“Time is precious I know”. That’s what Culture Club (love the 80s!) used to sing. They were so right.
I wish I had more time
How often do you hear this phrase? Too often to count, I’ll bet. Our days are littered with obstacles. Emails, phone calls, meetings and interruptions steal our time. There’s only so much time in a day and if we don’t manage it properly we end up frustrated, unproductive and stressed. We seem unable to pause and understand the root cause of our “lack of time.”
But is a “lack of time” really the problem? The answer is NO.
The real question we should be asking ourselves is, “What can I do to become more effective in the time I have?” There’s a big difference between “doing things” and “doing the right things.” How many times have you felt like you did a million things in a day but still didn’t achieve what you wanted? Often, right?
We live in a fast paced environment. Technology has made everything “faster,” information goes at the speed of light and open offices leave us prone to distraction. We struggle to balance our work and the time we spend at home with our families. We keep looking at our smartphone for that important email and the satisfaction we get from sending that last email around 11 PM (look how dedicated I am, working late!) just makes the problem worse.
I had many occasions when I felt drowned by a million things to do. I was taking work home, killing the precious time with my family. The level of stress escalated.
I then started asking myself how certain people I respect manage their time. I discovered that discipline is the key to becoming more effective, more focused and (believe it or not) having time left to spare!
Every day I come to work (I tend to go early when no one is there) and I spend the first 20 minutes really going through my upcoming work day. I jot down 5 critical things I need to achieve that day. Notice I said 5, not 8 or 15. I try to discipline myself and focus on what is REALLY important for me to achieve that day.
Whenever I am clear about my PRIORITIES for the day, I fire up Outlook and enter these priorities in my calendar. And I stick to it! Between tasks I take a 10-minute break. Our brains are programmed to give their best for a certain amount of time, beyond which we lose effectiveness. Give it that refreshing and reinvigorating pause: stand up, walk around, drink water, chat with someone. Your brain will recharge and you can get onto your second task. Then rinse and repeat till the end of the day.
Now you’re thinking “what about those interruptions at work?” The colleagues coming to our desks with those magic phrases like “Got a minute?” or “Quick Question!” Let me say it loud:
“There is no QUICK question and no, it doesn’t take only a minute!”
We all know that! But our colleagues seem to forget…
You can say NO! You can ask them to come back at a different time. You can avoid visual contact. You can put on your headphones. You can even put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign. What works for me is all the above, plus sharing my calendar so people can see when I have a free moment and will be happy to talk with them.
You’ve made time to read this – that’s an important first step! Now here are a few tips that will help you take control.
- Understand how you are currently spending your time (you’ll learn a lot!)
- Review what you want to achieve (the end in mind)
- Set clear priorities for your day
- Identify Time Killers and eliminate them
- Make a list of activities you want to do in your day
- Mark the time in your Calendar and stick to it
- Stop Multitasking! Focus on each task “sequentially”
- Stop notifications, close Outlook, Skype, Messenger etc.
- Educate colleagues about your “availability” (being busy is not a crime)
There is so much more we can do to become more efficient and there are many books on the subject that you can read. But one thing is for sure: discipline and focus are key for becoming more effective.
Start taking back your time today and you’ll feel the rewards quickly. Better productivity, better work-life balance and less stress? That’s worth a few minutes of anyone’s time.