Time itself cannot be managed. It ticks inexorably forward. However, we can manage our behavior to make the most of the time we have. All behaviors employed to best utilize time should target one thing: sharpening focus. The more you focus on the task(s) at hand, the more productive you will be, which will also lower your stress. Increased focus is attained by reducing the interruptions and distractions that pull you away from what you’re doing.
Small Changes Make Big Differences
See if these suggestions help you stay more focused during the day:
- Turn Off New Message Alerts. One of the worst interruptions we suffer is the self-imposed new message alerts on our computers and mobile devices. When they sound or flash, these alerts disrupt what we’re thinking about and distract us away from the effort at hand. Consider this math: a four-second distraction to look at the new e-mail preview multiplied over 100 e-mails per day totals 400 seconds. That’s six and one-half minutes of activity with no corresponding productivity. Aggregating these seconds over a 220-day work year results in over 24 hours of lost productivity!
- Do One Thing at a Time. A recent Stanford University study concluded what we already know intuitively: people don’t multitask well. Consider the last time you tried to have a conversation with someone who was also checking their e-mail. Not very effective, right? The reason is simple. There’s a small cost to each switch of your attention. It’s called, conveniently, a switch cost and it adds up quickly. Just like the new e-mail alerts above, anytime you try to do more than one thing a time, your brain needs a moment between activities to cycle up. The solution is to work on only one thing at time. Work on that one thing until a logical breaking point, put it down and work on the next thing. The results are pretty amazing because you’ve eliminated the switch cost, making you more efficient and more productive. Dare we say that you’re “in the zone?!”
- Schedule Time Between Appointments. Running from meeting to meeting or phone call to phone call is the norm today. The problem isn’t that we have a lot of appointments – though there’s fodder for that cannon too – the problem is how we’re scheduling them. As you dash from one meeting to the next, details about the last meeting are leaking out of your memory. In addition, as you roll into the next meeting, your brain is still processing the last meeting and you’re not focusing on the topic at hand. It’s a lose-lose proposition. Try placing five minutes between appointments so you can jot down any thoughts you have about the meeting/call you just finished before you start up on the next. You will capture the maximum amount of information about each appointment and sharpen your focus on the next event.
- Sequester Yourself. Today’s workplaces are replete with open doors and open spaces. People passing through and by these spaces create distraction. One of the worse distractions occurs in your own workspace. There you are working away on something, intently focused and making headway. Then, all of a sudden, someone is standing there! There is no larger interruption than that. To minimize those events, simply remove yourself from the situation. Take one (or, at most, two) things you need to get done and find a quiet space to work. An empty office works, as does a conference or caucus room. A local library or meeting room in your office building/complex will also suffice. When you go to that location, sit down, do the work you have with you (remember, one or two items), then head back to your normal workspace and return any messages you received while you were gone.
What You Do Makes a Difference
You only get so much time and what you do with it affects how much you get done and how successful you feel!