5 ways to handle your time so that it pays you back

So, you’re a serial procrastinator, a perfectionist who finds it difficult to start tasks, your massive to-do list is growing every day and you’re always racing against the clock and running out of time. Well you’re certainly not alone.

We fall victim to these tendencies when we convince ourselves that poor time management is a ‘life script’: Something that is woven into our DNA that we can’t change or control.

However, we can all ‘work smarter… not harder’, as industrial engineer Allen F. Morgenstern said in the 1930s. We are all capable of working less and achieving more. After all, time is ALL we have, and in theory, we all have the same amount of time to play with.

Time is your friend, not your enemy. Here are some ways you can put your relationship with time on track to achieving successful outcomes.

Be stubborn – stick to your priority task

Write down your task list for the following day at the end of the previous work day, making sure to prioritise the list of tasks in order of importance.

As you kick off your work day, focus on tackling the highest-priority task on your list and work on this until it is complete. Move on to the next highest priority, working exclusively on a single task until each one is done.

When you cross off a completed task, do a dance and congratulate yourself! You have demonstrated efficiency.

Avoid multitasking!

We tend to praise ourselves for our ability to multitask when, in reality, multitasking can be detrimental to our progress, slowing us down. Indeed, various scientific studies have proven that you pay a price in productivity when switching back and forth between tasks.

In an article entitled, ‘Disruption and Recovery of Computing Tasks: Field Study, Analysis, and Directions’, authors Iqbal and Horvitz found that we can lose around 20 minutes of concentrated work time when we divide our time and divert our attention:

“Participants spent on average nearly 10 minutes on switches caused by alerts, and spent on average another 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of interruption) before returning to focused activity on the disrupted task.”

Kill distractions

It may seem obvious but eliminate all distractions and interruptions while you are working through your task list by switching off your phone (yes, OFF!), shutting down your email and turning off all notifications from the internet. Don’t check email or interact with social media.

Try enforcing self-discipline with tools such as StayFocusd which restricts the amount of time you spend on certain websites.

Stop bolting for the light at the end of the tunnel

You have probably heard the expression, ‘It’s not about the destination: It’s about the journey’. In our fast-paced world, we have grown used to valuing outcomes and goals over the journey we make to reach those goals.

In fact, our level of productivity is directly proportional to the strategies we have in place to work through our task list systematically to bring us closer to our ultimate goal. 

Before starting any task, create a plan with a list of tasks and milestones to work through, and tie these to a schedule. You can also set daily, interim goals and deadlines for yourself which are tangible and achievable per the SMART goal philosophy (Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Timebound).

By implementing a process and developing a system you can track your progress against interim deliverables and achieve daily success during your journey. Be sure to celebrate your interim successes!

Report to someone

It can be overwhelming to bear the sole weight of holding yourself accountable for completing tasks and projects. Forming a partnership with someone, such as a coach or a peer, can be greatly (and sometimes mutually) beneficial, allowing you to talk through your goals and express your concerns and fears.

It can also help with motivation: When you set intentions ‘out loud’ to someone who supports you, you are more likely to hold yourself accountable for completing tasks. 

Adopt a Big Brother

If you don’t want to share your intentions with a partner with whom you have built a relationship, you can always try collaborating with a virtual co-working partner you have never met before and you are unlikely to meet again via focusmate.com. Working in this way enables you and your virtual co-worker (a real person) to set out your goals and intentions to each other at the beginning of a 50-minute virtual working session.

You can ‘work together’ in the sense that you hold each other accountable for completing your tasks at the end of your working session without entering into any kind of relationship.

If you suffer from a lack of concentration and motivation but don’t wish to seek out a real person to hold you accountable, you can always invoke a virtual study partner. Search YouTube for ‘Study with me’ and you’ll find hours of footage of students studying at their desk. Playing these videos as you work can act as a motivational tool.

Don’t work alone

If you are a sole trader and find that you work alone lot, experiment with leaving home and working somewhere else, like a café, or a shared office space. Often, leaving home every day and going to a shared office environment filled with other self-employed people going about their business, can be very motivating, helping you to hold yourself accountable for delivering results. 

Be equipped with the right tools

To improve efficiency, try some of the following techniques:

  • Develop a daily meditation practice to get yourself into a calm and positive frame of mind. Even a short, five-minute meditation can transform scattered thoughts into orderly ones.  
  • Control your workspace. Ensure your desk is uncluttered and all distractions are removed.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed by too many to-dos on your growing list. Remember to focus on one task at a time.
  • Set daily deadlines for yourself and celebrate your achievements each day.
  • Take regular breaks throughout the day. We have an average attention span of 20 minutes, so be sure to honour your loss of concentration by taking a walk outside and getting some vitamin D.

How will you use your time differently next week? Book a consultation with me to discuss how accountability coaching can help you achieve more with less.

References
Iqbal, S. T., & Horvitz, E. (2007) ‘Disruption and Recovery of Computing Tasks: Field Study, Analysis, and Directions’, Conference: Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, San Jose, California, USA, April 28 – May 3.

Alisa Salamon

Alisa Salamon

Alisa is a certified career transition coach in the UK who helps people carve out a new career or take their existing career to new heights. Book a free consultation with Alisa to find out more.

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