We’ve taken a look at the Collecting, the Thinking, and the Planning phases. It’s all leading us to this phase which is Action.
This is all about where you’re doing the work. Where you get that work done. Where you’re delivering the value and the results.
We’ve now got a plan of work. We know what we need to do. We’re ready to go. We want to get down and start to get the work done.
I’ve split this phase into three sections.
The first one I call Time Block. This is about chunking up your work into discrete blocks of time. We’ve already done that in our Planning phase. This is about extending that and using it to deliver the value.
Automate. This is using predefined written resources to simplify what you do.
Monitor. This works hand in hand with the Review phase which is the next phase. It’s all about keeping an eye on what’s going on and adjusting your work plan to suit.
In the Planning phase, we did look at time blocking. I mentioned in there about my daily plan. I use seven work blocks.
This section is about scheduling those blocks. We’ve been putting the time into our calendar, we’ve been reserving time for doing things. We looked at my default pattern which gives me seven blocks of doing work. Two blocks of doing email. Then a little bit of time for Collect and Plan.
The beauty of this, I’ve got my days planned out for being productive and getting work done. If I get a request to attend a meeting I can review that against my day. I can use that to accept the meeting or I’ll go back and say “well can we do it this time?”.
Having a predictable day lets you structure your work. This lets you concentrate on the items that you need to be achieving.
In the Plan phase, you updated your calendar blocks with the actions to be done during them. That means every time you hit a work block you look at your calendar and it tells you what you need to be getting on with. It’s about reducing the number of decisions that you need to make. It allows you to get on and do the actual work
Do one thing at a time
I cannot stress how important this is. No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot multitask. It is not possible.
Here’s a little experiment for you. I want you to go and put something on the TV, play some audiobooks. Do something where you’re getting an auditory input. Now I want you to get a book and try and read it at the same time.
What you’ll find is you can either listen to the music, listen to the audio, or you can read the book. You can’t be doing both of them at the same time. You can only focus on one
This is the idea of doing one thing at a time. You focus on that one thing. You put all your energy into it.
This allows you to get things done.
Another reason to avoid multitasking is context switching. This is where you’re looking at one thing then decide to go look at something else. What you do is your mind stores away what you were doing. It then brings in the details for the new action. This impacts your productivity.
When you’re swapping backwards and forwards between things it increases your workload. Every time you have to swap a task this saving and loading impacts you. It impacts your energy because you spend a little bit of time working out what you were doing. This leads to extra work for your brain.
It takes time and energy every time you switch what you’re focusing on. It will drain you and slow you down.
This is a lot easier to say than it is to do.
Distractions are one of the worst things for interrupting you. For forcing you to switch your focus.
Distractions can be things like
– the phone rings
– you get a ding on your phone for a message
– you get a ding for an email
– people come up to you
– noises background noises
– things that are going on around you.
They can all distract you and cause you to lose focus. This slows you down.
An example. You’re deep into some work. You’re focusing. You’re delivering results on this piece of work. The phone rings and you answer it. You spend two minutes on the phone. You now need to get back to where you were. You find you’ve lost your train of thought. You’ve lost that focus. You may have to reread your notes to work out what you were doing. This can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to get back into that deep focus. All for the sake of a two-minute phone call.
Some suggestions on what you can do about this.
Mute your phone
You don’t need your phone to ring. What you do need to do is make sure you’re not missing anything important.
At the end of each work block, I’ll check my missed calls. I’ll check my messages.
That’s why I put those 10-minute breaks after each work block.
How often do you get a phone call where it’s urgent? If it is urgent they’ll find another way to get in touch with you.
Turn off email notifications
Again email is such a distraction. Think about 20 years ago. We only got our mail once or twice a day.
We’re always checking emails.
A way to remove distractions is to only check your emails at specific times. That means closing your email program. Turn off alerts, you don’t need to be getting them.
What you need to do is make sure you’re checking and responding to emails on a regular basis.
Go somewhere else
Are you in an open plan office and there’s lots of noise around you? Is there a quiet room that you can go to for an hour or two?
