Friday, August 13, 2010

Managing Stress - Part 2 - Managing Your Day

Not so much a food pic, but rather a snapshot of the bags for my different sports/work/activities. Being able to transition quickly between triathlon training, range practice, cooking, and sales engineering allows me to enjoy more of my day flexibly, show up prepared and feel less frustrated.

On the last post, I discussed some sources of harmful stress, the main one being meaningless actions or work. Meaningless work could also include a meaningless day. I thought that instead of talking conceptually, I'd change it up and offer some tips together that you can use to improve your day, if appropriate. A lot of these are not original thoughts, I'll be the first to say. However, the specific combination in which I use them is unique to myself. I'm not special, but we're all a little different. Use what works. Make it your own.

A little review before we start and I'll ask some questions so we can get thinking and look for answers along the way. How often is it that when we learn something new, it feels awkward? How often do we get good and fast at something when we don't practice it? How often do we practice something incorrectly do we actually do it properly? What I'm hoping for you to consider is that making your day efficient and unfrustrating relies on good habits. Good habits form with doing things correctly. Doing things correctly results from reviewing what you did, not just doing them. It's that simple, but because it's that simple, we often ignore these basic concepts, myself guilty as charged. A famous chef once proclaimed that he was only better than others, because his basics were better. That chef was not me =) I was only reading about him.

Let's go through some basics and I will draw from my activities for examples and stories. I will try to keep them potent and well described.

Assuming that you get 8 hours of sleep, you still have 16 hours left to do whatever with. What do you think might happen if you were to write a few things down that you want to get done? What if they were really important? What if they were things you just wanted to get done? Great. And this begins the concept of the "Five Big, Five Small." I got this idea from my exec coach, Michael Ker. Write down 5 things that are the most important to do. Underneath, write down 5 things that are less important, but you still should do. Now this is typically applied for a week's time. But you can do 2 big, 2 small for a day's worth. How do you act on these items? Work on the big items first. The reasoning is that mental energy is NOT limitless, at least mine isn't. Another assumption is that you may not finish all of them, so work on what you need to first, and take breaks by doing the small items. The big items are the rocks, and the gaps are filled in by the little tasks, almost like sand or pebbles. Why is this effective at reducing stress? Well it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and is very efficient for what it brings. I am perfectly okay spending even a half hour doing this, although it usually takes a few minutes with practice. To give some meaning to your 16 hours, a half hour is very little overhead. Do this routine in conjunction with your calendar. My work calendar runs my life. I get booked for presentations, requirements calls, and other customer activities. Any downtime I have in between, I use to prepare for appointments, and to mentally recharge. Notice that email clearing isn't a big task. I don't get paid to clear emails unless I were a support rep, and even then I'd be paid to retain customers. But...there are usually less than 10 emails in my inbox at any given time.

Here's an example of one of mine...
(4 hours available today...meetings, presentations filling the rest)
Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for manufacturing prospect (2hrs)
Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


Clear inbox
Enter notes into salesforce

Make haircut appointment

If you don't get everything done, don't beat yourself up, just mark down what you did, and carry stuff over to the next day. If you realize that you dont' "want" to carry it over, it should never have been written down because it wasn't all that important in the first place. Learn from this.

The list ends up being:

done-Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for prospect (2hrs)

not done-Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


done-Clear inbox
all in-Enter notes into salesforce

not done, first thing tmrw - Make haircut appointment

So you're thinking why am I not using my master list of tons of things to do? Because of a few things. One, it's a big list. It's hard to look over. After all you do have 16 hours which is a lot, but it still is only one day. Focus on what's in front of you. Secondly, most of the things that people ask me to do either get trashed or get put in my someday list (which is almost as good as the trash). If I did everything that people asked, I would be unprofitable to the company. And I would have no time to do quality, meaningful work. Both suck. Besides people ask for things in a knee jerk reaction most of the time.

Most importantly, having a concise workspace allows you to work rapidly. I write this down on a sheet in Evernote ( that covers one week, and have one section for each day. Clean and easy. I learned the importance of a concise workspace working at the restaurant. That workspace was the cutting board. It's always to be kept clean, your knife ready. If you're not working, you're cleaning your board. Why? Because while you're working on a larger dish, smaller fires are creeping up and you might need to help another chef out. As soon as I plate and send out the dish, cleaning off the board is a second nature reaction, and I can take on someone else's work. It's good for the restaurant. If my board weren't clear, I'd be using someone else's cucumbers in the current plate, and then send out the dishes in reverse order, creating an issue for the servers and then mayhem ensues. What can you do to get yourself ready enough not only to cover your work, but to help out some colleagues and be good to your organization?

