You may have heard the phrase, “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” In my experience, this is true. For instance, try eating at two restaurants – one crowded and one empty – and notice the speed of the service at each one. I guarantee that the crowded restaurant will be faster every time.
The busier you are, the more quickly you learn how to work efficiently, and you can get more tasks done in less time.
In addition to raising a two year old son and spending one day a week with him, I currently hold four jobs that I am paid for:
- Wall Street Journal columnist: My nationally syndicated career advice column, Reinvent, appears online and in print on Sundays. The column features interviews on topics and trends related to career change and reinvigoration.
- Blogger: I post on job hunting, careers, and productivity twice a week at my home blog, Water Cooler Wisdom, and weekly here at the QuickBase blog and a few others. As an active participant in the blogosphere, I also read and comment on many other blogs.
- Author: For the last four years, I have written at least one business book a year. The publication of each book requires substantial promotional efforts at launch and ongoing publicity and social media engagement post-launch.
- Workplace speaker and consultant: Some organizations approach me regarding how they can help their employees succeed in their careers, and work more effectively with colleagues in other generations. I speak about these issues in house as well as at conferences and universities.
I am responsible for completing all of the responsibilities associated with these four jobs in the space of a 45 hour work week. When I worked one job in the marketing communications field, I put in about as many hours – more at times – and certainly had less work product to show for it. I’ve been able to do it through a process that has evolved over many years.
Here are some of my strategies:
Assign jobs to specific days
I have four days in which I’ve reserved the entire day to work. In order to avoid getting overwhelmed, I create a monthly schedule in which I am slated to work at just one job per day. For instance, as you’ll see below, on Monday I am responsible for writing my Wall Street Journal column and weekly blog posts.
Leave two hours per day for last minute tasks
I make sure I only schedule enough work for six hours of each day. This way, I have two hours to devote to unexpected tasks like networking calls, media interviews, and website edits. Because I don’t have a full-time assistant, I often need to complete administrative tasks related to my business during this time. Here’s a screenshot of what my calendar looks like on a given Friday.
Schedule “bulky” tasks three months out
Bulky tasks are ones that require a huge chunk of time, such as attending a conference or traveling out of town for a speaking engagement. As a general rule, I plan assignments that will take me out of my regular routine for at least 24 hours several months in advance. This advance planning allows me to avoid overscheduling a particular timeframe. It also means that I occasionally have to turn out bulky opportunities that appear at the last minute. Unless they are extremely lucrative, they’re generally not worth the stress.
Adhere to generous deadlines
I am only able to write a book a year because in the contract with my publisher, I give myself the entire year. If I were to spend all my working hours researching and writing the book, I would probably be able to finish it in a few months. But because I have four jobs, this isn’t possible. Allowing myself the cushion of a year means that I only have to work on the book 1.5 days a week. Each 60,000 word manuscript develops more slowly but is also much more manageable.
Say no or go online
Getting four jobs done in 45 hours means that I sometimes have to say no to people who want me to help them with a particular task or event. I try to do one pro bono event and three informational interviews per quarter, and if a request falls outside that scope, I’ll usually say no. I might offer people the option of moving an in person event online so that I can participate that way, and when people want to network with me over lunch, I will almost always try for a phone call first.
As a result of writing five books and publishing hundreds of blog posts and articles over the last few years, I have generated a substantial body of content. I keep my writing in folders organized by subject that I can readily access when the time comes. I try to retain all rights to my content so that even if a particular organization has first publication rights to it, I can re-use it after a period of time. Therefore, the work that I perform might very well be applicable to two or more of my jobs.
Prevent fall-behind by making up lost hours immediately
There are times when an unexpected doctor’s appointment, sick child, or visiting friend threaten to wreck havoc on my work schedule. When this happens, it is very easy to fall behind on the work that was supposed to be completed on that day, and this is where self-discipline comes in. Even if I’d rather watch Lost, I make up the missed time by working that evening after my son is in bed, or on a weekend afternoon I had planned to have off.
It may seem like I get a lot done in 45 hours, but I think I use every minute much better than the average corporate employee. During scheduled work time, I don’t surf the Internet, I don’t chit chat with colleagues in the kitchen, and I don’t go for Starbucks runs. Rather than just showing up in the office and letting the chips fall where they may, I plan what is to be accomplished each day very strategically.
Those of you who who work on a variety of tasks at once – how do you maximize your efficiency?
Multitasking image courtesy of La Gata Loca.