Some of us have such hectic, busy, crazy, chaotic days that we don’t have the time to even consider organization, goals, or routines. It’s when your days are so crazy that you need to take that time, and get your days under control.
It’s important, for your mental health, your sanity, and your productivity. You simply cannot be at your most effective if you are running around, putting out fires, and getting super stressed in the mean time. Taking the time to gain that control will make all the difference in the world.
First, claim a block of time to gain control. Yes, it will take an hour or two. Yes, you can find that time. Schedule an appointment on your calendar. If you really, really can’t find the time in your work day, get up early, or do it right after work. You can find that time if you really try. Your sanity demands it.
Make a list. Do you already have all your tasks on a single to-do lists, or several next-action lists broken down by context? If so, you are ahead of the game. If not, this should be your first step. Gather all you papers into one inbox (including post-it notes, phone messages, etc.) and process them, listing the tasks you need to do on your list or lists (see Three Steps to a Permanently Clear Desk). However you do the list(s) is not important at this point. I recommend the GTD method (see Beginner’s Guide to GTD), but do whatever works for you. Making a list of your tasks is the first way to get them under control.
Plan your day. Not just today, but every day. You need some sort of regular schedule in order to get things under control. Schedule your regular tasks in blocks of time: email, calls, meetings, processing your inbox, planning time, writing, etc. Try to have at least 15-30 minutes at the beginning of each day when you plan your day out in these blocks of time. This little time for planning each day is a simple way to gain control. (See Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task)
Stop multi-tasking. This is probably the thing that makes your day the craziest. You can’t stay sane if you’re juggling a million things at a time. If you are doing this, you are not being productive either. Focus on one thing at a time (see How NOT to Multi-task).
Control Incoming Communications. Others won’t let you do this? You need to be assertive and claim control of your time. Let others know when they can call you, or how often they can expect to receive responses to your emails. Turn of IM and chat. Turn off your email notifications and only check it once an hour, or on some other regular schedule. Let calls go to voicemail. You simply cannot respond instantly to every cell phone call, every email, every page, every request at your desk. If you have to, put on headphones. Be clear and upfront with others about your availability and the times when you cannot be disturbed. People might not always be happy with it, but after awhile, they will begin to respect your time.
Review your day. Set aside a little time at the end of the day to review what you’ve done, check off your to-do lists, update the lists with new items, put stuff back where it belongs, clear off your desk, and plan for tomorrow. Leave feeling satisfied.
Set routines. These regular routines are the best way to feel in control of your life. I’ve been working on a morning routine and an evening routine at home, and it also helps to have a first-thing-in-the-morning work routine (including Step 3) and an end-of-the-day work routine (Step 6). Make them a habit, and your days will be must less stressful.