Take control of your time the easy way

After watching Merlin’s great presentation on taking control of your own work time I started thinking about a lot of the little things I do each day to prevent losing focus on the current task at hand.  The more I thought about it the more I realized I am already doing a lot of things to keep my attention on the job and I want to share those.  I don’t use a defined method like GTD but I do a lot of things that when put together helps me concentrate on the real job I need to get done.  I am not advocating that everyone should do these things, rather I am just pointing out what I am doing that works well for me.  Most of these things are what I do using Outlook since that’s what controls my email, a big time sink for me.  The concepts should work on just about any platform though so read on if you’re interested.


One of the biggest changes I made in the way I work I did a fewyears ago.  I’ve talked about it before but it’s worth coveringagain.  It’s so simple to do that some folks I mention it to don’tbelieve how much time it saves me but I am convinced it does.  It isbased on the premise that one of the biggest time sinks I face isdistraction.  When I am working away at the real task at hand the lastthing I need is to be repeatedly distracted which is a big mentalroadblock.  What I did in Outlook is to stop automatically polling foremail.  Yes, I configured Outlook (and Entourage on the Mac) to stopautomatically grabbing new email.  Since I get so many emails each daywhen my mail program regularly gets email it is a distractionbecause my nature is to go and see what just came in.  This is such atrain of thought derailment that I can’t let that happen.  With manualemail polling I control when new email comes in and only do it when Ihave a few minutes to actually deal with it.  I cannot stress stronglyenough how much this simple practice has improved my work day.  I nowam concentrating solely on the work at hand and only getting distractedby email when I am not otherwise engaged.  I recommend this foreveryone.

Along the same lines I also turned off all audible notificationsthat tell me when email has arrived.  In fact, it’s a good practice todisable ALL audible notifications at the OS level.  Why have yoursystem dinging you frequently and robbing your attention off whatyou’re working on?  Just turn them off without exception and you’llthank me for it.  In fact, if you can’t bring yourself to turn offautomatic polling of email if you at least turn off these notificationsyou’ll be better off.  In Outlook (and Entourage) you should also turnoff those pop-up notifiers that tell you when new mail has arrived.These are simple distractions at best and must be disabled to keep youconcentrating on the task at hand.

You probably see a pattern here with me.  Email is the biggestdistraction I face all day and a lot of what I do is designed tominimize the distraction I get from the constant stream of email thatpours in all day.  A good way I deal with distracting email is bycarefully using rules that Outlook lets me define to control myemail. Since I only process email when I have time to deal with it Iwant to make sure I put my focus where it will do the most good.  Ruleslet me do just that and I can add new ones whenever I need them.  Oneof the first rule I added was one that takes any email that arrives where my name is not in the To box and moves it to an "eventual" folder.  This makes sure that all of those emails that are sent to a bunch of people for information don’t get my valuable time until I decide so.  It makes sure that every single email in my Inbox is addressed directly to me and more likely to be something I need to look at.  Big time saver.  Another rule I use is one that grabs emails from certain people (clients, boss man, etc.) and moves it directly to a Priority folder.  When I have a high priority project active I’ll add another rule that flags any email from the pertinent client with a Followup flag.  All of these are designed to make sure that when I spend valuable time processing my email that I first focus where it will likely do the most good.  When that is out of the way I go on to the regular email.  Of course junk filters are used at the server and client levels to make sure none of the spam gets through to my Inbox which helps too.  I have a number of rules that do different things designed to focus my time where it serves me best given the amount of time I have available to work with email.  I add new ones and change existing ones all the time to fit my changing needs.

Another thing I find to be a big distraction is the phone.  It is rare to hear my phone ringing because I almost always have the ringer turned off.  Most calls go to voice mail where I can deal with them when I allocate time to do so.  Some people find this difficult to do but not me, my goal is to take control of my time as much as possible.  I just have to make sure that I check it throughout the day and respond as necessary to others don’t feel like I am avoiding them, even though that’s basically what I am doing.  :)

There are no doubt other things I do each day to avoid distraction but I can’t think of them right now.  These things I have mentioned are the main ones and they keep me focussed most of the day so I can get things done.  They are not for everyone but I do believe that most of you would find benefit in some of them.  I am very interested in hearing what you do to keep control of your time too.  I have no doubt that many of you have great things you do that I haven’t thought of that would help me too so leave a comment and share.