When I sit down at my computer each morning, I always have plenty of emails asking me to work on short-term projects: a connection that has to be made today, a round of revisions that needs to be made immediately, a phone call that really ought to have happened last night, etc. Because of how immediate all of these requests are, it’s easy to get lost in them and let my long-term projects fall by the wayside.
Even with a schedule meant to let me proceed with a project at a comfortable pace, more immediate concerns can make it much harder to finish a project on time. And if the project is one that you don’t have a client or employer expecting you to finish, sticking to a schedule is just that much harder.
It’s OK to Say No
I think email has doubled the amount of work people ask me to do. When clients had to pick up the phone to ask me to handle some small detail, I think they were a little more reluctant to try to find me and add to my work load. But sending an email is just a matter of a moment and doesn’t require a whole lot of worry on the part of a client or a manager.
With all these little requests piling up in my inbox, it quickly becomes impossible to find time to work on a project not immediately due. But just because those small requests are in my inbox doesn’t mean that I have to take care of them. When possible, I hand them off to someone who is better able to take care of them. I’ve even been known to tell a client that I can’t handle a particular task. It’s important to minimize the number of little items that make it out of your inbox and onto your task list.
Schedule Big Projects First
I’ve been writing e-books on top of my normal work load lately. At first, I had the hardest time just finding a few hours to work on them. I had them on my task list, but they kept getting bumped in favor of closer deadlines — and client work with a more definite payout. Day after day, one of my e-books would be first on my desk, until I glanced through my email and saw some fires that I just had to put out first.
While there’s no easy solution to all those little problems, I found a surprisingly simple way to get my bigger projects done:I worked on them for an hour or two before I opened my email in the morning. Sure, I still had plenty of requests waiting for me when I did get around to my email — but they weren’t distracting me during the time I had allotted to my longer projects. And, amazingly enough, the world didn’t end because I wasn’t able to get to quite every little problem that someone had notified me about.
How do you avoid distractions to focus on your long-term projects?
Image by Flickr user Chris Campbell