Drink Water, Eat and Rest. As a busy Executive, you may not take enough time to do any of these things, yet they should feature on your default diary. We all know that in the pursuit of your company or career goals you work long hours, but how many of those hours are productive, and I will wager that the reason some of them are not is that you aren’t meeting the needs of your body and your mind. While you don’t need to actually block time out in your diary to drink water, you should remember to do it. In Schools, they now insist that each child has a bottle of water in the class room, educators know the brain performs better when it is hydrated, we would do well to remember that as adults we can suffer even more by being dehydrated, headaches and other pains are just the start.
So now you’re drinking water, what about that thinking space. I don’t mean meditation, I mean the time to do your own thing and allow you to think without interruption, that can and probably should include your exercise routine. Going to the gym, and allowing the blood to flow to the brain will often lead to new ways of seeing a problem, if not at the time but shortly thereafter. So, go to the gym and you can think about issues without interruption and if you want you can continue your learning by listening to an audio book, or you could even use a text to speech up to read through all those emails you haven’t bothered to open as they were non-urgent. Either way, by having a fixture in your default diary for “undisturbed free time” you will become more effective… and fitter if you choose to go the gym.
As for eating, I am sure you are doing it, but are you getting away from your desk. Possibly not. If your business has a breakout area. Use it. If it doesn’t and you are in charge, consider establishing one. You can read or just take a short break and you will feel a whole lot better for it when you return from your desk.
So assuming that as a busy CEO you are working somewhere between 40 and dare I say it 70 hours per week, we have just taken about 5 hours out of your schedule for exercise, eating and drinking and uninterrupted free time. It may sound like a lot, or may not sound like enough, but in my experience its an absolute minimum to avoid burnout and ineffective work methods. What, I hear you ask, do we do with the remaining 35 or 65 hours. Well, we block out time.
Splitting the day into blocks forces us to work to a deadline, the smaller the blocks the more work we get done although there is a lower limit of around 30 minutes for the simple fact that some tasks or indeed meetings will inevitably take longer. For longer tasks break them down into manageable chunks. We’ll speak more about that another time.
Let’s assume your day starts at 8 am, you sit down at your desk, what’s the first thing you do. Probably review your diary, answer some emails and get yourself ready for that first meeting (I will explain soon why the latter two are not a good idea). One thing you are unlikely to do is to make a sales call (unless it is one to a country in a different time zone), so there is your first area to fill in your default diary; Sales Calls. When is the best time or day to make these calls? Not Friday and not Monday, for obvious reasons, and not from lunchtime onwards as many of your contacts will be out or meeting their own deadlines as the close of play approaches. So the answer is between 9 am and 11 am, however many days you need to between Tuesday and Thursday.
Assuming you have a team (be it within a small start-up or a board), having those meetings on a Monday afternoon is ideal. It’s a great time for planning (it allows contributors prep time in the morning) and gives the whole week to complete agreed tasks prior to the next meeting.
Answering Emails as and when they come in has become the biggest block to productivity in the last 20 years. Stop now. Set aside time every afternoon from no earlier than 3 pm, create an auto reply for your emails stating that you will reply by 5 pm the same day the email was received and that if the matter is urgent please phone. You will be amazed at how many seemingly urgent matters are not urgent at all as you will not receive many or indeed any calls asking for you to deal with an issue immediately. By answering emails in the late afternoon, it also lessens the likelihood that you will get a response that day that requires your action, and again if there is an urgent need to get an answer then your colleague will pick up the phone.
So that leaves us with between 11 am and 3pm daily for project work or customer meetings or department meetings that could not be held on Mondays and whatever time you spend in the evenings (which we hope is not too long as it has been proven that productivity drops after hour 10 (in our scenario 6 pm). If you do work late, use that time to further your personal development, read articles relevant to your business, or proposals from staff, avoid making decisions in the late evening and sleep on things. In the morning, you can read your notes from the previous night and take appropriate action in the cold light of day. As promised we have now productively filled that first hour of the day for you, rather than replying to emails.
But we still have 1 day that is fairly clear, Friday. The issue with Friday’s is that so many of your clients and suppliers will finish up early while you and your staff are left twiddling your thumbs. For that reason, Friday afternoons are some of the least productive hours in the week. So, for that reason, we need to think outside the box. I like to call Fridays “Free thinking Fridays”. It’s the perfect time for team building exercises, brainstorming sessions or other staff activities that will make your business a great place to work. What it should not be is a mad rush to fulfil orders or get a proposal out before the end of the day, after all how mistakes are made in a hurry and if you are running your time to a default diary there shouldn’t be any urgent issues that late in the week, and you should encourage your staff to adopt the same default diary techniques to ensure they too are working effectively and efficiently. You could also consider allowing certain departments to close early on Friday’s letting them spend more quality time with loved ones. They will thank you for it in the long run and the happier workplace is a more productive one. You will no doubt exclude yourself from such frivolities but don’t do that always, reward yourself every so often and for those Friday’s that you do find yourself in the office until 8 pm, use the time for the afore mentioned Free thinking, perhaps you can get your Department heads together in the afternoon for some brainstorming, which will keep things in their mind for Monday or you could spend the time on strategic planning. However, you spend Friday afternoons be sure not to cram it full of “urgent” tasks that appear to have a need to be completed by the end of the week. The truth is, it’s highly unlikely that is the case.