Friday, June 10, 2011

I Used to Think David Pogue was the Devil: How to Keep Control of Your Week

It all started as a 10-minute break on Thursday afternoons.  I would read David Pogue's technology reviews in the New York Times Personal Tech email:  Sometimes I’d chuckle, sometimes I’d find out about new technology and occasionally, when I was busy, I would just click delete.  Good stuff.

Along the way, I started feeling anxious when that email showed up in my mailbox.  It was a warning that the end of the week was here, and it made me feel like a quarter of a month had slipped away and again, I hadn't achieved everything I had hoped to.  Scrolling through the long list of columns he’d written, I would freak out.  How does he put out so many articles, reviews, books and webcasts each week?!?  His emails, I felt, were mocking me.

Even though it was all David Pogue's fault, I decided to take action.  Managing my time better each week would help me avoid feeling this bad each Thursday. I created a task list, and I figured out the 8 best ways to take control of my week.

1)  Create a detailed task list each week.  Without one, your days will become a series of reactions: to emails, to phone calls and to the other requests and distractions that we all experience.  Keep a master list of everything you’d like to do, and select items from that menu to focus for the week.

2)  Plan on Friday.  Set aside 3pm to 4pm on Friday afternoon to plan.  No exceptions.  You will hit the ground running on Monday morning.  More importantly, next week feels far away, so you can convince yourself to schedule big tasks that you might avoid when you’re in the heat of battle.  Plus, you’ll know if you need to work over the weekend because you have an unmanageable week coming up.  Send out requests for information and assistance on Friday, and set meetings and conference calls as well.  Giving notice will help keep others from gating your efforts. 

3)  Be strategic.  Don't put things on your list simply to check them off.  Compare your task list against a list of your strategic goals.  Items that don't help further strategic imperatives should come off the task list.  (If you haven't taken the time to list your strategic goals, you ought to.  I will write about that another time).

4)  Don't be a doormat.  We are all forced to commit to tasks because someone is bugging us.  Don’t let pressure take you away from important things you want to accomplish.  To be in control of your career you must keep control of your schedule; so make plans that serve your objectives and tell the squeaky wheel to keep squeaking.

5) Leave time for emergencies, and personal business.  Some emergencies can’t be avoided.  If you don’t leave time to deal with them, you’ll never have time to complete the things you want to.  We all have personal lives that require our attention, so leave some time for that too.    

6) Say no.  If you treat every request you receive as an emergency, your week will be out of control.   Things that come up are almost always less important than the plans you have scheduled, so stick to your guns.  You have to say no.  When you can't say no, try to carve out tasks that fit into your schedule, or delegate so that you don't find yourself off track.

7) Don’t let deadlines rule you.  Facing deadlines on top of deadlines, it’s easy to forget to make time for the things that are not time sensitive.  Like lunch.  And thinking.  Leave time in your schedule to do important but leisurely things like taking clients and colleagues to lunch or committing new ideas to writing.  If you wait until your schedule slows down to do these things, you are never going to do them.

8)  Set expectations.  When you decide what you won’t be doing next week, let those who are affected know (nicely, of course).  Sharing your upcoming week’s plan will allow others to adjust, and hopefully be an aid to you instead of an anchor.

Once you’ve gotten your schedule under control, you can enjoy David Pogue on Thursday afternoons, too.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at