Firewall Your Time

LockdownI recently came across a video by Jon Larkowski entitled, “The Way I Get Things Done,” in which he outlines his personal productivity system. He offered several useful tips for increasing productivity, but the two phrases that really stuck out to me were that you need to firewall your time and guard your attention.

Time is our most precious resource, and how we spend it ultimately determines how successful we are in life and business.

There are many things that we can do in a day’s time — check our email relentlessly, scour the news and blog feeds, surf the Internet, browse the latest Twitter updates. Most of the things we do eat away at our time in small increments, almost undetectably. We begin doing one task, and before we realize it, an hour (or three) has passed.

We must find ways to firewall our time and, at all times, guard our attention. But how?

First Line of Defense: Two-hour Full Guard

I like a tip from Julie Morgenstern’s book, “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning,” which is to “earn your paycheck by 10 AM.” At least for the first hour or two of the day, completely guard your time (100 percent, no interruptions). Close your browser, do not open your email, and do not visit the social networks. Turn off all alerts, as well as your phones. For just one or two hours a day, you’re on attention lockdown.

Next, write down the most important three tasks that you absolutely must, at a minimum, accomplish today. Then, within this guarded block of time, try to get through those tasks as completely as possible.

Now, if the rest of the day is a wash, at least you’ve had some really focused time and, hopefully, checked a few things off the to-do list (ideally, the things that pay the bills).

Second Line of Defense: Email Guard

When you come out of lockdown, ideally, you shouldn’t immediately jump full force into the major distractions (email, social networks, feeds), but you may need to respond to a few important emails, so you can make an exception here (a quick exception, say 15 minutes). Check your email, but only open those that truly need your attention (quote requests, customer inquiries, important emails from clients/assistants, etc.). Leave everything else to be read later. Shut your email program again. It’s time for another focused work session.

Third Line of Defense: Protect the Mothership

If there’s one thing we all tend to neglect, it’s our blogs. The content we put on our own sites is what helps search engines find us and what new visitors explore when they’re first deciding whether or not to follow us (or give us their precious time and attention). It’s important to add high-quality content to our sites on a very regular basis if we hope to move up in the Internet world.

For the next hour of your day, focus on writing something timely and relevant that will help your target audience. If nothing else goes right today, at least you’ve posted one good article to your blog. (If you do that every working day, assuming you work five days a week and 48 weeks a year, and you’ll post 240 new articles to your site over the coming year.)

Final Line of Defense: Set a Wrap-Up Alarm

This is another tip from Julie Morgenstern, and I’ve found it to be especially helpful for maintaining balance between my personal and professional lives. Set an alarm (on your computer or cell phone) to go off an hour before you want to be out of the office. When it goes off, it’s time to start shutting it down. Respond to any last-minute important emails, write your upcoming to-do list, check your calendar, clear your desk and do any other quick tasks that will set you up to succeed tomorrow.

That’s it! The rest of your day can be used however you’d like, and no matter how you spend your remaining time, you can feel good knowing that you’ve made some progress toward your goals.

What lines of defense do you have in place to safeguard your time? In a time when our attention is being pulled in a thousand different directions, how do you make sure the important things get done?

Image from Flickr by snappED_up

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