Control Your Days Like a Boss With These 4 Tips

If you read last week’s post, you know that churning out emails and answering other people’s requests is detrimental to your career in the long run. The problem is that everyone has other people they have to listen to at work, and we are often rewarded for helping others. So it feels good – temporarily – to move through other people’s to do list for us. But this is only temporary. And, as discussed last week, will absolutely have an impact on your career in the long term. So, best to set aside your need for a temporary pleasure hit and take these steps to take control of your days so you can take control of your career.

1. Plan your week

That’s right. You heard it. And I know you can’t begin to imagine having a week that you can actually plan, but stay with me here. I’m not asking you to plan every minute your week and never make a change. What I am asking you to do is to consider just three things you MUST get done this week in order for YOU to feel like you were a success at your job and contribute best to your company. These should be tasks that will move the ball forward on something that is on your long term to do list and can include work on a specific project, specific networking goals and even working on a new skill that is required for your long term career plan (assuming you have one!).

When you’ve figured out what those three things are, determine how much time you’ll need for each and loosely slot them into your week. This doesn’t have to be precise. Consider what days look more open to you and just put a note on that day’s calendar for what you will do with that open time.

2. Plan your days

OK, so you’ve got your weekly priorities straight. Good for you. Now, you need to break it down into your days. Each night before you leave work or each morning before you turn on your computer, plan your days. At first, it will seem impossible, but with practice, it will become imperative. When you have unscheduled time in your day, it generally just disappears into emails and side conversations in the hall. Try to get in the habit of planning every minute of your day.

In planning your day, you’ll need to schedule in time to check your email. I recommend three half hour blocks – one in the morning (but not first thing), one just after lunch, and one shortly before you leave work (but not the last thing). Check, batch process, and flag what might need to be added to tomorrow’s day to manage, but try not to simply react to what’s in your inbox. Of course, if you come across email emergencies that require you to adjust your day, you’ll do so. The benefit of planning your day in advance is that you’ll see what you’re giving up by responding to those emails and if it’s not really an emergency, it will be hard for you to give that original plan up. Your plan will keep you motivated and on track – and at the very least, aware – when other people’s requests come up.

3. Turn off your notifications

For some people this is mindblowing. But try it for a week and I can almost guarantee you’ll never go back. When you have email notifications on your phone or computer, you are allowing others to interrupt your work. Seriously – it makes no sense. If you were in an important meeting, would you think it’s ok for Suzie from accounting to break in and inform you that she’s looking for that report and needs it whenever you can get it to her? No. But when you’re in a meeting and have an email notification do that, it’s essentially the same thing.

If you can’t stomach the idea of no notifications, at least turn them off when you plan to work. Remember those time slots you’ve filled with getting your three most important things for the week done? That’s when you turn off notifications, do your work, and trust that if there’s an absolute emergency, someone will pick up the phone or (gasp!) come to your office.

4. Learn to say no

Prioritizing your week and days will certainly make it easier to say no to others’ requests because you’ve got a real reason. However, saying no doesn’t feel good initially, and it’s a skill that must be learned. I’m not asking you to say no to everything that comes across your desk. But I am asking you to stop trying to please everyone and to focus on what will make your career more fulfilling to you.

Saying no is easier when you have a reason, and that’s why your schedule and priorities are so important. Imagine it’s the end of a meeting, and someone asks you to send a summary to the group of the meeting. If you’ve got a packed day planned with real work, how easy is it to say “Actually, I’m working on another project this week that is a high priority. Is there anyone else that has more room in their schedule?” Boom. No one will think you are lazy because you explained the why and – if you did your planning correctly, it was a good why that everyone will get.

Taking control of your days is a skill that you MUST learn if you want to advance your career. Simply allowing yourself to be everyone’s helper will neither help you get promoted nor leave you fulfilled with your career. Try these skills this week to begin taking control and let me know how it works out!

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