In-box overflowing? To do list that never gets any shorter? Have so much to do you don’t know where to start? Find yourself saying “there are never enough hours in the day”? In any workplace there are numerous time thieves that we are confronted with every day. Easily recognisable, many of us still feel incapable of addressing those things that, on a daily basis, affect our ability to get things done. Four of the most common time thieves are:
Interruptions and distractions
Lack of organisation
Saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’
While nothing in the list is likely to be new to us, what we may not have not had time to explore is how to recognise and address those things that rob us of valuable and productive time.
Interruptions and distractions
These include anything unscheduled but routine that disrupts an individual’s focus and will therefore damage productivity. Co-workers who drop in, phone calls, noise in the office, emails, texts, BBMs, social media updates and alerts etc. Recent statistics, collated by specialist work management firm Primary Asset Consulting, showed that serial worktexters are interrupted every three minutes by phone calls, text messages and Facebook updates. With this level of distraction, there is no doubt there will be an impact on workers’ productivity and/or their quality of work.
While you will never overcome all interruptions, you can become more self-disciplined and thereby lessen the impact to your working day. You can use ambient music to block out noise, turn off your email alerts, put your phone and mobile phone on silent (not vibrate as it may prove too tempting to ignore) or go somewhere quiet to work on a particular task. It will also be helpful if you secure the support of others so tell co-workers that you have a particular task to complete or deadline to meet and ask them not to interrupt you. If they need your assistance, schedule time for them after you have completed your task. Likewise if your co-worker asks to not be disturbed, respect that and avoid interrupting them.
According to Wikipedia, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. Piers Steel, one of the world’s foremost researchers and speakers on the science of motivation and procrastination, suggests that about 95 per cent of us procrastinate at some time. About a quarter of us are chronic procrastinators, which is when it impedes normal functioning. Do you recognise any of these procrastination indicators?
Filing your day with low priority tasks from your to do list
Reading e-mails a number of times without starting work on them or deciding what to do with them
Sitting down to a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of tea
Leaving an item on your to do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important
Waiting for the ‘right time’ to tackle the task at hand
Telling yourself and others that you work better under pressure so are putting the task off until nearer the deadline.
As we have just mentioned, the very technology that the modern world uses to improve communication is, in fact, increasing interruption and aiding the urge to put things off. “At work, e-mails, the Internet and games are all just a click away, making procrastination effortless. It’s easier to procrastinate now than ever before. We have so many more temptations”, Steel said. “The US gross national product would probably rise by $50 billion if the icon and sound that notifies people of new email suddenly disappear.”
With all that said, putting off an important task for a short period of time because you are tired/unwell etc. isn’t necessarily procrastination so long as this is only an occasional event and the delay is for not longer than a day or so.
It can help to examine why you are procrastinating and not getting on with the piece of work or project at hand. Often the project may seem too large and/or daunting. You may doubt that you have the skills, experience or resources that you need, so you revert to doing tasks within your comfort zone. Unfortunately the important task is still there, it hasn’t gone away.
Gina Trapain, author of Upgrade Your Life, suggests that people may confuse goal lists and to do lists. She suggests that if a piece of work is too big it is a goal. She recommends breaking down the goal into manageable and actionable tasks. Moreover, she states that writing tasks is not enough and that we should use action verbs to assist us in defining each task. Instead of ‘contact the board members to schedule meeting’. Stipulate how you will do this eg email all board members or call all board members.
People will commonly put off a task because it is unpleasant. For example, addressing the misconduct of someone who works for you (perhaps someone is texting at work all the time). First think about how much time you will waste worrying about how the conversation will go and second, think about the consequences if you do nothing and the situation gets worse (co-workers think it is OK to text all day at work). It is best to get these jobs over and done with quickly. They may not be as unpleasant as you think and once dealt with, you can focus on enjoyable aspects of the job.
You may fear failure. Perhaps you just can’t decide what to do so you avoid the task in case you do the wrong thing. In this case, you can seek clarification on what is expected and seek guidance from others as to what course of action you should take.
Procrastination is a habit and as we all know habits usually take time to be broken. There are many books, online articles and books that offer advice, information and strategies on how to tackle procrastination but the main focus is to get organised. Which, happily addresses another key time thief: lack of organisation. Some ideas to help you get organised include:
Look at your calendar first instead of your emails. That way you know what you have scheduled for the day, meetings you need to prepare for, calls that have to be made etc and can see how new items can be accommodated.
As above, keep an effective to fo list so that you can’t forget important tasks and can recognise when you are procrastinating.
Prioritise your to do list and start with the high priority tasks. Many people will start with the easier or fun tasks, building confidence that you are getting through your work and checking things off on the list. While this builds confidence it also creates stress as the deadline for the high priority task looms closer.
Get rid of unimportant tasks from your list and delegate where possible. Be realistic. If you run out of time for something of minor relevance then let it go.
Saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’
Many of us fall into this trap. You just can’t say no. You want to appear accommodating, helpful and supportive or it may be a task that seems more interesting that what you already have to do. However, by taking on too much you can end up overwhelmed and overworked.
No matter what you do there are only 24 hours in each day. Remember that in saying ‘yes’ to one thing you are really saying ‘no’ to something else, whether that be another piece of work that you can’t spend as much time on or a social activity that you now don’t have time for. Stop and think about what saying ‘yes’ to more work will really mean to you. Try saying ‘no’ or ‘no for now’.
If you can work on being productive at work, you can achieve maximum results in minimum time, leave the office earlier and have more time to spend on your personal life.
Oh and by the way, thank you to The Journal for extending my deadline on this!