I just completed the most productive week I’ve had at work in months.  I still have about 30 emails in my inbox to handle which I will likely take care of this weekend in front of the boob tube.  Still, ground was broken on some items that have been on the back burner for way too long, and some items on the list were checked off as complete.

My calendar at least through the end of June will show that same blocked out time daily.  I expect it to be a very productive month.

Leap year lesson #146 is Take control of your schedule.

As you might suspect, pulling off an eight-day trip to China takes planning.  There are the logistics of obtaining passport, visa, flights, insurance, hotels, ground transportation, admission and ticket info to various tourist spots, and more.  In our effort to visit churches and take part in services, there was coordination to have participants from multiple churches celebrate with us in one place on days and times they would not normally gather .  We needed to arrange an interpreter to be with us for such visits in order to speak to the congregations.

Such a trip could not happen without adequate planning and I am thankful for the several people involved in those efforts.

At the same time, there was an ongoing need for flexibility.  We did not know, for example, that one church had prepared a dinner for us to eat after their service.  We had other plans, but needed to quickly change them and graciously accept the dinner prepared by our hosts.  When driving to one church, we were a bit surprised to find the road come to a dead end.  We had to turn around and go a different way.

After another service in a rural area, someone suggested a different route back to the city that was about 20 kilometers shorter.  We took that route only to find that it was a dirt road filled with huge potholes.  Our 20-kilometer-shorter trip was suddenly plodding along at 5 miles per hour as we zigzagged down the road that others obviously knew to avoid.  Twenty fewer kilometers doesn’t help if you have to reduce your traveling speed by from 60 to  5 mph.

Flexibility was needed regularly in order to accommodate gracious hosts and to take advantage of conversations that could not possibly be planned in advance.

In business, nonprofit or personal life, we have to make sure that we plan well in order to accomplish our objectives.  But never allowing room for adjustments or last-minute changes is a mistake.  We need to be sensitive to new possibilities – especially interpersonal ones – as they arise, and adjust for unpleasant surprises that will inevitably happen.

Leap year lesson #114 is Find a balance between planning and flexibility.

For the last few years I have occasionally taught a webinar on the contents of the book Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst. It’s an excellent book filled with good advice on how to gain control over the huge amount of information that comes to you and from you daily. One of the critical ideas from the book is that of the zero inbox which means that you should once a day get down to zero emails in your inbox. I have taught that and practiced it for several years.

…until the last two months…

Since February I have found my inbox steadily growing week by week, reaching a high point of 460 emails when I got back from my vacation two weeks ago. No matter how much time I worked on doing, deleting, deferring or delegating, I never got below 80 still needing attention in the past two months. That drives me crazy.

Part of it is my own doing in that I want to read all the newsletters I subscribe to, I want to take the time to peruse data and presentations sent to me as an FYI, and I’m stubborn enough to only give up on such practices when there appears to be no other choice.

Today I realized there is no other choice and I filed away or deleted those emails that fell into the “nice to do or know” category but failed to make the “must do or know” list. So that means I started the day with 260 emails and ended with only four by late tonight. Those four can wait til Monday.

Part of the issue is that I have been and will be out of the office about half the time from March through mid May. To get done all that must happen, I have to walk away from some other things that are optional.

Doing so is incredibly freeing. The feeling of always being behind or snowed under is stifling. It chokes you. If you can do something about it, you need to for your own emotional and perhaps physical health.

Leap year lesson #102 is Admit when you take on too much and do something about it.

I don’t like clutter. It drives me batty. Regardless of the context – home, office, retail stores, classrooms, churches or anywhere – I vote for order and neatness. It would suit me completely to pull up a big truck in front of my house today and empty half of what fills every room into it, never to be seen again except by the people who take it off my grateful hands. I would wish them well and send them on their way as I strolled back into a simpler lifestyle.

In anticipation of moving at work to a different desk in a different building at the end of this week, I started cleaning out my desk today. I know that what I box up on Thursday and move to the new desk Friday will likely stay with me for years, so now is my time to pitch things. I look forward to filling many trash cans between now and then, leaving binders and odds and ends behind on Friday for anyone who wishes to scavenge them.

As I was cleaning out my desk today, it wasn’t just the satisfaction of having less stuff that made me happy. It was the mental and emotional closing of a chapter and moving to a new, exciting one that pleased me the most. Sure, there are some things with sentimental value that I will hang on to. But other items that I haven’t used, needed or touched in a very long time had to go. More will get pitched tomorrow.

It’s easy to settle in to what we know, to hold on to the past and to surround ourselves with the trappings of that past. It can make us comfortable. But I’d rather live for what is yet to come. I’d rather spend time making new and exciting things happen in the future than trying to recreate or live in the past.

What do you need to let go of? What needs to be tossed into that physical, emotional or mental wastebasket to make room for the future? Consider leap year lesson #30 – It may be time for a house (or office) cleaning.

I hate being late for anything, especially something that has been on my calendar for a while. In the absence of physical or mechanical barriers that cause a significant last-minute delay, there is really no excuse for being late.

It happened to me today, though, and I got very frustrated. I was scheduled to attend the first of a series of online professional training sessions. I had preregistered. It was on my calendar. I was careful not to schedule anything immediately before it that might interfere. I thought all was well.

About 15 minutes prior to the event, rather than find the login instructions and start the process, I tried to squeeze in just one or two more quick tasks. Then a coworker and I started chatting. Next thing I know it’s three minutes until the webinar and I start scrambling.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem. I’d find the info, follow instructions and be on time. Not today. Instead, I opened the appointment on my calendar and the details were blank. I started searching frantically to find the instructions. Nothing. I hurriedly sent instant messages and emails to three people who might be able to help. By the time I got the info and logged in, I had missed the first 20 minutes of a 60-minute session.

I hate that. I was mad at myself.

As I think about what to do differently next time, I realize I did some things correctly and others poorly. What I did correctly was to know my schedule and not book too many things back to back that might interfere. What I did poorly was to fail to verify needed information ahead of time, plus I tried to squeeze in last-minute things. I allowed no room for error and that’s what did me in.

Fortunately, the webinar was recorded and I’ll be able to watch what I missed, but you can’t count on do-overs.

You’ve heard the saying “better late than never.” That’s a bad saying. It justifies being late. Instead, we need to be early to things and avoid the potential frustration that being late causes us as well as others.

Leap year lesson #24 is “Better early than late.”