How often do you hear this phrase? Too often to count, I’ll bet. Emails, phone calls, meetings, and interruptions steal our time and kill our concentration. 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 often have you felt like you did a million things in a day but 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 time at home with our families. We keep looking at our smartphones for that important email, and the satisfaction we get from sending that last email around 11 PM (look how dedicated I am, working late!) makes the problem worse.
I had many occasions when I felt drowned by a million things to do. I was taking work home, killing 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, focused, and (believe it or not) having time to spare!
Every day I come to work (I tend to go early when no one is there) and spend the first 20 minutes going through my upcoming workday. I jot down five 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 essential to accomplish that day.
Whenever I am clear about my “priorities” for the day, I fire up Outlook and enter my calendar priorities. 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.
There is no quick question; and 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 to see when I have a free moment and be happy to talk with them.
You’ve made time to read this – that’s an essential first step! Now here are a few tips that will help you take control.
- Learn how you are currently spending your time.
- 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, and close Outlook, Teams, and Messenger.
- Educate colleagues about your “availability.”
We can do so much more to become more efficient, and there are many books on the subject that you can read. But one thing is certain: discipline and focus are fundamental to 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.