Life is a continuing struggle for additional time. Not that we can ‘add time’ to our terranean existence. The best we can do is to use the time we are allotted more wisely; and, in the business context, that means being as efficient as possible — so that you can complete your work, and get back, as soon as you can, to doing the things that you really care about.
With the rampant distractions of the digital age, it is very easy to lose focus. I blame the internet, in large part. Holding a world of information withal your fingertips, accessible mostly immediately, via the same device that you’re supposed to be using to get your work done, is just too great a temptation for anyone to avoid entirely. It is very much an aspiring equivalency to the fruit of the tree of knowledge, apple. Even the most efficient workers out there will disappear down rabbit holes, from time to time. Not that taking a break from work is disadvantageous: that’s the ultimate, recurring goal, after all. No, the trick is to do it intentionally, and in large chunks, rather than for spurts.
In this series of posts, we will outline collections of suggestions for the improvement of your time management.
Let’s start with the most basic solutions:
Taking Multitasking to Task. The ultimate problem with the level of distractions we endure is that we continually fail to achieve focus; and, if we do get to a point where we are focused, it doesn’t last very long, before our focus is again broken. Multitasking of any sort (between work and personal projects, between work and work projects, between personal and personal projects) is not an effective way to manage your time. While we may fool ourselves into thinking that we can engage projects simultaneously, our brains just don’t work that way. So, at a baseline, the best thing you can do to improve your efficiency, and to get the most out of your time, is to offer yourself more and deeper pockets of concentration. If not, you’ll be off the tracks, and then on the tracks; and, ain’t nothin’ funky ‘bout that. The dangers inherent in multitasking are fairly obvious; neither is there any need of supporting studies, when you know that your level of concentration, and your work product, is improved when you focus on doing one thing at one time, rather than when you’re trying to write an email and watch television all at once — you don’t enjoy, or completely experience, either activity. The question is mostly centered around how you can improve your focus, for longer stretches, and at greater intervals.
Get in the Zone. Even if you’re not multitasking, it doesn’t mean that you’ve eliminated distractions — only that you’ve been able to ignore them. To ramp your focus up to the next level, you should endeavor to carve out chunks of time during which you actively eliminate distractions. Turn off your email notifications. Put your phone on do not disturb. Shut your office door. Block websites where you frequently waste time. Blocking time and eliminating distractions is a recipe toward coherent thought. If you can eliminate distractions within your control, and get your staff to buy-in, to eliminate distractions within their control, you should be able to find a comfort zone, in which you can process, quickly, efficiently and thoughtfully, through projects — some long-standing, long-term or noxious — faster than you thought possible. Not that you should block out just any old time. Instead, figure out when you work best, when you tend to be at your peak level of performance (maybe you’re a morning person, maybe you’re a night owl), and cordon off that section of your day (start with two hour slices), in order to promote your best work, as your best self: Call it your ‘power hour’. Not counting visual distractions, auditory distractions are the most debilitating. Phones ringing, people talking, background noise. Construct for yourself, then, a cone of silence, within your private time. That, or dominate intruding sounds with sounds of your own choosing: listen to music you love, on noise-cancelling headphones. Don’t know which music to love, you? Suggestions appear below.
Drop Down Menu. Clearly, the question of when you do your work is important to how you dictate to time; and, that extends to scheduling smaller items, even beyond, and without the scope of, regularly-scheduled power hours. The concept of ‘OHIO’ = ‘only handle it once’ can be essential to an effective time management scheme. Usually, this system is applied to email management (we’ll get to that, too); but, in actual practice, it can be a guiding principle for anything that you do; and, it goes a little something like this:
-If the matter is not important, not worth your time or not within the scope of your job, delete it or delegate it.
-If the matter is important, decide when you need to act on it: If you can handle it now, handle it now; if it’s something you need to do later, convert the matter to a task, and schedule a time to complete it.
If you apply those principles, you’re only acting on each item once (well, maybe twice), and you’re spending less time making ad hoc process decisions; instead, you’re being decisive, and moving through tasks in a regularized pattern. Inherent in the application of OHIO is the notion of delegation; and, really, appropriate delegation (if you’re not a solo, and actually have someone to delegate things to) is a tremendous time saver. If you delegate work effectively, you will find that you’re mostly handling just the higher-end stuff, or at least what you want to manage, rather than forcing yourself to manage whatever comes across your desk, with little thought being attached to what you should be working on. If you’re managing a small firm, part of what you’re doing is defining roles for your employees, and determine what work funnels down, through and to particular employees; if you shirk that responsibility, and practice ‘OHIB’ = ‘only handle it (about a) billion (times)’, you’re torpedoing your effectiveness as a practitioner, and doing a disservice to your staff, as well as your clients, in the long run.
In Part 2 of this series, we will address email management.
. . .
Cat Stevens was amazing; and, it was a sad day when he quit music just after I was born. But, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Cat Stevens returned, more strongly bearded, as Yusuf, and then as Yusuf Islam. Whatever, he’s still the man.
The Yusuf Recordings reflect that fact. The late sound is more polished, and further muted, than his earlier recordings (both of those are (relatively) bad things); but, it’s still better than much of the catalogue of modern music, however defined.
Try ‘Boots and Sand’ on for size.
Tell ‘Em To Get It, he said. And, I shall.
It’s high time.