Don’t worry, you will make it.
Depending on where we work, chaos may be present in our daily routine. If you are not fortunate enough to run a small inn in front of the beach (I’m working for that, by the way), I’m pretty sure your day tends to be stressful: meetings all day long, regular context switching, interruptions, fire drills, tight schedules, etc. Just a normal corporate day. And that was just before the pandemic.
After COVID-19, the chaos is even bigger. We are working more, having more meetings, and tending to fill the open slots in our day (that we would usually use to do other personal things), with work. Our work routine is really mixed with our personal routine, where there are days that home office is really an “office-office”. If you have kids, the routine is even more mixed up and complex.
So how can we be productive in an environment like this? How can we still deliver quality work and not get impacted by stress? Remember these three words: Organization, Focus, Ourself. These are the three aspects we need to care about.
Prioritize your tasks
Prioritization is key. I want you to write the next statement in a post-it and paste it in front of you, maybe on your monitor or laptop: “You CAN’T do more than one thing at the same time”. If you need to write an email, just write that email. If you need to prepare a presentation, just focus and prepare that presentation. Don’t do the presentation together with writing lots of emails.
Here’s one hard pill: You will never clean up your to-do list. It will always get populated, so it’s normal to have a big list of tasks. The secret is, prioritize it. Find your own way to prioritize it. I usually prioritize mine by importance and date of delivery. Once I have this prioritized, I pick up the first one and complete it. If that one task is big or time-consuming, I tend to break it into several different sub-tasks.
Negotiate the ETAs
One tip to negotiate ETAs with others is to ask the following question: “When is your ETA?” instead of “When do you need this?”. This way, the person who’s asking you for a particular delivery, will have to give her actual ETA (well, unless she lies), and not when she needs it. She will need it for yesterday, but once you know her actual ETA you could negotiate your delivery to be within that time.
Every time we are tasked with something, the requestor tends to ask for urgency. It is important to have a good clarity of the actual ETAs, otherwise, we will start to pile up our tasks very often.
This word is sometimes seen as a bad thing. It’s not. Delegation is key for productivity. We can’t embrace the world or solve all of its problems. So we need help from others.
Delegation is nothing but helping each other and creating a network of trust and support. Your leader will delegate something for you, and you would have to delegate some of your work to your team member, or your colleague, or to someone that can help you.
The problem with delegate is that we usually delegate the things we don’t want to do, either because it’s boring, or because it’s a repetitive task, or time-consuming. That’s not delegating. You are just using other people’s time to do something you don’t want to do. As a leader, your job is to identify people's skills and motivations to give them tasks they will be pleased to do and do it with excellence. Unfortunately, that’s where people fail most.
Learn how to (politely) say “No”
Here’s another hard pill: unfortunately we can’t help everybody that interrupt us and ask for help. At least not in that given moment. You may need to ask to talk later as you are really busy right now, or point them to another person that could help them. Unfortunately, no one would do our job, so we need to prioritize ourselves sometimes.
Learning to say “No” is more important than say “Yes”. Actually, as Product Managers, we need to say a lot of “No” on daily basis, it’s part of the job.
I double-clicked on this topic in another article already:
One article about prioritizing your work instead of other’s
And no, it’s not another prioritization technique (it’s not about selfishness also).
Block your agenda for you to work alone
If you are struggling with lots of meetings in sequence, block your agenda for you to work alone. Also, make sure to respect that time and do not accept other meetings when others schedule something on top of it.
At the end of your working day, take a look at your agenda for the next day. If it’s starting to be packed, block some time for you already, to avoid have meetings scheduled in between. The idea here is to make sure you do your work during your working hours, and not late in the evenings/nights or during the weekend.
Make time for yourself to do your personal stuff
Regardless of how chaotic the situation is, make sure to plan some time for you. Reserve some personal time to watch your series, read your book, listen to your song, play an instrument, meditate, do a hobby, whatever pleases you. Just spare some time for YOU. And do that regularly, if possible on a daily basis. The idea here is to make sure you get out of the chaos for some time and recharge your batteries for the next working day.
Here’s one last hard pill to take: Chaos is becoming part of our life. It is up to us to manage it. It’s our decision to either accept it and succeed or negate it and sink with it.
This article may have sounded obvious for some, but sometimes the obvious need to be said for us to recall it. Manage the chaos is not easy and needs to be exercised. Have a good chaos ahead! I have one to manage here.
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