Productivity: Rhythm vs. Perpetual Motion
Many people feel that in order to be truly efficient in their work day, they have to be constantly busy, constantly moving from one thing to another. These people make a constant effort to not waste a single moment in their day.
The reality? Productivity is more about rhythm than perpetual motion. Just as top athletes and performers need to find a personal rhythm, so you, as a professional in your field, need to find the proper rhythm for how you use your day.
It's important to allow buffer time between the appointments that you have. If we've learned anything from the last ten years of our technology-oriented society, it's to expect the unexpected. There are always going to be interruptions to your schedule—the emergency phone call, the unexpected coworker, the child at school who is suddenly ill. There is always going to be someone who is calling and asking for something. If we do not create space in our schedule to deal with these interruptions, we will instead be constantly switchtasking, alternating back and forth between tasks, rather than giving each task the full attention it deserves.
Each day as I meet with my clients, I schedule 30 minutes of buffer time between each hour appointment. Does that sound excessive? I use that 30 minutes for a variety of things:
* I dictate notes from the previous meeting. This helps both myself and my clients review what we discussed.
* I give myself time to "power down" from the meeting. Just being able to relax for a few moments goes a long way toward avoiding a feeling of burnout.
* I give myself time to answer phone calls that happened during the meeting. Calls are bound to happen, and the extra space gives me time to respond to them in a timely manner.
* I give myself time to "power up" for my next meeting. I prepare my notes, look over any important files, and get myself in a state of readiness for the unique needs of the next client.
How can you find your own unique rhythm for your day?
First, understand that drastic task switches require more time. If you're switching from one e-mail to another e-mail the amount of switching cost may only be a second. But if you're switching from working on a creative design solution to responding to financial numbers it is going to be a very difficult, very costly switch because the two are completely unrelated. Give your brain time to make the transition by building extra buffer time.
Second, consider how often you are likely to be interrupted. The more likely it is that you have interruptions, the more you are going to have to increase the amount of buffer time between appointments. Schedule the unexpected by leaving buffer time between appointment and tasks. Allow yourself room to answer phone calls, respond to e-mails, and answer questions from co-workers.
Third, consider the rhythm of your business. Certain businesses have key “money hours”, the time of the day in which sales are most likely to occur. Other businesses, such as auto repair or hair salons, have “interruption hours” when customers are most likely to walk in unannounced with a need. Pay attention to the flow of work in your business. Leave yourself more space during the time periods in which there are more interruptions. Also be sure to schedule "money appointments" during money time.
Finally, be aware of your unique physiological rhythm. Each person is wired differently to the cycle of the day. Personally, I'm a morning person. My most effective hours for processing email and performing tasks are before noon. Therefore, I work on projects or handle processing in the morning and put off more structured meetings until the afternoon as much as possible. Become aware of how your body responds to the progression of the day and schedule tasks accordingly.