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Control The "Tyranny of the Urgent"

The issues created by bundling together identification and action are amplified by the way the Tyranny of the Urgent comes into play. This requires that we just get things done, even if they are below our pay grade and don’t belong in our day. We do them because when they come up they are urgent and need to get done. We’re always too busy when they come up to delegate them, and the quickest way to get them out of the way is just to do them ourselves.

We do them because we’re too busy to focus on taking a more strategic approach and eliminating them. Once the task is done, the urgency disappears…along with any coherent  thought of eliminating it before the next time it crops up. Then, the next time it comes up screaming for attention the cycle repeats itself. Unless proactive steps are taken to find a solution to delegate it elsewhere, the same thing will happen again and again as it becomes urgent, and you will find yourself doing it again and again instead of getting rid of it. 

That’s why we are working below our pay grade. It not because the activities require our expertise, and not because there isn't anybody else who could do them. It is because the combination of the Tyranny of the Urgent and lack of planning means that there is nobody else primed, trained and ready to take care of them at the time they need to be done.

This urgency is compounded by the fact that we are bundling together the identification of the things that should be eliminated and the process of figuring out how to actually do it. When this bundling is combined with the Tyranny of the Urgent, the whole process is frequently derailed because it is too overwhelming..…..but it doesn't have to be that way.

What we need to do is to be able to identify these tasks at the time we do them, and do it in such a way that we are prompted to think about them when they aren't urgent. We need to take a step back and identify them - write them down so that we can look at them in the cold light of day when they aren't clamoring for our attention, when urgency isn't driving the agenda, and figure how to eliminate them then. 

The solution is to write them down at the time when they become urgent and that brings us to the To Don’t List.



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Time Management Tips

  • When somebody interrupts you when you are busy, don't let them interrupt your train of thought. Ask them to come back and see you at a specific time – you may be surprised that they actually figure out the answer and don't come back to ask you.

  • Everybody has about three hours during the day when they are at their best. Figure out what your "Prime Time" is and then plan your day around it. Make sure that you dedicate that time to focus without interruptions on the activities that are of most value to you.

  • It is all too easy to waste time on phone calls. Keep an egg timer next to the phone to keep track of exactly how long you are talking. It will keep the time you are spending in the forefront of your mind and will help you handle the call more efficiently.

  • Never go to the bank to deposit checks, it is a Time Bandit way below your pay grade, and claiming it is therapeutic and gets you out of the office is deluding yourself. Send somebody else!  Better still, get a check scanning machine...and make sure the bank pays!

  • Organize your office so the door isn't in your immediate line of vision. The big payoff is that people can't appear at your door, hover, catch your eye and distract you. If you make it harder to interrupt you, people may figure out answers themselves rather than asking you.

  • When you have to give out an e-mail address to somebody who's going to send you things you don't want in your inbox, give them a special "junk" e-mail address. Then set up a rule so that everything to that address goes to a folder you review on your timetable.

  • When somebody interrupts you to ask you a question always reply with a question back. Ask them how they would deal with it, and make them think proactively rather than just relying on you. A good technique is to ask: "If I wasn't available today, what would you do?"

  • If your key customers expect you to answer the phone at all times, get an Internet phone line and give them a "VIP" phone number to call. Set it up with a unique ring on your system and you'll know that calls on that line are from your most important customers.

  • Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere. 

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone now as the most dangerously effective of all Time Bandits. Turn off your e mail alert and check your e-mail only four times a it on your schedule not the schedule of the people who are interrupting your more productive work.

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone as the most dangerously effective of all time wasters. The worst thing is the e mail alert that pops up on your computer screen. Don't let other people interrupt you in this way and take back control of your time by turning the alert off

  • When somebody interrupts you while sitting at your desk, stand up. It changes the pace of the interaction and sends a message to the interrupter that they have invaded your time. The more you can send this message, the more effective you will become at protecting your time.

  • When somebody comes to you with an issue they should figure out themselves, don't allow yourself to relieve them of the burden and take it on yourself. Instead of saying "leave it with me" when this happens, say "never delegate upwards" and ask them for their solution.

  • Entrepreneurs wear so many of the hats in their business that many of the tasks they carry out are at a level way below the real value of their time. Are you working below your pay grade by not handing off menial tasks that should be done by others?

  • When you are hiring new employees, ask candidates about their time management abilities. The best employees are those that can prioritize their work and handle interruptions, so be sure to ask relevant questions to probe in those areas so that you hire somebody who has those skills.

  • Email has become a huge time-waster and taking control of your Inbox is becoming more critical than ever. The ideal state is only to have things in your Inbox that are important, urgent or time sensitive, and to put everything else automatically into folders using Rules governing what happens when they come in. I’ve been using Outlook Rules for a number of years to sort specific topics, but I recently came across a new rule that makes a dramatic difference.

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Did you know ?

Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere.