Randy Dean's Timely Tips

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Timely Tips©: Volume 1, Issue 3; November 2004 -- A Three-Minute Clutter Buster

One of the favorite time-savings tips that I share in my seminars is one of the oldest time management habits that I follow. I learned this very helpful tip on managing information overload from time management guru David Allen in the early ‘90’s, and I’ve followed it religiously since I first learned it. It is just as valuable today as it was when I first learned it, and the thing that is great about this tip is that it is so simple – simple to understand, simple to implement, and simple to use.

This simple but powerful habit is called the “three minute rule”. Here’s how the three minute rule works. Every day, first thing in the morning, I collect all of the new pieces of information that have come into my office since the previous day (voice mails, emails, snail mail, papers and documents, faxes, articles to read, etc.), and I then consider each and every one and make a quick decision. My decision rule is this: can I process this piece of information in three minutes or less (meaning, can I read it, forward it, file it, delete it, toss it, archive it, or complete it in three minutes or less)? If yes, I do it RIGHT NOW. If no, I then put it into a prioritized pile of information, with the most important and urgent item at the very top of that pile.

By taking care of the myriad of little three minute tasks that come in each and every day, I do myself a great service by getting rid of a great deal of the clutter on my desk each day. I keep the little stuff moving, and I handle it quickly and efficiently first thing in the morning. And then, once all of these little things are off my desk, I am now free to work on and focus on the more important and time-intensive tasks and appointments for the rest of the day. And I am not distracted by all these little piles of little “to do’s” sitting all over my desk asking for my attention. Plus, my co-workers and clients are happy, because I respond to their little requests in an appropriately timely manner. Things don’t get stalled on my desk.

I’ve been following this rule for years, so now my process is quick and automatic. Usually, I get through my three-minute pile in an hour or less (sometimes significantly less). And thus I am allowed to focus on the higher-level value added activities with more time and energy, which improves my performance and productivity. It has made a big difference in my life. But when I first started following this rule, I did go through a little transition period.

The Conversion Process

I had several large piles of mostly little tasks (with a few big and important tasks mixed in) all over my desk, and my e-mail inbox was quite full. What I decided to do was block my calendar one day, and put all of these separate piles into one big pile, and print out all of the emails in my inbox. I then took each item one at a time, and spent an entire day knocking out as many little three minute tasks as I could. I put every item that would take longer than three minutes into a separate single pile. The people in my office thought I was a bit crazy that day, as I was running all over the place getting a million of these little 3-minute things done. Plus, I probably sent out about 50 emails that day, all to people that had been waiting too long for a quick little reply to something. I was surprised by how much of the stuff in my office I could just throw away or delete. And when all was said and done, I think I knocked out about 85% of the stuff that had gathered in my office.

The next day, I spent significantly less time doing three minute tasks – I had them under control now. And I took that pile of tasks and activities that would take more than three minutes, and organized it into my new “Priority Processing” box. I had the items in this box organized with the most important and urgent items on top, and the least important items on the bottom. Now, not only did I no longer have a million little distractions in my office, I also was clear on what was the most important thing for me to be working on.

I hope you can see the value of this habit, and how it could greatly reduce your clutter and your stress, and also greatly increase your productivity. Now that you are coming into a holiday week, could this be a good week to block your calendar for half a day, and knock out all of your three minute tasks? You’ll be surprised at how much it clears your mind, and you might even be able to see what color your desk and credenza are again!


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