Another major annoyance, is email. Having adopted GTD, or Getting Things Done by David Allen, email is no longer a headache. Having not found any good simple explanation for it's email use, I'll give you the summary here. Look over everything in your inbox, delete all useless items. Create folders called Next, Action, Someday, Waiting. Starting at the top of your inbox, look through your emails and respond to emails that you can within a minute, and file them if it will take longer. File them according to these rules:

Immediate action items go to Next
Things you still have to do go to Action
Things that are nice to do go to Someday
Things that you're waiting on a response for goes to Waiting

This is a very simplified version of GTD. What you want to practice is being ruthless about protecting your Next, and Action bins. Don't overcommit yourself by thinking things must get done. From your Next and Action boxes will likely come material for your 5 Big 5 Small list. And so that's how they're connected. Feel how much less stressed out you'll be when you know what needs action and what doesn't. It can help you focus on what matters and spend less time poring over meaningless stuff.

Another aspect to consider is working rapidly when you need to, especially during those firedrills or "all hands on deck." The faster your pace of work, the narrower your field of focus or the more people you'll need to help who can work quickly and make up for lost visibility. As long as you recognize that relationship and not try to exceed your limits, I feel that you'll be able to work rapidly, and relatively stress free. Let me provide an example outside work, and I'll use action pistol shooting which involves shooting many targets on the run, through obstacles like the Steel Challenge on ESPN. It looks fun and it definitely is. Let's consider the following relationship. You can only hit what you see. You can only hit what you're aiming at. Basically your eyes are looking for targets, but your body must be aligned with your eyes to actually hit anything. Now if you have ample time, you can look around, find the bullseye, get set, and squeeze off a well aimed shot. What happens when you get a few seconds, to draw, hit three targets, reload and hit those same targets again? Your head and arms holding your handgun need to move as one unit, the downside is that moving that way is much less agile than if I just turned my head. What can I do to get the best of both? Admit that this seemingly simple problem isn't that simple first of all. Next, figure out your range of motion, which in this case is less than 180 degrees (for safety in competitions). This helps you figure out how many targets you can take on at a time. Third, identify where you will reload to have enough ammo for the next set of targets, and allow enough extra ammo for any misses. Then combine target acquisition with reloading, kind of like waiting for the laundry to finish while you go shopping. With practice, you can shoot faster, but you really can't increase your range of motion, despite the above being a game. What can you do here to go after fewer, but faster, and transition quicker? Even in actual tactical situations you can't widen your range much because your team is close by and you don't want to hit them. What's the solution to this? Either figure out your transition area, or have a team member supplement your field of fire by adding their own. In matches, all my spare ammunition is neatly arranged in magazines along the left side of my belt, also angled in the direction of my hand. What if I had my spare ammunition loose in my pockets, not loaded into the magazines, mixed in with my phone, loose change, car keys? I'd probably be told to choose a new sport.

How do you apply this competitive methodology to your day if you know that you'll be busy? Check your calendar for appointments that you must attend. These are the items you must be prepared for. Look at gaps in your calendar, this is your chance to regroup and prep for the next appointments. Find out how much unreserved time you have. Look at your Next/Action lists, choose a few and write them on the top of your sheet of notes for the day. Next, write a header for each appointment you have with the subject, and people you're talking with. All on the same sheet. This sheet will guide your day. If your guidance itself is in multiple locations, it's like using two sets of directions. Very frustrating. I want everything in my field of view, same screen. As you move from appointment to appointment, you take notes underneath each header. When you're not in meetings, you're instinctively writing down the next actions from your previous meeting. This is like cleaning off the cutting board without thinking right after I've passed the plate to the server. If at any time, someone calls you for some ridiculous fire drill, you'll feel a lot less stressed out going into it and coming out of it, because you know you'll be able to jump right back into the rest of your day.'re not paranoid about forgetting things because you're writing important notes down. This lets me hop from meeting to meeting relatively stress free. What stresses me out is not being able to find things and the last status of items, but with the above, is now easily taken care of. And from there, I have plenty of juice to go bike, swim, or get dinner with friends.

A few final thoughts on working rapidly:
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
You can't miss fast enough to win

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