Every hour of every day more "stuff" is being sent your way. Emails, text messages, voicemails, instant messages, Twitter messages, Facebook posts... and the list goes on. The proliferation of mobile devices only serves to increase the flow.
As our businesses become more connected and social-media savvy, we are increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of daily communication.
What do you do with this deluge? You simply try to stay afloat. You peck away at the latest communications at the top of your many inboxes. And since the flow of communication never ends, you slip into a life of what I have come to call "reactionary workflow."
For those of us with great ideas and bold goals for the future, reactionary workflow is a big problem. If we spend all day reacting to the incoming barrage of communication, we will fail to be proactive with our energy. Our long-term aspirations will suffer as a result.
Over the course of research for my new book, MAKING IDEAS HAPPEN, I met a number of leaders that have learned how to avoid reactionary workflow.
Here are a few tips on how they do it:
1. Create windows of non-stimulation.
Once you open the door to communications overload, you could spend all day reacting to what's thrown at you. Many leaders actually preserve windows of time in their day to focus on a smaller list of important items (see next tip) rather than their to-do lists and everything else that is urgent. Proactively blocking out time for creating and absorbing – rather than just responding – is a key tactic of productive creatives.
2. Keep two lists.
When it comes to organizing the day's tasks – and how your energy will be allocated – create two lists: one for urgent items and another for important ones. Long-term goals and priorities deserve a list of their own and should not compete against the urgent items that can easily consume your day. Once you have two lists, you can preserve distinctly different periods of time for focus on each.
3. Schedule intense periods of processing at a consistent time every day.
During the research for my book, I met a number of people that swore by the benefit of "power hours." They would compress all response-related work into pre-determined short periods of time every day, usually 1-2 hours of uninterrupted inbox clearing. The notion of compartmentalizing reactionary workflow was a theme across the most productive leaders I met.
4. Don’t hoard urgent items.
Even when you delegate operational responsibilities to someone else, you may still find yourself hoarding urgent items as they arise. When you care so deeply about a project, you likely prefer to resolve things yourself. Say an email arrives from a client with a routine problem. Even though the responsibility may lie with someone else on your team, you might think, “Oh, this is really a quick fix; I’ll just take care of it.” And gradually your energy will start to shift away from long-term pursuits. Hoarding urgent items is one of the most damaging tendencies I’ve noticed in entrepreneurs that have encountered early success. When you are in the position to do so, challenge yourself to delegate urgent items to others.
5. Reduce your insecurity work.
In the era of Google Analytics and Twitter, we spend too much time obsessing over real-time data, just because it's at our fingertips. Whether it is checking your site's traffic or your bank account, these small repetitive actions don't help you make ideas happen. They just help you feel safe. The telltale signs of insecurity work are tasks that: (1) have no intended outcome, (2) do not move the ball forward, and (3) are quick enough that you can do them multiple times a day without realizing it. The first step for reducing this type of work is self-awareness. The second step is establishing some guidelines and rituals that provide more discipline. Perhaps you'll try restricting all insecurity work to a specified 30-minute block every day? The third step, if applicable to you, is to delegate the task of checking on this data to a colleague who can review it periodically and report any concerns.
How do you avoid a life of reactionary workflow? You need discipline and a dose of confidence. Recognize your tendency to surf the stream of incomings, and gain confidence in the potential of being proactive. It is easy to sit there and react all day. You'll never run out of work to do. But your bold ideas will suffer unless you take your energy by the reins.
***This article is based on research by Behance CEO Scott Belsky, whose new book, Making Ideas Happen, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think tank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.