How many times have you gotten to the end of a day only to wonder where all the time went?
Or more accurately, wondered where your productivity went?
Welcome to the club.
Productivity must be easier to measure if you work at, say, Starbucks or Walmart, where you’re dealing with tangibles (how many lattes did you make in the last hour … how many customers did you check out?).
But in the world of ministry or office work, it’s a whole different story. What actually did happen today? Great question.
The enemy of many leaders and their mission is time stealing bad practices that seem to suck up massive volumes of available time.
And if you can’t manage your time, you’ll never effectively manage your life or your leadership.
I want to share five time stealers I’ve learned to reduce or eliminate from my life. They’re below. And of course, they’re free.
But I also want to invite you into a deeper journey.
If you’re tired of being stuck, if you’re tired of being semi-effective at work but leaving so much potential underutilized, I’d love for you to check out The High Impact Leader course.
In the High Impact Leader, I show you how to get time, energy and priorities working in your favor. In the meantime, here are five ways you can reclaim one to three productive hours in the day.
1. Eliminate constant interruptions from pesky questions.
Can you tell how I really feel by how I titled this section of the post?
How many times in your day do you get interrupted by people with pesky questions that honestly aren’t that important or that urgent? Let me guess … all the time.
Most of those questions come from the people with whom you work most closely: either people to whom you report or people who report to you.
So here’s what you do: Just tell people to save their questions. When people save their questions for later, everyone saves time.
Train the people around you to save as many questions as humanly possible until your weekly meeting or bi-weekly meeting with them.
Three things will happen by the time your Thursday meeting rolls around:
The question or issue will have disappeared. What felt urgent on Tuesday was actually completely unimportant or got resolved by other means. Everybody wins.
Often, in a three-minute conversation during your weekly on a Thursday, you can resolve what might have taken 10 back-and-forth emails between Monday and Wednesday. Time and agony spared.
A third option is that the issue truly couldn’t wait, and so you dealt with it when it had to be dealt with. To deal with urgent and important matters on an urgent basis is actually fine. Usually, though that’s a tiny number of issues, so time saved anyway on all the pesky things that didn’t matter.
If you’ve got a relationship on your team that can’t wait a week, or there are just too many issues, then do a daily 5–15 minute check-in, either in person, by phone or video call. You’ll solve so much and it will cut your email traffic by a massive amount.
So much of what is urgent on Tuesday doesn’t matter at all by Thursday. So wait till Thursday. Everybody wins.
2. Silence your constantly buzzing phone.
Sure, you get interrupted by other people. But how often do you get distracted by what you allow to push through on your phone?
A few years ago I shut off almost all notifications on my phone and my devices except for text messages.
Do you really need to know instantly when someone likes your Instagram pic? Of course you don’t. Ditto with emails. Why leave email notifications on when you can jump into your inbox once or twice a day and deal with what needs to be dealt with then?
According to The New York Times, the average office worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes. And it takes 25 minutes to return to focused work after each interruption.
No wonder you don’t get any work done. The math doesn’t even add up.
You can eliminate self-distraction by shutting down all but text messages on your phone.
And train your team to only text you when it’s super-urgent.
Focused leaders are always better leaders. It’s as simple as that.
3. Get out of loud offices that constantly distract you.
One of the biggest challenges for office workers is creating quiet space to tackle big projects.
Even if you have a closed-door office, carving out a few hours in an office environment can be tricky. Here are some quick hacks:
• Close your door. Sometimes you may even need to put a note on the door that says “Please do not disturb until 11 a.m.”
• Work offsite. Try a home office or coffee shop (they can be loud too, though) or park … or anywhere where you won’t be disturbed.
• If you’re in an open office, you can put a note on your desk in a visible place asking people to not disturb you.
• If all else fails, put in headphones. Even if you can’t work to music, simply having earbuds in is a social cue for people to leave you alone. The combination of earbuds and a “do not disturb” sign is a fantastic message to the world to leave you alone for a bit.
For most leaders, the quieter the space, the higher the productivity. So create quiet space.
4. Don’t work when everyone else is working.
If you have some flex on when you show up at the office, flex that muscle. If you can, try coming in an hour or two early.
It’s not that hard to be the early bird in our culture. Most people don’t even try.
And you really do catch more worms if you start early.
As I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., it could take you three times as long to travel the same distance.
You don’t have to start at 5 a.m. in an office, but I’ll bet the place is pretty quiet at 7 a.m. or even, sometimes, 8 a.m.
Get an undistracted start on the day and you’ll be so much farther ahead.
You’ve got the work lane all to yourself, which means you can work uninterrupted. You can think uninterrupted and actually accomplish all your most important tasks completely distraction-free.
You can likely even leave early.
If you work when everyone else is working, you will always struggle with productivity.
5. Don’t fight your lagging energy.
All of us have times in the day where our energy lags. So what do you usually do when you could almost fall asleep at your desk or just stare blankly at the wall for an hour?
Most of us try to push through it, right? And sometimes you have to.
But what about those other times?
Well, what if you didn’t? What if you cooperated with your energy levels instead of fought them?
Instead of blinking mindlessly at your screen for another 30 minutes, get up. Stretch. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Grab a coffee.
Or maybe … call it a day.
I dive much deeper into how to leverage your energy levels (especially your high-energy windows) for maximum impact in The High Impact Leader course. It’s been a huge factor in me being able to juggle writing blogs, books, hosting podcasts, teaching at our church and being a husband and dad.
Bottom line? High impact leaders don’t fight their low energy levels, they cooperate with them.
Stop fighting your energy. Start cooperating with it.
Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including his forthcoming book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects But Everyone Experiences (September 2018). This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com.