Five Tips For Managing Yourself In The Age Of 'Always On'
Author: Jamie Ellis
If you Google the topic “time management,” literally billions of results instantly appear, touting philosophies, quick tips and major paradigm shifts that supposedly help you cram more into your daily allotment of 24 hours. I’ve tried many of these tricks over the years. Some have worked for me, and many have not. People have different ways of managing their time — or should I say managing themselves.
One thing is certain: The digital age has significantly impacted how I manage myself and my focus. People are essentially “on” 24/7 with their mobile devices, tablets and laptops — reachable and accessible anytime, anywhere. While that flexibility has its benefits, it definitely has its drawbacks, too. If your work revolves around serving clients, such as in financial services, you’re always cognizant of your clients’ needs. In your off-hours, it can be hard to resist the urge to instantly respond to client emails that pop up in your inbox. Even while working, it’s easy to get distracted by the constant pings of your phone and unrelenting meetings. Now more than ever, it’s important to draw boundaries and protect your time.
Based on my experience, I have come up with my own five tips for managing yourself in this age of “always on.”
1. It starts with a plan. This sounds simplistic, but if you do not have a life plan that clearly defines and articulates your priorities, how can you manage yourself? I was very intentional earlier this year and crafted a plan so I know what is most important in my life. With my priorities outlined, I now know whether I should jump on that call at 8 p.m. or go to my daughter’s basketball game. It’s a simple decision. I know my priorities.
2. Make your priorities clear to others. You might know your priorities, but do your bosses and direct reports (your stakeholders) know them? I’m not suggesting you start a new job and immediately announce, “Do not ever call me or text me after 5 p.m., because I will not answer.” Rather, be clear about the important things in your life. Do your stakeholders know how much you love your family and value your kids’ extracurricular activities? Do they know that on Sundays, you focus on your family and faith and do not want work to interfere? Do you clearly articulate, “Tonight I am spending some time with college friends and won’t be accessible”? If you are open, honest and reasonable with your priorities, you set the tone as to what is and isn’t acceptable in regard to work communications. Again, it’s a balance. To me, it’s better to be clear about your priorities for the day, week or weekend than to disregard a phone call or meeting request altogether.
3. Plan each week. I sit down for about an hour every Sunday and review my previous week. What was my plan, and did I accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish? If not, why not? What stood in the way? Did I hold true to my priorities in life? What lessons can I learn and apply to the coming week? I then look ahead to the coming week. What are my goals? What are the most important things I want to accomplish? Once you know these things, you should immediately block an appropriate amount of time in your schedule to ensure you accomplish those priorities. This process has been revolutionary in my ability to manage myself. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is huge. I start every session by reviewing my entire life plan. It reminds me to focus on my life priorities as I plan.
4. Meetings are overrated. My observation is people have too many meetings that do not result in productive outcomes. I am not shaming anyone in particular — in fact, I’m guilty of setting too many meetings myself. Before setting or accepting a meeting, I suggest asking yourself the following questions:
• What will this meeting accomplish that is valuable to me, the meeting attendees or the company?
• Do all the people on the attendee list really need to be part of this meeting, or can the outcome of the meeting be filtered down to them so as to not take up the time of so many people?
• How will I add value to this meeting? Do I need to be there?
• Could the agenda of this meeting be grouped with the agenda of one or more other meetings, resulting in one meeting that covers all topics?
Most people can do better in this area. Start focusing on fewer meetings, and ensure only the most important people related to the agenda topics are included.
5. Don’t let your devices control you. I’m guilty of it. So many people are guilty of it. You lie down at night and check and respond to email on your phone before closing your eyes. The likelihood of anything meaningful coming out of a 10 p.m. email is remote. Furthermore, you’re sending a message to your direct reports (and others) that emailing late at night is not only acceptable, but maybe even expected. Save your email until the next day, and give yourself time to decompress. Show your staff that you do not work all hours of the day so they don’t feel the need to reciprocate. I like to have a clean inbox before I go to bed, but having a few messages to answer in the morning is OK. I’ll live.
Whether you call it time management or managing yourself, failure to take control is going to lead to burnout and frustration. Yes, time is a scarce commodity. However, with only 24 hours in a day, are you managing yourself appropriately to get the most out of it?