A couple of weeks ago a woman in the LinkedIn group Small Biz Nation started a discussion about time management strategies. She said that she opens her e-mail first thing in the morning. I mentioned that one time management strategy is to only check your e-mail twice a day. I’ve noticed that I can get a lot more done if I do essential tasks before I open my e-mail or check my phone.
Well, the responses were interesting. Several of the respondents talked about how important it is to check e-mail often. They have to be responsive to their clients; they have to be sure they know as quickly as possible when someone might need something. That got me thinking. Is that sense of urgency well placed?
When I sold printer supplies, I worked for a great company. They had a wonderful product and outstanding customer service. One of their policies was to provide emergency delivery of printer cartridges if a client called to say they were out of toner. Because of this policy, almost every employee could find themselves driving all over town at any given time to get the product in front of the client immediately. It took people away from their tasks, cost additional money for mileage, and was not exactly the most effective use of time.
One day a customer service person added one question to her process that changed the “emergency” order forever. The question? “Is tomorrow good or do you need it sooner?” You know what happened? She found out that the vast majority of people could wait until the next day to get their cartridge. That meant it could go on the regular delivery schedule. Now the company didn’t have employees driving all over town all day; now they were operating more efficiently. That urgency the company was feeling was false. They had imposed it on themselves. It wasn’t the clients; it was them.
Having a false sense of urgency can keep us from putting our energy into the right things at the right time. The sense of urgency often is misplaced and works against us. So, what makes the most sense for your business?
You may be in an industry that requires you to have constant access to your phone and e-mail. On the other hand, you might just think that you need that kind of access. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where is my time best spent?
- How often do I receive time-sensitive e-mails or phone messages?
- What would happen if I started my day with a to-do list instead of checking e-mail or the phone?
Let’s go through these one at a time.
1. Where is my time best spent?
This is the first question you have to ask yourself. I submit this is the root of the issue. When you establish where your time is best spent it also tells you where you shouldn’t be spending your time. There’s an added benefit: prioritizing your time. When we believe that checking our e-mail and voice mail is the most important thing we can do, we’ve decided that this is where our time is best spent.
2. How often do I receive time-sensitive e-mails or phone messages?
This is your reality check. It is easy to convince ourselves that there is urgency in our communications. Sometimes we even feel uneasy when we are out of range. Have you ever been someplace without cell phone service? Remember what that felt like? The real question is this – is that unease real or self-imposed?
Getting a quick dose of reality will help you determine how you should be dealing with your e-mail and voicemail. If indeed you are not receiving urgent communiqués you will feel better about keeping your e-mail closed until you have accomplished some key tasks.
3. What would happen if I started my day with a to-do list instead of checking e-mail or phone messages?
Ah, here’s where the rubber meets the road. Can you imagine what a day would be like if you didn’t open your e-mail or check your phone until 10:30am or later? Would you be more or less productive? Would you miss anything important? Would you meet your client’s needs in a more or less effective manner?
I submit that when we walk ourselves through these questions we can objectively and honestly assess the situation. This process can help us make more effective decisions for our business. It’s when we get into a habit and then build a belief system around that habit that we get ourselves into trouble. If you find yourself asking the question, “What time management tactics can I implement?” you already know you aren’t accomplishing what you should be. In order to determine which time management tactics to use, you first have to know what your behavior patterns are and whether they are based in a false sense of urgency.