Going somewhere else lets you use that time to get on and do some of the important work.
Put on some headphones
Another thing that works well in an open-plan office, put some headphones on.
Don’t plug them in. Don’t listen to anything. Just put them on.
I find that when I do this, people are less likely to disturb me. They think that you’re listening to something important.
I know it does seem a bit rude but it does work. It lets you focus.
Some people like to have background noise. That allows them to tune out of those distractions.
I know some people like to play music. I like to have some podcasts going. I very rarely listen to them but I can hear the voices and that’s enough to let me filter out all those excess noises.
Avoid the Internet
Do you need to be constantly checking what’s going on in the news? Why would you want to know what’s going on on Facebook?
There’s nothing on the internet that will not wait for a couple of hours until you’ve got some free time.
Work from home
If you work at home there are a lot of extra distractions. Some tips that can help you to be effective when working from home.
Have a separate area or room where you can go when you’re working
At the bare minimum try and have a work area set up so that you can focus. It triggers you to know that you’re working.
Shut the door
if you’ve got a separate room shut the door. This means it lets other people know that you’re working.
When my son was younger, I mean about four or five years old, if my office door was open he knew he could come in. If it was closed he knew that I was working and that he wasn’t allowed to come in.
Avoid the TV
When you’re working work in a room without a TV it’s amazing the amount of distraction that can occur.
By putting on television, even if you think it’s for background noise, you’ll find there’ll be something that triggers you. You’ll find something that comes on that grabs your eye. You’ll start watching it.
If you’re going to be using music, or podcasts, keep the volume low.
It’s there to remove distractions not to be a distraction in and of itself.
If you want an idea of what music to listen to, most streaming services have work-related playlists.
Your mobile phone
Why don’t you put it in another room? Do you need it sat next to you on the desk?
If it’s there on the desk you’re going to be tempted to pick it up. Especially if you’ve still got notifications.
If it’s in another room it’s out of the way. It’s not going to distract you.
Work out the best times for you to work
Working at home generally, you’ve got flexibility in the hours that you can work.
I’m a morning person so I like to try and start working at 7 00 am but then I aim to finish working by 4 30 pm. Other people are more evening people. My wife’s one of those. She doesn’t like to start working until about 10 o’clock but she’ll carry on working through till 7 30pm.
Work out what’s the best time for you to work. This ensures you’ve got the maximum attention, the maximum focus.
Go somewhere else for a break
When you’re going to take a break it’s so easy to sit at your desk and keep going.
The idea for a break is to let you recharge yourself.
You need to get up and go to a different room. If it’s nice weather can you go outside for five minutes?
The aim is to give your brain a break. Move out of that work area and into someplace else.
These they’re just a few things. There are loads of different ways you can try and reduce distractions.
Why don’t you experiment to see what works for you? See how you can get rid of distractions to improve your focus.
Are there things that you do the same way or take the same steps to complete?
If there are then Automate them.
This allows you to run it and it produces the output.
You’ve got to be careful with these. It’s so easy to spend a lot of time automating something and you never get that time back.
An example. I’ve got one task that takes me roughly three minutes every day to do. I spent about half an hour automating it. After 10 days I was saving time. If it takes me three days to automate then I’ve wasted that time. I’m never going to get it back at three minutes a day.
There are several different types of automation you can use. We’ll cover four of them here.
There are a lot of online services and apps that you can use to automate things.
Some examples of some online services include Zapier, If This Then That, Integromat.
With apps, the key ones that I use include Apple Shortcuts, Keyboard Maestro and Hazel.
These are all things that allow me to automate what I’m doing.
An example with Hazel. I put a file into a folder, say my electric bill. The automation scans what’s in that bill and identifies the account number. If the account number matches what I’ve put as identifying an electric bill, then it will rename the file and move it to my electricity bill folder. All automated.
I had to spend that little bit of time creating the automation. Now it runs by itself. This has been running for 10 years now, it saves me so much time doing this one simple action.
