Time waits for no man. Once the day is gone it’s gone, and we share exactly the same time constraints as Einstein and Mozart once did. It’s what we do with our time, and how disciplined we are with it, that counts. Herein lies the key: time is a precious commodity. There are 450 minutes in the average working day, no more and no less. I wonder how many have been needlessly wasted across the UK today? We might think it doesn’t matter, because we still get our salary at the end of the month, but being in control – and using the time wisely at work – benefits us and our well-being. Work-life balance is important, and working smarter (instead of harder) means the boundaries to our private lives can be better protected. Here are my top tips for feeling in control and productive at work, so you can leave on time and head straight for the beer garden.
1. The myth of multi-tasking
Multi-tasking is an apparent human ability to deal with more than one task at the same time. I say ‘apparent’ because we only need to read the stats on how many people think they can text whilst driving, but with disastrous effects. The human brain has limited resource and energy, and by spreading our brain power thinly, we only worsen our performance. By switching between tasks, we are interrupting our flow, and inevitably it takes time to get back up to speed. Switch off those email alerts and commit to completing one task at a time.
2. Don’t fill your brain with pebbles
Ok, so that sounds a bit cryptic, but I find this analogy incredibly useful. Imagine your brain is an empty jar, and all the things you need to do are pebbles. As you have more and more things to do, more and more pebbles pour into your jar, until you can’t think straight for worrying about the pebbles you’ve forgotten at the bottom. Find a system you trust to unload all of your pebbles into. Lists are great for this, or blocking out time to complete tasks in your calendar. If a new task (or pebble) comes in, put it straight on your list. Better still, if it takes less than 10 minutes to complete, don’t waste time filing it, just get rid of the pebble straight away. The fewer pebbles you have, the more manageable things will feel. For the pebbles you do have, you’ll feel much better knowing they’re in a system you can trust, so you can concentrate all your brain power on one pebble at a time.
3. Ask yourself, is that really my job to do?
Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t help your colleagues. One of the things I love about working at Search Laboratory is the capacity for kindness and support from everyone. But sometimes I see my hand sneaking up to take meeting minutes before I’ve even thought about it. Do I have time at the moment? Is this even my meeting? Did I take the minutes last time? Sometimes we offer help with the best intentions, when actually our colleague is better-placed to investigate and solve the issue themselves. Or we create work for ourselves and volunteer for things that didn’t need doing. Support colleagues, definitely. But if it’s to the detriment of your own work and deadlines, can anyone else help?
4. Don’t put the ‘pro’ in procrastinate
As we’ve said, time is a precious commodity. Making another cup of tea, chatting about Game of Thrones or checking Facebook are all tell-tale signs that the procrastination monster is lurking. The only person we’re hurting though is ourselves. Look for common themes – do you procrastinate when you don’t feel confident, and is there training you could ask for? Do you procrastinate over big projects that could be broken down into more manageable pieces? To stop procrastination, the first step is to recognise you’re doing it – then do something about it. And this is where the ‘discipline’ comes in. Tackle hard, boring stuff when your energy levels are at their highest, and remember the dullest task won’t go away no matter how much you try to avoid it!
5. Plan your time
Taking 10 minutes at the start of each day to formulate your plan of attack can be really rewarding. Being faced with a relentless to-do list can be really disheartening, but pick your priorities, and an achievable amount of work you can get done that day, and feel GREAT at the end of the day for meeting these goals. Beware though: If you don’t stick to your plan, you’ll end up having no faith in yourself. Remember, effective time management is building a system you can trust, and sticking to it so believe in your own convictions. Block time out for important projects too. It’s easy to get sucked into the daily whirlwind of issues that arise, but if we don’t protect time for the strategic stuff too, it’s not going to happen.
6. Don’t give in to interruptions or time stealers
Keep a log of common interruptions. Does it really require your immediate attention? Or are you throwing yourself off your plan needlessly? It’s amazing, even though interruptions at work are inevitable, the number of times we actually interrupt ourselves as well! Recognise unhelpful habits as naughty thieves who are stealing your time. Banish them away by doing something about it. Once you’ve noticed where things could be working better, you can consider the different options that might work for you. Always be on the look-out for ways to free up your time.
Time management is really about managing ourselves. I hope you’ve found at least one thing you could tweak in your daily routine, as making a commitment to gradual change can lead to a calmer and more fulfilling work life. Just think, what could you do with your extra time?!