In Chapter 4 of The 4 Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss talks about three interruptions that keep us from completing a task from start to finish and how to combat them:
- Time wasters – Emails, phone calls, discussions, and meetings that are not important.
- Time consumers – Repetitive tasks/requests that need to be done but that often get in the way of “higher level” things, such as reading/responding to email, phone calls, customer service, errands, finances, etc.
- Empowerment failures – Something that requires someone else’s approval to happen, such as approval for a purchase, dealing with customer problems, etc.
The time wasters topic is most relevant to me. First, Tim has some pretty crazy and drastic ways on how to deal with these.
- Turn off your email program alert and automatic send/receive so you aren’t distracted by incoming email.
- Check email only twice a day (right before lunch and right before the end of your day). Don’t check your email first thing in the morning; instead, focus on completing your Most Important Task for the day.
- This may require implementing some kind of autoresponder that informs people of your email-checking times. Tim has a simple email format that he suggests where you give your reason for only checking email twice a day (because of high workload, or to be more productive, etc.) and provide your phone number for “urgent assistance.”
- Tim then encourages you to move to once a day email checking, and even less often if you can manage it.
- Have a separate line for non-urgent calls that go to voicemail — with a message similar to your email autoresponder that tells people what times you check the voicemail. Ask them to leave their email address to receive a faster response and provide your “urgent” phone number as well.
- Screen your incoming “urgent” calls. Let it go to voicemail and listen to it immediately to determine if you need to call them back or not, or check caller ID to see if you want to answer it immediately.
- Keep phone calls short and sweet. If you check your urgent line, don’t chat it up with friendly small talk. Tim provides some tips for conversational openers that allow you and the caller to stick to the “urgent” reason for why they’re calling. You can do this without being rude.
- Avoid meetings that don’t have a clear objective. Meetings should be held to make decisions about a problem, not to figure out the problem. Train people to send you an agenda of the specific things they want to discuss during the meeting (by email, of course).
- Use your words wisely. A small turn of phrase can do wonders in cutting down nonessential emails. “Can you meet at 4?” is not as effective as “Can you meet at 4? If not, can you provide three other times tomorrow that would work for you?” Tim also hints that adding “Thanks in advance” to the end of an email (such as one requesting a meeting agenda) raises the chances that you’ll get a useful reply.
- Set a time limit on meetings. Define an end time for essential meetings and stick to it. Make up something urgent that you need to do if you need to. 🙂
Some of the things I’ve been thinking about and trying…
- I’ve been trying to work on at least one project in the morning before checking my email and closing Outlook altogether when I don’t want to be interrupted, although I haven’t moved to just twice a day yet. I’m probably more like 4 times a day (in contrast to the 40 times a day — I used to check it every time something came in). I’m hesitant to start with the email responder thing because I hate receiving email responders.
- Another thing keeping me from implementing twice a day email checking is that I haven’t figured out my phone situation yet. Having a mobile phone is pretty new for me, and if I make it my “urgent” phone, I won’t have a way to have a non-urgent phone without paying for a second business line. (On the other hand, as Steve almost exclusively uses his cell phone now, perhaps we’ll convert our home line to a “business” phone for me and train our friends and family to call our cell phones.)
- I’ve been trying to use my words more wisely in email to help move things forward, including setting short deadlines for other people to send me information and providing choices of times for meetings. I’ve found that this has mostly helped, except for some instances where people have seemed to ignore my request. Hmmm.
- There are only two clients that I can think of who have historically sucked up hours of my time in chitchat and meetings. I will need to think of the best way to approach future interactions with them.
If you’ve had success with implementing any of these strategies, I’d love to hear about them!
This is my fifth full post with thoughts about The 4 Hour Workweek. View other posts related to The 4 Hour Workweek.