This is one example. There are loads of things you can do to use electronic automation to reduce things that you need to do.
I love checklists. These are documents that capture all the steps that need to be taken and the order in which you need to do them.
Some examples for checklists
- onboarding and off-boarding of people
- creating a quote
- releasing a new piece of software
- going on vacation – things you need to do before and things you need to do when you return
These are things where you follow through one step after the other. It’s repeatable and easy to do.
Checklists are versatile. There’s not much that you can’t turn into a checklist.
I know I keep going on about delegation, I’ve covered this in all the previous phases. See the planning post for more details.
This is all about getting somebody else to do the action for you. It’s not electronic automation, it’s not a checklist. But it’s still getting off your plate and onto somebody else’s list. They do the work and give you the result.
Don’t forget you still own the action, they’re doing the work on your behalf.
This is the final area I’m going to cover under the automation section.
It’s one of the areas where we don’t think about it. Whether we realise it or not we’ve all got routines.
A routine is a set of things that you do at the same time, or the same place, or in the same scenario. It’s very similar to checklists
Most of us have got morning routines. We’ve got evening routines. We’ve got a routine we do before we go to bed. We’ve got a routine we do when we’re preparing meals.
An example. My morning routine:
- I get up
- I shower
- I pick up the dog’s bowls, clean them out and put some clean water down for her
- I make a cup of coffee
- I sit down and check my youtube channel’s performance
- I check my messages and emails
- while drinking my coffee I do my planning
A few months ago I decided I wanted to start journaling. What I did is I looked at my morning routine, because I felt that the morning is the best time for me to journal. I added in the journaling before I plan my day. This means I’ve journaled before I plan what I’m going to do. Things that come up in the journal may impact my day. I adjusted my morning routine and that allowed me to start journaling consistently.
Spend a bit of time now to identify your routines and then start to use them to drive what you do.
Another example. I used to, as part of my morning routine, check Twitter. I identified my routine and looked at it. I saw that checking Twitter didn’t add any value to my day. I was able to use this and move it to later in the day where it didn’t matter.
It’s these little changes that can soon add up and make a big difference to you.
This feeds into the Review phase.
It’s about monitoring what you’re doing.
Some things to ask yourself
Am I being effective?
This is about what you could do versus what you’ve got done.
Is your work is taking you a longer or even a shorter time than expected? You may need to replan your day.
You want to make sure that you’ve been effective in each time block.
You would use this to feed into your estimating. It allows you to tweak and improve the estimates that you’re using.
Are you always busy but feel like you’re getting nothing done? You need to ask yourself “am I being effective?”
Make sure that you’re working on things that are moving you or your team forward. If they’re not moving you forward then question why you are doing them.
Can I delegate it? Do I need to go back and say I can’t do this? Loads of different questions you can be asking. If you’re not monitoring and checking your progress how will you know?
Am I being efficient?
The next question to be asked is “am I being efficient?”. I know most people are going to think this is all about can I do more with less, but it isn’t.
Can I spend two minutes to get everything onto my desk? this means I don’t have to interrupt myself by going off and getting something
If you’re doing client visits, are you able to schedule your route so you’re going more or less in a straight line? Don’t go forwards and backwards, make efficient use of your route to make efficient use of your time.
Are there lots of distractions here? Can I go somewhere else and work? Can I work in a quiet room? Can I go to a coffee shop? Can I go around the corner and sit there?
If something’s stopping you from being efficient you need to look at it to see what you can do to remove the item.
These they’re a few examples. There are loads of other things that you can do to help you increase your efficiency.
But don’t think you need to change something. You may already be working efficiently. If you are then don’t try and fix them. If it’s working okay, leave it.
This is the Action phase. It’s the phase where you get stuff done. It’s the phase that you should be aiming to spend 80% of your day.
To focus and deliver results plan, reduce distractions, automate, and monitor your work.
In the next post, we’re going to take a look at the Review phase. This is where we look at what we’re doing to identify areas where we can improve, to identify areas where we can say sorry I can’t do that.