You clicked on this article because, like most (all?) of us, you struggle with time management. I assert there is no such thing.
Time – after all – flows in one direction. Forward. You can no more manage the flow of time than can you can control the tides. Therefore time management strategies are (pardon the pun) a total waste of time.
The only thing that works is “self” management. And to that point, I offer three tips for managing ourselves in order to make better use of our time.
Use a Timer
My marketing director is a huge fan of this particular model. It’s a cube, and you simply rotate it depending on how many minutes you wish to allot for an activity. As a practice, set the timer for brief blocks of intense focus during which you will not allow yourself to be distracted by email, phone calls, YouTube videos or whatever else steals your productivity.
Start with a disciplined 15 minutes of Zen-like focus. When your attention wanders (it will), acknowledge the errant thought, dismiss it, and return your attention to the task at hand. When the timer goes off, reward you brain with a brief break. Here’s the catch: your break must be timed, too. So check your email, warm up your coffee, then return to your task.
Why is learning to ignore distractions so important? Multi-tasking is a productivity killer. We think we’re saving time by toggling between tasks, but the opposite is true. Multiple studies have shown that a typical office worker gets only about 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return one’s concentration to the original task after an interruption.
As you become comfortable with this practice, set your timer for longer and longer intervals. Over time, you should manage laser-like focus for a full hour with zero interruptions, followed by a 10-minute break. Do this faithfully, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish over the course of a day, a week, a month, etc.
Make Success Inevitable
Making success inevitable refers to outsmarting your time-wasting tendencies in a way that forces you to stick to a plan.
Let’s say you want to exercise 30 minutes per day, but you can’t seem to find the time. You admit this is amusing, because you easily can find 30 minutes a day to troll social media, tinker with your fantasy football team or catch up on gossip in the break room.
Here’s an example of making success inevitable. You probably already use your smart phone as your alarm clock. Instead of putting in on your nightstand before you go to sleep, put it across the room – in your gym bag. You’ll have to get out of bed to silence the thing, and if you’re awake enough to unzip your bag, you might as well put on your shorts and shoes and get moving, right?
Here’s a fun app for over-achievers: Try Gym-Pact. You attach your bank account to Gym-Pact, and when you don’t go to the gym (and check in), Gym-Pact takes money out of your account. The money it collects is then redistributed to other users who actually went to the gym.
Chances are, some of your inertia has a root cause that is personal and emotional. We all deal with a certain level of stress or angst that shows itself in our work habits. Sometimes looking at these issues head-on is a route to clearing the mental fog and increasing productivity.
Time management expert Dave Crenshaw (let’s call him a “self management” expert) recommends we make a massive to-do list every three months, and he offers strategies in his online course for identifying what on the list should be handled and what needs to be “let go.”
Crenshaw’s theory is that some of the items on the list simply aren’t going to get done – they’re not important – yet they’re creating an energy drag because we feel guilty that we haven’t dealt with them. He says letting go of some of the cr*p can generate enough mental energy to tackle the truly important things on the list. Do this regularly and you’re on the road to increased productivity, Crenshaw says.
I also recommend Mira Kirshenbaum’s The Emotional Energy Factor: The Secrets High-Energy People Use to Beat Emotional Fatigue (Delta 2003). In it Kirshenbaum helps us identify the root of productivity-zapping behaviors – and offers strategies for regaining energy to fuel personal and professional success.
Hope these tips are helpful. Share this article – and please share a comment below.
What strategies are using to manage time – or yourself – these days?
Maurice Gilbert is Managing Partner of Conselium Executive Search, which specializes in placing Compliance Officers and Legal Counsel for clients in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. Maurice is also CEO of Corporate Compliance Insights, a worldwide publication devoted to governance, risk and compliance issues. Maurice can be reached at email@example.com
Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.