Have you ever patted yourself on the back about being a “masterful multi-tasker?” Perhaps, like me, you used it as a selling point for a promotion or new job? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you can identify with this.
You need to stop. WE need to stop. And right now, as we’re quarantined, we have a great chance to start a new rhythm. This is a process that will make your remote work productivity excel – but can help during “normal” times too!
Stacking your week
Stacking my week saved my sanity. It’s the practice of grouping like activities that require similar strengths to execute in order to increase your effectiveness, conserve your energy and maximize your impact professionally and personally.
It’s one strategy that I implemented in my own career at corporate and still use now as a business owner. I’ve also implemented with teams, departments and orgs, both small and large. And, it’s easier to pull off with remote work or during times of change.
Follow these 9 steps to get started with the practice. After you get up and running, the process is about taking it further to find even more success in your day-to-day and year-to-year.
Multi-tasking makes you ____________
Stop bragging about your multi-tasking talents. You’re less intelligent, less effective and it’s bad for your health:
Productivity goes down by 40%
When you’re checking emails and phone calls, your IQ can drop by 10 points
The stress created by going back and forth between tasks causes an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) and surges in adrenaline. (Do you really need that much adrenaline why you’re working on that proposal? Or those edits?)
9 steps to freedom & impact
This process is about auditing your time, stacking it so that it aligns with the impact you’d like to make on this world of ours and watching yourself and your outcomes flourish!
1. Know Your Why
Consider this step as the foundation of the house you are building. If you don’t start here, everything else you build or spend time on will crumble.
When you are focused on remote work productivity, knowing your why can help you prioritize your efforts. Here’s a quick exercise to determine your why.
2. Audit Your Time
It’s key to understand where your energy is going, both personally and professionally. This is true for remote work productivity and in-office productivity.
Professionally, I’ve seen people get sucked into back-to-back meetings where most humans get and/or give little value. Personally, I’ve seen humans get into the groove of parenting and suddenly find their family over scheduled and unhappy because they got away from their why/passion. And when you work remote it’s tempting to try to do it all. At once. While baking. Please don’t.
If you find yourself with remote work, it may be a good idea to do a light version of time analysis, while starting to implement a new rhythm now. Start the process, track time as you go along and review weekly to adjust as necessary.
This step helps you discover where you really spend your time. There are two options for auditing your time:
Look Back: You can use your calendar as a review of what you’ve been spending time on. This approach will tell you how you’ve been spending big blocks of scheduled time, but may not give you any data on the small time-sucking things that make up the majority of our days.
Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s basically that 20% of our time is spent on activites that create 80% of our results. Said another way, we are wasting 80% of our time on activities that have little impact on our why/passion.
Look Forward: Take 2-4 weeks and track ALL of your time. Carry a notebook, take notes on your phone, use a spreadsheet – use whatever method aligns to your personality. You can also use an app to help you track how much time is being spent on each app on your phone.
Getting valid data on your time is a key step, as we need data to show us where we’ve REALLY been spending our time in person or online.
3. Whittle Down
Now you know what you’ve been spending your time on. Next, we get to start dreaming about how things could be.
If your work suddenly went remote, what you need to focus on may become clear fairly quickly. If it doesn’t, this practice can help.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the “start/stop/continue” exercise that helps you consider which actitivites are most impactful. I suggest you lead with a key question and that you take a different order.
Lead by asking “what I should start / stop / continue doing in order to maximize my impact on my why/purpose?”
Ask this question and start with “continue.” It’s a safe place for you to start, as you discern which of your current activites are value-add. Then move to “stop,” as this helps you create the feeling of space in your day before moving on to “start,” where you’ll get to be creative to consider how you should truly be spending this precious commodity of time.
Tip: Don’t be realistic, be honest. You might think, “yeah, but I can never get out of that meeting.” Don’t worry about that now. Just make 3 lists.
There have been times where I’ve tried to tackle my entire continue/ stop/ start list and been overwhelmed. I’ve seen it happen with my clients, too. I encourage you to begin by considering ONE thing that you’d like to start and ONE thing you’d like to continue.
Pick the one start and one continue activity that is most closely aligned with your why/passion and will maximize your impact.
If you’re in a time of change or sudden remote work, you can accelerate your selections to one start and one continue per day for the first week. See how that goes, then add or take away as neccessary.
