Are you someone who runs out of time for everything? Most people do. Are you someone who gets really stressed about it all? Well, that’s where you might be suffering unnecessarily.
Most people see time as the limiting factor for success and productivity, but the crazy thing is that the people who get the most done don’t actually have more time than you. Sure, they might have a different set of demands, they may not have the same length of commute that you do, they might not have the family demands, but we all share the same 24 hours a day.
Time attitudes – there is always more to do, let’s be realistic
Ever thought to yourself that you would love to have an extra day per week to get everything done? It is easy to want more time, but with so many people being extremely poor at managing time, an extra day is only going to add to the problem. When you admit to yourself that you are chronically overloading you will see that the problem isn’t how much time you have, it is how much you commit to, given the time available.
There is a pervading attitude that all tasks “need to be done”. The constant internal dialogue is that everything is important and urgent. This is going to stress you out and limit your effectiveness.
Try a new approach. Instead, constantly ask yourself ‘what is the most important thing for me to get done RIGHT NOW, today, this week and this month’. Link the tasks you need to do with the outcomes. Always make sure you are meeting the right outcomes.
Change your thinking. Instead of saying I am overloaded, I can’t do this – say you have 10 minutes – make this worthwhile, break the back of this plan. Get two calls done in this 10 minutes, get the bills paid, book that flight. Make an amount of time VALUABLE.
Lists – the simplest way to get your head straight
Most people don’t think about time as being something that’s emotional, but it is. Like money, it is a resource that makes us frantic and erratic at times. Rational approaches to time management are quite rare, and they’re really difficult. We all get drawn towards the most urgent and exciting things, while those boring, important tasks get neglected.
One of the things that adds the most pressure and stress to people is the load they put on themselves to remember everything. If you are constantly trying to remember everything your ability to think creatively and clearly is severely compromised. Make lists for everything. And make them accessible. Some of the really good smartphone apps for this are Evernote, Asana, Omnifocus and Wunderlist. (Each has their own strengths and weaknesses). Or use a simple diary – handwritten or online. Make a weekly plan of what you need to achieve and this MUST match goals you have, KPIs for your businesses, or team agreements. Break your tasks into chunks – simple achievable chunks – like a structure for a report, a list of people for a project, a plan of attack for a negotiation.
Be organised. As you think of things – write them down. Think of how many times you have left a meeting and thought: “Oh no! I was supposed to speak to my manager about…and now she’ll be overseas for a week and I won’t get a chance to speak to her.” Having a rolling list of ‘things to speak to my manager about’ takes care of this.
Focus breeds control
Too often I hear people celebrating their ability to multi-task. Some people are definitely better at it than others, but it can be a good way to ruin your productivity. If you are concentrating heavily on a piece of work and you suddenly realize you need to call someone about a project then add it to a list of ‘calls I need to make’ and get back to the task you were on. Deviating from the task by making a call for 5-10 minutes means that when you return to that task your concentration has been broken and your level of output decreases until you’re back ‘in the zone’.
Of course, interruptions can’t be controlled entirely – you will still have people calling you, entering your office for a chat, etc, but don’t add to the burden by interrupting yourself. When you learn to trust your ability to make complete lists then you won’t feel the urgent compulsion to interrupt yourself. You can confidently work on the task at hand knowing that you won’t forget.
Learn to allocate slots for calls – after certain milestones are reached or tasks completed.
It makes so much sense to group things into specific time and task blocks. There is so much wasted brain use that occurs when flicking from one theme/project to the next. If you can think of your day in terms of one or two-hour blocks where you focus all of your available energy on progressing through a specific project then you will be stunned at the progress. Be mindful of time as you work, enjoying the sense of completion within a timeframe.
Building a list of to-dos associated with Project A is excellent for when you decide to spend some focused time on Project B. It will all be there waiting for you and you can plough through that category while your head is totally into it. Some experts recommend making context-specific lists such as ‘things to do on the train’. These are task lists of calls to make, short email responses and perhaps articles you want to read. If you allocate all of these tasks to a commute you have effectively created that much extra time in the office.
Deciding what to do next – the small versus the big
The biggest challenge people have is around prioritising. There seems to be this natural grouping of big and small tasks. Small tasks are all those annoying little flies that buzz around your head: ‘Pay invoice’, ‘Book lunch for Thursday’ , ‘Clean desktop’, ‘book flight’…They are things that distract you when you are trying to work on the bigger projects: ‘draw up next year’s budget’, ‘write new marketing plan’ , ‘review candidates for new role’.
The balance between the two is really difficult. Often you will notice yourself going through a stage where you attend to all that small stuff because it has driven you crazy for so long. Or you realise the important, larger projects are becoming urgent so they now take your attention.
It can be really useful to set aside two small time blocks each day to address the small things. Make it the 15-30 minutes before you’re supposed to start work and the 15 minutes straight after lunch. This will clear up so much headspace, and help you to focus effectively on the larger tasks.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but it is a really powerful tactic! Limit it to tasks that take no more than five minutes to complete and you will notice a huge difference.
The most important thing about managing your time is to adjust your attitude towards it. You can then develop a few little tricks and habits that will make a huge difference. If you change your attitude but not your habits you’ll only get a similar amount of work done. If you change your habits but not your attitude you run the risk of slipping into the old overload habits. Put them both together and you might just start to feel in control of it all, which is a pretty appetizing thought for most people.
Focus – tell yourself:
I will enjoy being in control
I can complete work on time
I can relax when tasks are done.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.
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