The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce staff recently engaged in some professional development on goal setting and priority management. When talking about time management, Rick Lochner, of RPC Leadership Associates stated that it is not really time management as we all have the same amount of time, rather it is about priority management.
As staff looked at their priorities, the conversation turned to what’s known as the Eisenhower Matrix – a task-organizing process that prioritizes tasks by urgency and importance (high and low). Using the matrix allows you to divide tasks into four boxes; the tasks you’ll do first, those you’ll schedule for later, the tasks you will delegate, and those you delete. When looking at your goals for a day, a week, a month, or a year – you set these priorities to be able to accomplish your goals. But that is often easier said than done when faced with interruptions.
Workflow consultant Edward G. Brown found that needless interruptions cost a company 6.2 hours a day. That equates to 45+ interruptions inside a traditional 8-hour day for an employee. The 31 lost hours of productivity a week is the same as losing the work of one employee.
The question was posed, “how do we protect our time and minimize interruptions, so the high urgency and high importance priorities (tasks) get done?” I have a couple of recommendations that can put you in the driver seat of your priority management.
‘Do Not Disturb’
First, use the ‘do not disturb’ feature on your phone and computer. According to the experts for our go-to project management software Asana (another valuable resource for managing your workload I recommend), “56% of users feel they need to respond immediately to notifications.” Enlisting the do not disturb lets you eliminate the draw to stop what you’re doing and respond to notifications from emails, calls, or texts. You can go further here and schedule ‘do not disturb’ or ‘deep work’ hours inside your calendar for everyone to see so that you can focus on a task, catch up on email, or build in time to account for preparation.
Second, say ‘no’ to unnecessary urgency to stay on task. Context switching is standard in our daily lives, especially in today’s fast-paced work environment. It refers to switching from one task to another, which can be mentally taxing and time-consuming.
“Context switching and multitasking can both have a negative impact on your work, but they’re slightly different. Context switching involves rapidly moving between different items. Usually, this happens before you’re done with your current work. For example, you’re mid-way through a project brief when your boss assigns you a new task to pull a status report. Instead of finishing the brief, you switch and start on the report right away.“
This practice has a “context switch cost” as the human brain is not designed to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Context switching is inefficient and leads to decreased productivity, increased stress levels, and a higher risk of errors. That phone call that started as “do you have a quick second?” is a much longer investment of time. Rick Lochner referenced a finding by Gloria Mark who studies digital distractions at the University of California, “once a person is distracted it typically takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus their attention back on the original task.” A better question may be, “do you have 23 minutes to spare”.
So, set boundaries with others and yourself to stay on track and manage your time. If that means saying ‘no’ or establishing a better time that could work for you to execute a task – that’s effective priority management. And remember, poor planning on someone else’s part does not necessitate a crisis for you.
ChatGPT, personal communication, March 22, 2023