Workday Mastery is that feeling and knowledge that work is flowing smoothly, that workday chaos is a thing of the past, that your goals are clear and obtainable, and that your career is developing just the way you want. Here are tips for getting that:
Tip #1: Don't let yourself get so "spun-up" with your things to do that everything seems urgent. When you start feeling like every request that comes across your desk is critical, you have worked yourself into condition I call "Workday Froth." It leads to UFO's-Unnecessary Freak Outs! In reality, the feeling that everything is urgent is illusionary-and it's highly counterproductive. When you are in Workday Froth, you may think you are working fast, but you are actually wasting a lot of time on low-priority actions, and so you are getting farther behind. When you find yourself there, take a long break, go to the gym-do whatever it takes to get your center back. You'll get more of what's important done and be much less stressed if you do. In the long run, to avoid this, adopt a to-do system that better shows you the true urgency of things, and use it.
Tip #2: Learn how to use a to-do list correctly. The number-one problem with to-do lists is they quickly end up with way too many items marked top priority. When that happens, the list becomes useless-there's no way to know what really needs to be done next. In the to-do list approach I teach, I say have at most 5 high-priority items, and reserve those spots only for items that are absolutely due today. To help with that, use this "going-home test": Is this item so critical that I would work all night to make sure it was completed? If not, don't put it in the top priority.
Tip #3: To get control of work, segment your work into three "Urgency Zones." The top Urgency Zone I call your Critical Now-these are things absolutely due today; we just discussed that zone. The next I call your Opportunity Now zone. These are things you would work on today if you had the right opportunity to do so, but they are not really "due" for up to a week or so. The third I call your Over-the-Horizon zone. These are things that can be put off for a week or much longer. Sorting all your work into these three zones will get your workday under control because it shows you clearly which items need intense energy, which need moderate energy, and which you can back-burner. When you are very busy and your list is long, having that clarity prevents you from wasting energy and time, and greatly lowers stress.
Tip#4: Don't use e-mail in your in-box as a way to track to-do's-in other words, don't use your in-box as a task management system! This leads to in-box churn, where you constantly rehash and reread e-mail looking for messages that have actions for you to do. That's an incredible waste of time, and there is no way to prioritize tasks that way. Instead, as soon as you get an e-mail that has an action in it-one that you cannot or should not do immediately, then right away, move that action into your to-do list system; manage it from there forward. MS Outlook and other systems have very quick and simple ways to convert e-mails to tasks. By the way, doing this unlocks your in-box and allows you to empty it easily-it's those unreconciled actions in your in-box that prevent you from filing away your mail.
Tip#5: Empty your in-box every day. Emptying your in-box every day will remove a huge source of stress from your workday. And this is actually easy to do, once you start converting action e-mails to tasks as I just described. Again, unreconciled actions in your in-box virtually lock it up and prevent you from filing away your mail. After those are handled, how do you empty your in-box? Well, most people use tens or even hundreds of mail folders to file mail into-but don't do that! That approach makes filing so slow that you'll never do it. Instead, create ONE mail folder and put ALL saved mail in there. These days, all good mail systems have built-in, high-speed search engines-you can find your saved mail in seconds. For nearly everyone, there is no longer a need to use complicated filing approaches.
About Michael Linenberger:
Michael Linenberger is the author of four top-selling productivity books, including Master Your Workday Now! and Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook-the latter continues to be the #1 bestselling book on Microsoft Outlook. Michael is called "The Efficiency Guru" by business leaders and the media for his revolutionary common-sense approach to workplace productivity. A renowned international consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, he is an expert on workday efficiency and task and e-mail management. Formerly a Vice President of Accenture and head of the technology department of the U.S. Peace Corps, Linenberger has been a sought-after management consultant and technology professional for more than 20 years. He is Linenberger's work has been featured in numerous business magazines including Fast Company and Investor's Business Daily.