Working without a system :(

I wanted to see how things would work out if I didn't work with my system. So, for the month of April I went back in time, pre-inboxzero, and worked as I used to work.

I knew two weeks into the month that April was going to be a disaster. Without my system, I was unfocused, progress was slow on projects and tasks, I was unprepared for meetings, I targeted easy work instead of relevant work because it was a quick win for me, I went back to being stressed about things I had forgotten or thought I had forgotten. Without my system, my work suffered and so did I. The experiment confirmed to me that I succeed at work and at home because my system works.

I know how intimidating and overwhelming it can be to just think about adopting a system to organize your work and make you more productive. Choosing the system is difficult enough, then there is the grunt work involved in setting up and installing the system and maintaining it. If you don't have an assistant to help you, consider contracting the project to outside help: an executive assistant with experience organizing executives or an email and calendar management specialist. The important thing is to start ... I continue to suggest starting small.

What is the biggest hurdle to your success at work?

Do you need to find time to work undisturbed? Your calendar seems to be filled with meetings (internal and external). People are chewing up your time, so much so that you have no time to dive-deep into your work.

Take 10 minutes today to work on this. Find and block 1 hour every 2 days on your calendar for the next two week (weeks 1 and 2). Then book 2 hours every 2 days for the 2 weeks following (weeks 3 and 4). Immediately go to Friday of week 4 and put in a 10 minute block to evaluate what worked best for you: 1 hour every 2 days or 2 hours every 2 days. It might not take you until the last day of the exercise to see which works best for you but this way it is on your calendar to make the decision and move forward on this initiative. It is important to remember not to block so much time that people cannot get on your agenda and are then forced to hijack your blocked time.

If you cannot find 2 to 4 hours in your week for focused work, then there is a larger problem. You either do not have the time in your week for anything other than meetings or that with a little planning you can find room in your calendar for all your work responsibilities. If you have too many meetings, bring your calendar to your next meeting(s) and show your colleagues the problem and find a solution together: reduce the number of meetings, shorten the duration of the meetings,,or reduce your presence at the meetings. Very rarely do people not want to reduce the number of meetings or at least shorten them. One you have the data at hand, solutions are easier to find.

Is your inbox full and getting fuller every day? You receive so much email, it is too hard to focus on what is important, urgent, or neither. I am a huge believer in starting with a clean inbox but if that is not available for you immediately, it doesn't mean you can't start to build your system.

Is there a particular project or client that is on the front burner and requires your attention? Take 15 minutes today and work with your email's built-in rules to send (or forward) all the necessary emails to a folder where you can go and find all that is relevant to that project or client in one place. You are no longer scrolling through reams of messages to find what the messages related to that client or project. Make new rules the minute an email related to the project or client finds it's way into your inbox (usually from a new sender not previously on the project). For this particular system-starter I would suggest doing this for 10 minutes each day over the next 5 days. Continue moving forward as the weeks progress by choosing projects or clients that warrant a folder of their own or perhaps start forwarding the emails that you want to read to a 'To Read' folder. In a perfect world, you will add this 10 minute habit to your daily routine and quickly become a world-class email rule-user.

If you have any questions or if you need help, please send a comment; I'd love to see you get started.

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