Changing the habits of a lifetime

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Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 20 August 2014

Why do some people make it all look so easy?  They can achieve great results at work, find time for their family and friends and manage the so called work-life balance particularly well. It’s easy to tell ourselves that their job must be easier, less complicated, their boss less demanding, they are the boss and have people to delegate to or that they are just not as conscientious as we are. Deep down it’s easy to find ourselves wondering how they appear to manage their personal effectiveness so much better. 

I suppose the fundamental question is, “Are there particular tools and techniques that will help improve your personal performance?” And if the answer is yes then can they be learned and applied? Many of us will have attended training courses in time management and personal effectiveness where we will be given the latest planning tool and a list of techniques for reducing your workload. Work harder becomes work smarter which soon converts to work harder and smarter. 

Work is supposed to be hard otherwise it would be called something else. Yes you do your best to make elements of it fun and you can bring it home and work where and when it suits you. A regular frustration (I have observed) is that we can find ourselves working very hard and not really achieving what we wanted to achieve. Other things get in the way.

Email is a good example. How often do you spend the evening or weekend subconsciously thinking about the top five things you will do on the next working day only to sit down at your inbox and find that there are ten things getting in the way? Once you have replied to each of those emails your ‘to do’ list is a faded memory and the list for tomorrow morning looks either very different or the same but further away.

No amount of clever techniques can cure this problem it will always be there and if we follow the same pattern of behaviour with increasing technology, it will only get worse. 

Starting with the man in the mirror

The answer lies within ourselves and in particular with one principle only. The principle of self-discipline. You (personally) have to behave differently. You have to break out of your current practice and be consistent in your new approach.

Coming back to emails you should try the following for just thirty days. Discipline yourself not to be swayed from it and to get back up quickly if you are knocked off course. I didn’t say it would be easy!

  • Only check emails twice a day for no more than thirty minutes each time.  For example at 10 am after you have say completed the first of your most urgent tasks and then again at around 3pm when you want to check for updates and replies.  Your aim here is to review what you have received and decide how (and when) to respond.  Schedule mails that require real work, delete the junk mail and file any information.
  • Switch to working offline at all other times – that way you can still draft and even send emails that further your own plan without being distracted.  Oh and switch of all audible, visual and preview alerts so that you are not distracted by incoming emails while you are on-line.
  • Move at pace and keep a focus on this.  Even set a timer.  You are prioritising the requests not throwing away your schedule for the day so try not to move into responding mode unless something is so urgent that it demands a response immediately.  And remember the golden rule - don’t chat on email. 

Granted that on some days you will have meetings and other commitments at the pre-ordained times. So adjust your schedule accordingly and move the thirty minute slots. You may find that you need to structure your day differently with more challenging work undertaken when your energy is at its peak but try to at least start each day on your own agenda.

Becoming a high performer requires real self-discipline and following this simple approach for just 30 days can be a real game changer.


About the author
Eddie Kilkelly is managing director at insynergi®. He can be contacted via or follow on Twitter @insynergi.

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