5. Create Space
Here’s where we get to STOP doing things. Or at least change them a bit. This is where some people drop off, but I’m begging you to keep going!
As I’m writing this, we’re on day one of the quarantine. My 9 year-old twins will be homeschooled for about a month and it’s unclear of what lies ahead. Therefore, there are a lot of things I will need to stop doing. Either they don’t work, or they won’t work right now. This sudden remote work can be a gift in this area of creating space.
This step is reviewing what’s on your calendar and reducing your time spent on activities that don’t have a big impact.
Start by reviewing all recurring meetings
Consider the value you get/give and how it could be obtained using another method such as written update, a shorter stand-up meeting, etc.
Work to cut the frequency or length in half
Stack your week
Remember, you are “grouping like activities that require similar strengths to execute, in order to increase your effectiveness, conserve your energy and maximize your impact professionally and personally.” Think of this as building a lego structure – you need the most important blocks on the bottom.
To help you decide how to place your most valuable activities in your day/week, consider:
Timing: Think about when you are at your best and match those times of day with those high impact activities. For example, I’m a morning person so that’s when I do my creating like writing content and building solutions for my clients.
Similar activities/strengths: I group like activities that require me to leverage similar strengths or skill sets to execute. For example, I’ve preferred to schedule my 1:1’s back-to-back so that I could stay in the zone of expressing empathy, providing gentle guidance as needed and deeply connect with my staff. I also group networking meetings, strategic planning sessions, creative work and more.
If you’re struggling to group tasks/activities, ask yourself “what hat am I wearing in this meeting/activity/task?” Is it friendly, strategic, execution-focused, decision maker, supporting-player? Group like activities so you don’t have to switch hats as much.
6. Deep Work
As much as sudden remote work can help us determine what we need to stop and start doing, it’s important to determine what we put into these new periods of time. If we’re intentional and adjust as needed, our results will increase.
The best way to get things done and avoid multi-tasking it shut everything off and focus on one thing for a concentrated amount of time. In addition to helping you complete value-added tasks, you can also consider blocking time for thinking, working and dreaming whenever you can.
I just finished Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work. Highly recommend it! I’ve been implementing the suggested strategy of using 90-minute “deep work” sessions where everything else is turned off, there is no multi-tasking and I’m immersed in one activity. I’m amazed by the amount of work I can churn out when I’m focused, as well as the quality of the work.
You’ve spent the last few steps considering how you could free up time, what you’d like to fill it with and how you’d organize your week. Now you need to communicate. Talking to both people that are impacted directly by your efforts to reclaim your time and those that can support you and hold you accountable are both important. Here are my go-to statements when working with these two key groups:
Impacted: “I’m working to ensure I spend time on my key deliverables. This meeting IS important to me. I’m hoping we can take a look at the frequency/length and change it to ______.”
Support/Accountability: “I’m committed to leveraging my time and energy to maximize my impact. I’m working to reduce my time in meetings, spend time on my why and the activites that impact it, and also have breathing room to think and create. I’d appreciate your support in helping me stick to these new habits.”
Now you get to implement what you’ve planned. This is not a practice that is set-it-and-forget-it. You’ve done the hard work, now you’ll need to be intentional about maintaining what you’ve built and tweaking it as needed. And it will be needed, as humans and changing environments are involved!
I review my calendar on Sunday for the start of each week. I look at each meeting scheduled, including my blocked “deep work” sessions and decide what’s the focus and what strength do I need to bring to this meeting/session. So, even if I haven’t been able to group all of my like activities together, I still minimize stress by understanding what’s coming and my focus for each of them.
I also review my week on Fridays to see how I did in sticking to the activities that make the biggest impact. During this time of change of sudden remote work, you may want to review daily to keep focused.
9. Be consistent
I use the data from my weekly review of my calendar to continue to be intentional with these efforts. It motivates me to keep at it, as no week has ever gone down exactly like I planned.
Anyone ever have a meeting go long or cancelled? You or your kids get sick? A pandemic virus hits and you can’t meet clients in person so you have to establish a new process?
Yes, stuff happens so the only way to keep this habit and make it impactful is to track your progress.
The 9 steps are the hardest the first time you do it, but I know it’ll be worth your time.
I’d love to hear how this process works for you! Let me know what ideas you have on managing your time and maximizing your impact.
p.s. My last solo episode of the Build High Performing Teams Podcast is all about these 9-steps and can walk you through in greater detail.