Management theorist George Odiorne, who was instrumental in developing the theory “Management by Objectives,” coined the very useful phrase “Activity Trap” years ago. Loosely defined, when you fall into the activity trap, you become so busy with the tasks that you forget the overall objective. An activity trap is a yawning pit of frantic commotion that masquerades as productivity.
We’ve all been there, spending days – or weeks – so caught up in hectic busy-ness that we look at the clock at 5pm (ish) and think “Holy smokes! What happened? I didn’t get anything done today!” Living in the activity trap can leave you feeling drained and irritated, and with the lingering suspicion that you’ve just wasted a valuable day / week / month.
Interruptions Kill Efficiency
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take as much as 23 minutes to “pick up where you left off.” Most managers experience their first interruption of the day within eight minutes of starting. Constant interruptions lead to other efficiency-eaters, like loss of momentum, errors and do-overs, fatigue and stress. It sounds insurmountable, and you can’t eliminate interruptions altogether, but there are important strategies you can put in place to limit their impact.
Find Your Higher Calling
First and foremost, clarity about your strategic objectives will give you a point of focus, and a handy tool for making decisions about which busywork to pursue, and which to abandon. Goal-setting is an important part of this process. Invest the time in both defining your strategic initiatives and communicating them to your team. Whether it’s growing your revenue stream, expanding your patient base, or improving your processes, your strategic objectives are your ‘higher calling’ – the reason you’re at work today.
3 Steps to Simplify Your Business Life
You do have a choice about how you handle interruptions and mundane tasks. Consider taking a 3D approach to the activity trap to weed out the less-useful noise and improve your effectiveness. Delete. Defer. Delegate.
Delete is a beautiful concept. Examine your to-do list and strike through anything that doesn’t serve that “higher-calling” purpose. Sometimes these are tough decisions; you may feel pressure from those around you to take ownership of their urgent priorities. If you give in to that pressure, you’re saying “this is my priority.” Remember that your time is a finite resource; it’s not a bottomless well that you can tap at any time. If you find it challenging to say ‘no,’ try re-defining the ‘yes’ in your own mind. “If I say ‘yes’ to this task / obligation / priority, I will have to say ‘no’ to something else.” Every choice you make for one thing is a choice against something else. Delete as often as you can.
Defer is not a lesser option. Believe it or not, it is possible to postpone certain types of tasks for another time. Move everything on your punch list that isn’t critical or time-sensitive to a secondary list and order them by importance. When your time is less in demand is the moment to turn your attention to these.
Delegate is actually my favorite D in this 3D approach. We’re not just talking about delegating all the crummy, brainless jobs that you never want to do anyway. Consider what happens when you delegate responsibilities to others that are also meaningful tasks; you create learning opportunities for your employees or partners as well as spreading the work around a bit. It takes a little bravery to empower others and let go of these tasks. However, your team can actually benefit from the sense of ownership this confers upon them, and you can definitely benefit from not carrying all of the responsibility yourself. Delegation, accompanied by authority to make the needed decisions and carry them through, builds teamwork skills as well as improving the likelihood that your staff will contribute to the overall success of the enterprise.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s not forget to consider that there are a lot of great tools available in today’s business environment. Automating tasks when possible can potentially save you hours of time. (One more reason to love EDGEPro!) Investigate tools and systems that automate mundane tasks, and spend your own valuable – and limited – time working towards solutions and improvements.
Time for Growth
It’s not just about making time; it’s about making time to grow. When you’ve found solutions to some of the interruptions in your daily routine and simplified your business life, you can be deliberate about dedicating time and energy to your higher calling – your strategic role in your own business success. Now that you’ve made room, seize the space to pursue your tactical goals.