I’m pretty sure this a universal problem for most business owners; finding time to do the most important things.
You know, the things that actually make some semblance of a difference to your business? As opposed to the daily deluge of emails, phone calls, interruptions and countless other mindless distractions, that quite frankly don’t matter a jot in the bigger picture.
When you get to the end of the day and say “Where did today go, I haven’t got anything done”
Am I alone or can you relate that?
I know it’s a problem for almost every business owner I come across. And with the interruptions and emails never going away, how on earth will we ever find the time to work ON our business, and do the things that we know will make a financial difference?
So I’m always looking out for ideas to help my clients, and myself, because there’s always a list of things I really want to do in my business, but with little idea of how or where I’ll fit them in. Or I plan them in but email overload takes over.
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast with Dan Pink, who’d just published his latest book “When”, where he talks about the scientific research that shows there are better times to do certain tasks than others.
I’m usually fairly sceptical about the latest “Must Dos” giving us even more pressure to be perfect in our business, but Dan Pink has a reputation for taking a serious journalistic approach in his books, and doing very extensive and scientific research into the things he writes about.
And the more I listened, this stuff really made sense. So I ordered the book!
There are many fascinating things in his book but I just wanted to share what I feel is the most powerful one, and the thing I started doing immediately 2 weeks ago and has made SUCH a big difference already
The Big Idea (for me anyway)
Mornings are where it’s at
The mornings are where we have the most brain power, mental alertness and analytical capacity. It’s also when we’re most active, engaged, hopeful, cheerful, positive, vigilant, and sharp minded.
So it’s perfect for making important decisions, Deep Work, analytical and thinking tasks.
But what do most of us spend our mornings doing?
What a total and utter waste of our most powerful brain capacity!
And doing the important things first when you’re literally firing on all cylinders means you’ll get them done quicker and do a better job.
The afternoon danger zone
We have a trough in the afternoon – somewhere between 1pm and 3pm depending on what time you usually get up (the book goes into this in more detail so you can work it out for you) where we have a significant decline in mental capacity. In fact there is a ton of well documented research about it being the most dangerous time to have surgery or go to the doctor, as medical staff have the same issue, where their natural cognitive ability is significantly lower in the afternoon.
- Alertness and energy plummets
- We’re less focussed
- Our analysis powers dry up
- We get cognitive fatigue
- The worst time for road and medical accidents
- A decline in vigilance
So what are afternoons good for?
They’re ideal for admin, routine task and meetings. Things that need doing but don’t need your very best brain power. Sounds like an ideal time for emails!
How to mitigate the trough
There are is a really simple thing you can do however to counter some of the effects of the trough. Take regular breaks! And have a proper lunch break (eating whilst working, checking your phone or pc actually fatigues your brain even more) It’s been proven that elite performers are the ones that take regular breaks, not the ones who heroically never leave their desk in the name of commitment.
Also getting up and moving on a regular basis boost your brain capacity.
And then, in the late afternoon / early evening we get a surge of brain power, and this particular time of day is best for:
- Work that requires insight and thought
- Know what important things you want to get done in the morning – diary them
- DON’T open email until you’ve done them
- Schedule routine admin tasks for that early to mid-afternoon trough
- Schedule important meetings for the morning when everyone is at their best
- Schedule the routine meetings for the trough
- Schedule creative and brainstorming tasks for late afternoon.
Putting it into practice
I always test things before I let them loose on my clients so I’ve spend the last 2 weeks applying these simple ideas.
My first task would always have been checking emails, and sometimes this can take 3-4 hours. I realised I was wasting my best brain power on things that were admin and routine, so I now don’t check emails first thing.
Instead I do the 1 or 2 most important things that need doing that day. So for example I used to write this blog around 3pm, after I’d worn my brain out on admin, emails, calls, and project management.
Leaving something I consider very important to when I was at my worst. Hmmm, smart!
Now the blog comes first, along with client work.
Another example, last week I’d planned to write my upcoming retreat in the afternoon. So I switched this to first thing, before turning on email, LinkedIn or Facebook.
And you know what, IT JUST FLOWED!
It took literally one third of the time it usually takes me.
Something else I’m trying today… you may not approve… but because I’ve got an event tonight, I’m using the trough to …… Go To The Gym!
So. I’m convinced. I’m hooked. Now I just need to make this way of working a habit, and not get dragged back into the way everyone else does things.