Two weeks ago, I presented the closing keynote presentation for the Local Government Management Australia Queensland national conference. I was talking about how to manage the chaos and unpredictability of our highly-connected, “always on”, 24/7 world. One of my key messages was that instead of trying to fight against this chaos, harness it to work for you.
The old rules of goal setting, productivity and time management don’t work. Our goals become meaningless when the environment changes, it’s difficult to stay productive when we’re constantly interrupted, globally dispersed teams make in-person meetings impractical, and the 9-to-5 workday just doesn’t make sense anymore.
The new principles for high performance and super productivity are direction (rather than goals), signals (rather than interruptions), collaboration (rather than meetings), and flow (rather than time management).
I’ll explain what I mean by each of these four things.
Direction: Know What Matters
Think compass, not map. Know where you’re heading, and be willing to change your path to get there as things change around you.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make any plans at all. It just means you have to be willing to change your plans while still holding firm on your direction.
This also means you must be very, very clear on what really matters to you. If you set a goal, know why you want to achieve that goal, and then you can be flexible about how you’ll get there.
As Thomas Jefferson said:
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Signals: Get Smart
You might be complaining about information overload. But keep in mind that information overload is part of your job. Your customers and clients want you to take on the information overload burden on their behalf, sift through all the conflicting messages, and tell them what’s most relevant to them.
So don’t complain about information overload – get smart about it instead. Figure out your system to:
- Get more high-quality information coming in (and less of the low-quality junk)
- Process that information more efficiently and effectively
- Share it faster and distribute it more widely
Collaboration: Work Together
Working together is more important than ever before, but the Internet has made it both easier and harder.
It’s easier to find and connect with the best people for a project – even if they are on the other side of the world. But it takes a whole new set of skills to work effectively with them. You can’t pop your head over a partition, expect them to be working the same hours as you, or even speak the same language. So learn how to:
- Cooperate with them to achieve your own goals,
- Collaborate with them to achieve joint goals, and
- Accommodate them to suit your different work styles
Flow: Manage Your Energy
You can’t just close the office door at 5pm and forget about work until the next day. And it’s difficult to block out the world for days and weeks to work on an important project. If you really want to do important things, you have to figure out how to do them while still getting on with other work.
Instead of time management, think energy management. How can you manage your energy to get important work done? Here are some ideas:
- If you’re a morning person, wake up early and start working on these projects. And if you’re a night owl, of course you do this at the end of the day.
- Use something like The Pomodoro Technique to do your work in “sprints” throughout the day.
- Manage your e-mail in-box so it doesn’t rule your life.
This is only an overview, so I haven’t gone into a lot of detail here. But I hope it gives you some direction for managing chaos and information overload in your professional life.