Nonprofit Summer Exercise 4: Down With OPP

NPS-4

This summer, we’re traveling together in search of better habits, clearer minds, and deeper focus. This very important work self-development is something we don’t give ourselves the time to do, so why not do it during the summer to recharge?

So far we’ve been talking a lot about our routines and habits. It makes sense to look closely at our day to day during the summer, because our day to day is very different than it normally is. And what better time to make a serious change for the good of your sanity, health, and productivity!

Exercise 4: Down With OPP

OPP, how can I explain it
I’ll take you frame by frame it
To have y’all jumpin’, shoutin’, singin’ it
O is for Other, P is for People, scratch a temple
The last P…well…that’s not that simple…

You’ve tossed your bucket list aside for a cup list of summer to-dos. Like getting a great new haircut, your head and neck probably feel a lot lighter since making this shift. You have made the choice to focus on these crucial things, and my hope is that this exercise has given you some insight into planning other to-do lists in the future.

But on any given day, you will be faced with the challenge that can erode your ability to stay the course on that list.

Other People’s Priorities.

It starts from the moment you sit at your desk in the morning and boot up your computer. Twenty new emails. Some lingering follow ups from yesterday. You get a cup of coffee and hunker down to start responding. As you respond, more emails start coming in. You look at your to-do list… you were going to make some serious headway this morning while you were still fresh.

As soon as you clear away all these lingering requests. You should really respond as promptly as possible. It feels weird to keep people waiting, even if they’ve kept you waiting for weeks. You just really want to keep the ball rolling.

You’ll likely get a few physical interruptions, too.

“Hey Nancy, the printer seems to be jammed and I know you have magic hands when it comes to that thing!”

“Did you see that email from Greg in marketing? What the hell is he on anyways?”

“I’d like to pick your brain about the latest donor newsletter, got a minute right now?”

And so it goes. By the time you settle into YOUR priorities, you’re feeling haggard and sluggish.

“I’ll get on this first thing tomorrow morning!” you tell yourself.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time… and you’ll still be checking and responding to your bloody emails first thing in the morning. 

Out, damned spot!

We’ll talk more about boundaries (one of my favourite topics, as you may know!) in later exercises, but for now let’s start a new way of organizing the work you do.

Instructions

Take serious note of your own daily rhythms. Because we’ve been shoehorned into an arbitrary workday, many people seem to be their sharpest right in the morning, with waning energy in the afternoon.

This time when you’ve got your most energy is the most valuable time of your day – don’t waste it on email or other people’s priorities. Dedicate this space to your most important work. 

If it’s first thing in the morning, give yourself the space to get to it as soon as you get to your desk. Create a routine and ritual around it. Variety may be the spice of life, but limited the kinds of choices you need to make on a regular basis frees up real estate in your brain for deep diving into your creativity.

You can also try blocking off certain times of the day – perhaps once in the morning and once in the afternoon – for responding to emails or holding meetings. If something is very urgent, people shouldn’t be using email to communicate with you anyways (more on choosing the most appropriate and effective mode of communication later, too!)

Chances are this will likely ruffle some feathers. You may face more interruptions from people knocking on your door to ask if you got their email about their priorities. Come equipped with ear buds, calming music, and a scripted response – “I’m actually just in the middle of something and haven’t got to that yet.” Don’t apologize. Take what is yours — your time and mental energy!

We live in a time of constant connection, which makes it increasingly difficult to not respond immediately to the wants, needs, and demands of others. But this effectively makes us reactive, not proactive, and it sucks our precious time and energy.

Do you have a bad habit of letting OPP take over your work life? Have you built some defenses that have been useful for you to manage interruptions? What things have you done to create space around your most productive time of the day?

BONUS

If you have the flexibility, try spending your “golden hour” of productivity off site – prepare yourself ahead of time so you don’t spend all your time attempting to untangle your laptop cords or find suitable WiFi. Pick a place that is familiar and comfortable, get there, hammer through your task, and head to the office. For me, this is more invigorating than any pre-work gym workout!

If you have questions about this exercise or anything else, please don’t hesitate to connect with me! And if you’re game, tweet your progress and insights as you go along!