How to Become More Productive with One Small Change

It’s January which means it is go time for resolutions, new beginnings and goal setting. I used to be huge on resolutions, but over the last few years I have found that the most successful resolutions are not major live overhauls like “give up sugar” or “have a minimalist wardrobe”. The sustainable changes that I make in my life come from small, intentional changes that I make over long periods of time. I read a lot about habits and intentional changes in 2018 and while many of my habits did not stick or work for me, there were a few that really made a drastic difference in my daily happiness and overall well being.

Today I am going to explain the habit that changed my work life.

Here’s what my work day used to look like:
Roll out of bed and check email on my phone. Email in the bathroom while I wait for my curling iron to heat up. Email while I stand and make my lunch in the kitchen. Email in the driveway while my car warms up. Arrive at work. Open email. Immediately respond to every fire in my inbox. Start 23 different tasks. Complete 3. Make more coffee. Respond to more fire. Attend meeting. Make more coffee. Respond to email during meeting. Spend the rest of the day trying to get my inbox back down so I could leave work with minimal anxiety.

Does this sound familiar?

I wish I could remember where I read this- but at some point in my reading about habits and how to improve your work life, I read that when the first thing you do in the morning is email, you immediately make yourself available to your entire organization or workplace. When you respond to an email only moments after it is sent to you, it begins more of an ongoing conversation with someone and makes you available to be interrupted and distracted all day long by other people’s expectations for you. When I read this you could have knocked me over with a feather. This was exactly my life!

So here it is:

I vowed to never respond to an email in the morning until I reviewed my task list for the day. The work I do each day is driven by my task list (in Google Keep), NOT my email inbox. What a radical concept- do the work you're supposed to do!

Of course, there are always exceptions but it made me look critically on the emails that were flooding my inbox each day and what I was considering urgent and important. I started using Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix to classify the “work” that I was doing.

Mind. Blown. ALL of the work I was doing was time wasters. I was living entirely in Quadrant 3 (CAUTION)- urgent and not important, and I was never moving toward Quadrant 2 (FOCUS)- not urgent and important.

Since this change in my work day, I have noticed a significant change in my work happiness and productivity. I stay more focused and accomplish more impactful projects by making this one small change. As a result, I am better able to serve the students and teachers in my schools.

I hope this resonates with you in some capacity. Even if email is not your version of CAUTION, what is it that feels urgent but not important in your life? What is preventing you from living in FOCUS?

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