Last Monday morning, Jill walked into her office, her mind abuzz with to-dos. The spring in her step revealed how much she loved her job; she was obviously filled with energy and enthusiasm to tackle the week ahead.
Jill opened her e-mail inbox and sighed on seeing the usual start-of-week deluge of e-mails. She started the process of firefighting, offering counsel, suggesting ideas and solutions that should have probably struck the senders in the first place. She did this while balancing the incessantly ringing phone between her neck and shoulder, troubleshooting requests over that, too. Only when her stomach gave a particularly loud growl did she realise it was lunchtime. And that she was already exhausted. As she bit into her sandwich, she racked her brains to remember what it was she had actually wanted to accomplish that day.
Juggling a variety of tasks comes with the domain. The well-meaning audience – in this case, the CEO, the auditor, the shareholders, my team – tosses them to me, not always one at a time. I consider it my job to not get hit in the face but catch each in turn gracefully and balance them skilfully.
This is not to say I don’t play the clumsy clown and miss one every once in a while. But to do what I do, I have formed a little ritual to follow first thing when I step into my cabin. I’m sharing what I call my 7:1:5 here in the hope that it helps some of you manage your circus better.
Step 1: 7 to Plan
Before I even power on my computer, I spend 7 minutes with my desktop planner and ballpoint pen. I spend between 2 and 4 minutes furiously scribbling down all the potential tasks of the day that come to mind. Then, I spend 2 minutes reorganizing them in priority order. When I feel like it, I use colours to set priorities. Usually, I simply assign numbers – 1 represents life-and-death, 2 shows job-on-the-line – you get the idea. I spend the remaining minute assigning a time slot to each task. It is greatly satisfying to see in black-and-white when exactly I will accomplish each objective.
Step 2: 1 to Regroup
I have set my phone to beep every hour of an 8-hour workday. This reminds me to pause and regroup. The beep acts like a gentle nudge, reminding me to check if my last hour has been as productive as expected and how I want my next one to be. I take a few seconds to tweak my planner a bit if needed. On the days I am right on track and feel especially imaginative, I draw a little crown next to the last successful time slot, proclaiming myself Champion of the Hour!
Step 3: 5 to Review
At the end of the day, when I finally turn off the computer, I open my trusty planner again and review my day. I check which task exceeded the time I allotted for it and why. I also check which tasks got done quicker and again ask why. Not only does this help me to plan better for the next day, but also reminds me to reward those team members who made my work faster or easier.
I have followed this ritual for over a year now and it has allowed me to leave work on a high note most days. Try it and let me know if it works for you.