A lack of focus is at the root of this problem. Constant shifts mean that no task receives the proper attention. Instead, each is carried out in the most automatic (and quick!) way possible. In an effort to gain control over my own reactionary habits, I decided to experiment with segmenting my focus out by day.Each responsibility was designated a day – Mondays for project management, Tuesdays for finances and HR, and so on – taking care to group like with like, if necessary. From there, I reassigned each of my upcoming tasks to the appropriate day and began working within the framework.
Although adapting to the idea of delaying tasks was initially jarring, this system became a great framework for outlining my days. Allowing myself to focus on only a few topics a day vastly increased my ability to innovate within those areas and created an important sense of control over workflow.
That said, I’d offer a few tips to anyone looking to adopt this system:
1) Inform those around you that you’ll be switching to this workflow
… lest your co-workers (or boss/clients!) become completely befuddled by your inability to deliver on a project in your typical up-to-the-minute fashion.
2) Stop thinking of yourself as “on-call.”
Certain tasks (like email) will always require more immediate attention; however, you’ll be completely surprised by how many of the things you need to do are elastic and consequently, how much more quality your output is when focused.
3) Do something to get yourself in the day’s mindset.
Try reading an article on your day’s focus topic, or set up your email filters in such a way that you can review related messages only. Setting the scene is crucial.
4) Allow a bit of flexibility.
Emergencies will inevitably pop-up, so don’t be completely thrown when you need to shift focus. Simply re-center (see #3) when you’re ready to dive back into the day’s tasks, or shift your energy to the new project by reassigning days.
Implementing this kind of structure takes a bit of up-front work, but once you’ve mastered your system, you’ll become more present for both the day-to-day emergencies and the larger projects you’d really like to tackle.