This isn't time for business as usual. This is triage. What's going to die if it isn't handled ASAP? This is where having a system in place matters most. Where do you start? This is the time when knowing your speed keys helps you fly through e-mails. And having everything corralled in that towering inbox expedites finding the paperwork you need. Being able to trust your calendar to be crystal clean, only listing the actual appointments you need to attend without a bunch of other "to-do's" cluttering it will keep you sane in the midst of chaos.
The Emergency Scan
The Emergency Scan processes your entire inventory of to-do's and separates the "must do's" from the "will do laters." I'm not advocating this process as a daily routine. I use this technique when I have a 24-hour window between back-to-back business trips, and I need to make some executive decisions about what's really going to get done.
Here are four basic steps to pull it off in the heat of the moment:
- Damage Control
Go through each item in your inbox one at a time. If you don't have an inbox, collect all the piles from your work area into one mission control center.
Bonus step: Use a sticky note to group like actions together. For example: I'll label each pile: Draft reports, E-mail, File, Read & Sign, etc. This way the new piles have some semblance of order, and you won't have to re-sort them.
What can you hand off? Much of what's sitting on your desk might not even be yours to do. Forward it to the appropriate person and keep the project moving forward consistently.
Bonus step: Track what you hand off in your "Waiting for" file: Date stamp and list the person's name and what you sent them.
If you're not going to be able to deliver on time, reset any deadlines that can be moved.
Bonus step: Communicate when you’re running behind. It may feel uncomfortable in the short run, but you avoid future emergencies by keeping everyone updated in advance.
- Don't Multitask
You'll get more done on the project at hand if you're not surfing, scanning, and chatting. You may be surprised how productive an 18-minute block of uninterrupted, focused time is.
Bonus step: Turn off all your blinking, beeping, and ringing gear. Shut down your e-mail program if it proves to be too big of a distraction.
All of these strategies are to clear the decks, so you can trust your decisions in the heat of the moment. When you build your organizational systems along the way, they're in place on the wild and crazy days when you need them most.
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, and Jodi Womack, MA, founded their boutique training firm that enhances organizational performance through maximizing time, energy, focus, and technology. For more workplace performance tips, visit www.JasonWomack.com.