To succeed at work, don’t do this

The average email user gets over 120 emails per day and that number is certainly rising.  In an 8 hour work day, that comes down to just 4 minutes per email.  When you read your email, you are responding to someone else’s initiative or worse being distracted.  If you stay in response mode all the time, you do not make time to push your own initiatives.  After a full day of answering requests from your co-workers and managers it can feel like you got a lot done.  You probably did, however you were in reaction mode.  If you do this day in and out, you are not likely to advance your career or business objectives.  It is all to easy to let this happen to you.  I know it has happened to me plenty.  I show up to work, have a full day of meetings with a few open spots and lulls in meetings to answer emails.  This cycle repeats through entire ship cycles.  You can do this for months or years and still keep your job, but you won’t make much of a difference.

In order to act strategically and really influence an organization you have to implement your will.  That doesn’t mean being a tyrant or not listening or collaborating with others.  It does mean that you must set aside time to do the work that needs to be done.  This includes marking off time to set up your goals, evaluate what work needs to be done, and consider who the best person to do it is.  You will rely on your team to help with this.  Once you’ve laid out your vision and the tasks at hand, dice up the project into chunks and hand off key portions to your best task masters and resource managers that can get the job done.  Now this sounds self evident, but if you don’t make time to evaluate your opportunities, plan your response, and execute your commands, you will find yourself reacting to someone else doing the same to you.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but knowing when it is happening and when to make time for your own initiatives is critical.

Restrict reading email to one or two hours a day.  Strive to lower it as much as you can.  Block off at least four hours a day to work on the important parts of your projects or initiatives where you don’t answer anyone unless it is absolutely critical.  This is focus time where you get the real work done.  Mark it on your calendar and treat it as an important meeting that you cannot move , interrupt, or make conditions on.  These time blocks will build your castle.

When you answer your email and other notifications quickly, you are telling others that they can interrupt you and that their requests are more important than yours.  That can be ok, depending on the nature of your work.  However, when you respond on your time, it communicates that you have important work, and you will respond when your schedule allows because you are focused on delivering what needs to be done.  Your time becomes scarce, and thus more valuable.  You have to back this up with action.  You can’t just hide in your office ignoring communications while you browse Facebook, unless your are in digital marketing, then that’s legit.  When you emerge from those focus sessions you should have some real work to show for that time. Most people are not going to be able to create these value nuggets because they are distracted by over communication and not doing deep focused work.

Think about your own bosses and managers.  Do they answer their emails right away?  Are they hyper available?  No, they’re not and for good reason.