Want to Be More Effective? Turn off Email. Use Your Calendar. Delete Facebook.

By Bill Sanders, Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss

Time to read: 5 minutes

In our quest to identify the trends of the future of work, I was reminded recently of the need to delve into the micro as well as the macro issues. Having an organization willing to embrace self-management is not the same as having an organization capable of self-management.

Several months ago a newly promoted executive who I was coaching ask the question we all run up against occasionally; "How am I supposed to get all of this done?" After shadowing her and reviewing her schedule and work habits over the following week, I determined that there were two distinct areas where she was failing to self-manage. And both of them were of the micro variety.

Set Your Own Priorities First

Confusing reaction with responsiveness is almost as common as confusing activity with accomplishment in our current work world. As a habit, this executive had defaulted, by her own admission, to opening her email on her phone before she event got out of bed. Of course, by the time she had read and responded to the litany of email requests and emergencies stacking up from the East Coast, she was running late, had no time to eat breakfast, and was well into feeling "behind" before she even unlocked the door to the office. Not exactly the ideal recipe for kicking off a productive day.

By eschewing email first thing, she was able to get up at the same time, have a healthy breakfast, and be at work a half hour before opening. She then used that half hour to set and calendar her own priorities for the day before opening her inbox that represented everyone else's priorities. By having her own priorities already set, she was better able to keep positive movement on her long-term objectives while still fielding the usual spate of emails, phone-calls and requests.

Just because email is available on your phone, doesn't mean you have to check it!

Your Inbox Is Not a To-Do List!

The second issue that I noticed is that she was treating her inbox as her to-do list. And while that might have been tenable earlier in her career, now, with hundreds of emails a day, requests and commitments were being missed. To top it off, because her electronic calendar showed her as free, her collogues felt free to schedule her for meetings. With days full of meetings, the real work was reserved for after hours and consequently was cutting into her social life.

By tracking her time over a couple of weeks, we determined the formula for how much flexibility she needed in her schedule to deal with the unexpected, and then she began calendaring her work. Her team did show a few signs of withdrawal, but she successfully leveraged their complaints into more productive communication patterns and more effective meetings. She scheduled time three times a day to return email and otherwise kept her mailbox closed. When she agreed to a task or deliverable, she immediately pulled it into her calendar and blocked the necessary time to complete it.

And as a by product, her estimates of when tasks and projects would be completed became more accurate because she could see in her calendar all of her other competing commitments.

We only have a brief time on this planet. Don't let the tyranny of the urgent dictate how you spend it.

Just Because It's Free Doesn't Mean It Won't Cost You.

The last micro issue around self-management is one of my own. On December 23rd of 2015 I took a week off. No computer. No email. And because I stayed at home, practically no cell phone. Which of course meant no Facebook.

On the day I went back to work I realized that as much time as I spent on Facebook, I really hadn't missed seeing photos of cousin Jeff's ugly Christmas sweater, fish my brother caught over the weekend, or cat videos posted by someone I'm sure I worked with once but for the life me can't remember where.

My personal realization was I was unconsciously using Facebook as a tool of procrastination and distraction. Waiting in line at lunch? Check Facebook. Three minutes early to a meeting (or a meeting starting five minutes late)? Check Facebook. Like. Add pithy commentary. Share. It was distracting me from being present.

I immediately deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

In fact, for about three months, I didn't even go on Facebook from my computer. And I didn't miss it. More importantly, I didn't miss anything. Direct messages still came through on Messenger, it was easier for me to stay in the moment, and no one called me up asking me why I hadn't "liked" their post.

Facebook spends a lot of money hiring some of the smartest people in the world to build a system to attract our attention and keep it for as long as possible to drive ad sales. They specialize in selling our attention and pocket the profits. I don't begrudge it, but I don't have to mindlessly participate in it either.

I still have a Facebook account, but my time on the site is now measured in minutes each month and not hours.

In all three of the above examples, the issue is time. Who is controlling it, you or someone else?

The more we accept responsibility for managing our time and our priorities, the more prepared we'll be for present possibilities as well as the future of work.

Bill Sanders is Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss, a boutique consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness: co-founder and Advisory Board Member of Will Someone, software that facilitates and supports team alignment through commitments: and Co-Lead Link of the Finance Circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness. Connect with Bill on twitter at @technacea.