"Hey, can you send me this report?"
"Have you approved my expenses yet?"
"When's the board pack going to be ready?"
You probably these sorts of messages several times a day.
Teams and Slack messages popping up.
E-mail inbox pinging left right and centre.
Next actions off the back of meetings stacking up.
You may feel like there's a never-ending stream of to-dos and not enough time to do it.
Unfortunately, most of us are people pleasers (myself included), so we're quick to say yes and will often take on too much as a result.
The good news is there are ways you can help yourself.
These steps require a bit of work upfront, but in the long run, should help you slash the time you spend responding to requests.
The steps are:
1. Capture - Every request, and every action needs to be captured somewhere
2. Clarify - Make sure you understand the request, and the reasons behind it
3. Check - Is this actually something that I should be doing?
4. Calculate - Calculate the time that it's likely to take you to respond
5. Co-ordinate - No task will get completed unless it ends up on your calendar
6. Confirm - Confirm your understanding, and your timescales with the requester
7. Complete - Get it done!
8. Coach - Train others on the best way to make requests of you in the future
Let's look at the steps in a little more detail.
Have you ever received a message that slipped through the cracks? Have you ever had call after call where, at the end of the day, you can't remember what you discussed on the first?
This sort of thing happens all the time, to everyone, so to save your brainpower, simply dump everything that may require an action into your to-do list.
Preferably this should be a digital to-do list as opposed to paper that can get lost (a notepad is OK providing you actually review it and it stays with you at all times).
Some apps will also allow you to create e-mails as tasks, so you're not spending every waking hour in your inbox.
But, just because you've capture something, doesn't mean you've understood it.
You may want to amp up your curiosity here and clarify the request in more detail.
The first line of this post "Can you send me this report" is a good example of where we may need to tae the opportunity to clarify.
If it's an easy report to generate you might be tempted to generate it, send it over and have done.
But, as you may have experienced before, this may be immediately followed by another e-mail like, "Sorry, can you add this in?".
So you send over the updated report...
Response - "Hey again, sorry, can you split this out by department?"
Before you know it, you've got an e-mail thread as long as your arm, and it's taken you the best part of half a day.
If we'd picked up the phone, or had a quick video call where we'd asked "What do you need this for?" or "What are you trying to achieve with this information" we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort.
So always, clarify a request before you jump to it...
Familiar with the terms, Do, Delegate and Delete?
Once we've got our to-do, and we've clarified that we understand the request, we can then rank them by importance. I'm a big fan of the Eisenhower Matrix (more information here).
Some things only we can do. Some tasks are better suited to others. And some tasks can just be deleted.
If this is something that only you can do, move on to calculating the amount of time it might take you to complete the work.
If this is something that someone else can do (who may be in a better position to respond, or has a skillset that's more suitable) the perhaps you can delegate.
If this is something that's completely unimportant, maybe a task you set yourself off the back of a meeting, then it might be that you could just delete it.
Humans often underestimate the amount of time it takes to get things done.
I often set myself to-dos that I think should only take 30 minutes, and 2 hours later I'm still working on it.
So there's no point in trying to get something done, if you've not realistically calculated the amount of time it's likely to take to do it.
Build in extra time. It's better to complete something ahead of schedule and free up time, rather than having to find time because you've not allocated enough in the first place.
So you've got a task that you've captured and clarified, you've checked that it's something that only you can do, and you've calculated the amount of time you think it'll take (hopefully over-estimating where you can).
The next step is to find a time when you're actually going to get the job done.
And it's not as simple as 'I'll do it after I've finished this' or "I'll get to it once I'm out of this meeting".
You need to find the right time of day according to the type of task. And you need to make sure that it doesn't conflict with your highest priority work.
Your highest priority work needs to be the stuff that drives the needle forward. Things like meeting your core KPIs, providing strategic insight, raising that next round of investment, completing that cost reduction initiative. Everything else should be secondary.
If it's an analytical task, and you're an early bird that's most productive in the morning, you're more likely to complete it to the best of your ability in the morning.
If it's more of a problem-solving or creative task, then it may be better suited to the afternoon.
For more on the best times to get work done, refer to the further reading at the end of this post.
Either way, it needs to go into the calendar at a specific time and a specific date. Otherwise, it might as well not exist.
So that we're always becoming more effective business partners, this confirmation step is an important one.
It highlights that you're someone that knows what they're doing and that you're acting in their interests.
"Heya, I just wanted to confirm my understanding on this and check that you're OK with when I've got it planned in... You've raised a concern that we're overspending in certain areas. You originally requested a detailed expense report, but after we spoke, we agreed that it might be better to focus on the two departments with the greatest spending, and instead generate a report focusing on the outliers... I've planned two hours for this next Wednesday morning. Is this OK with you?"
This then gives them the opportunity to detail anything they've missed and accept your timeline.
This should be the easiest step. Providing you actually do the doing at the time you have scheduled.
Things don't always go to plan though. So for whatever reason, if you end up running out of time, go back to the calculate step, and work through the steps again.
Once you've completed the request, this may be a good opportunity to coach who you're working with so that things go more smoothly next time.
If you prefer that they e-mail so it's easier for you to add to your to-dos, let them know.
If more detail helps you calculate the time you'll likely spend on a task, request it.
If there are times of the month when you cannot complete anything on top of your high-priority tasks, tell them.
This isn't the sort of thing that will happen overnight, it needs to be internalised, and your colleagues need to acclimatise to the way that you plan and organise your time. But with a bit of patience you should end up:
More resources to level up your productivity