Staying on track and on time, whether you are working alone on a project or managing other people is a key skill for productivity and success.
Digging down a bit, we see that staying on track is about maintaining focus. And digging down a little further, I’d add that it’s about knowing what to focus on.
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?
Well, imagine that you are working with a group of people – a group you are in charge of and need to manage. You bring them all together and start a meeting. It’s your first meeting to begin working on a new project and you are under a lot of pressure from your bosses.
So, you are feeling stressed and know that you’ve got to keep things on track. And let’s say it’s just after the holidays and your group is slightly unruly. It’s a recipe for having your first meeting come right off the rails!
On Track: Strong Boundaries Keep You There
I recently read an excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review about just this subject. By Amy Gallo, “The Seven Imperatives to Keeping Meetings on Track” notes that planning ahead is key, and something that few people take the time for.
Another key is following through on your plan – and again, this is a challenge when competing priorities (and people) clamor for attention. Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts that Amy lists in her article:
Make the meeting purpose clear and send an agenda out ahead of time
Talk to anyone who might monopolize meeting time before you get in the room and ask him to keep comments to a minimum
Send out a follow-up email after the meeting that lists next steps, who’s responsible for them, and when they’ll get done
Feel obliged to invite lots of people — only include those who are critical to making progress
Move on to a new topic until everyone feels they’ve been heard
Let the group get distracted by tangents — ask if you can address unrelated topics another time
On Track and On Time – Not Just About Meetings!
But what if you’re a solo entrepreneur or a small business owner … or a blogger … who doesn’t have other people to manage or meet with? How does this apply to you?
Well, I’d say that the exact same principles for staying on track apply whether you’re dealing with a group or just with yourself. Clear boundaries and direct self-talk are fundamental skills for maintaining focus and optimizing your productivity.
You know as well as I do that there are days when you can’t stay focused. Maybe you are argumentative or distracted or tired or stressed. Whatever is going on, you may not be the easiest person in the world to manage.
So, this is where you want to bring in the same principles as you would with a group. Be clear with yourself about what you plan to accomplish and about the timeframe you are working with. Keep gently bringing yourself back to the subject at hand; don’t let distractions or complaints carry you off track!
And close up your time – whether you’re working with a group or simply yourself – with a plan for your next steps. Here’s how Amy frames it:
What do we see as the next steps?
Who should take responsibility for them?
And what should the timeframe be?
Record the answers and send out an email so that everyone is on the same page. This helps with accountability, too.
Having had a productive meeting, you continue to stay on track by asking these questions and writing down the answers. They give you a frame for proceeding, and you’ll know what to look for when you check in again with the group (or with yourself).
I think that you’ll find these ideas helpful for staying on track, no matter what your work setting. Here’s to your time success!© Copyright 2014 Paula Eder, Ph.D.