Let time rule you and you will be its slave for the rest of your life, goes the popular saying.
Time has always been the scarcest resource for the greatest of leaders the world has seen. No matter how successful they are or how many tools and technologies they are adept at, managing time has been the toughest job for the smartest of folks in the world of leadership. There have been multiple managing tips circling around since ages, however, employees and managers all around the world have been complaining about insufficient time and low productivity. So, here we have tried to address this evergreen issue by capturing some of the commonest yet critical issues cropping up in our day to day lives.
As the humdrum of life continues, most of us struggle to make the best of the time and energy we have at our disposal. Having said that, while time is a finite resource and is available in the same measure to everybody, energy is variable and depends on every single person’s way of life and how he/she utilizes it.
Bella and Eric are one such power couple who are striving hard to balance work and life, with the goal to top it all with professional success and personal fulfillment.
Living the fast-paced life in Manila, Philippines; always running to achieve the many targets of their modern life. In the face of the pandemic, both Bella and Eric have been working remotely and slowly embracing the hybrid model of work. One fine morning, when Bella was busy preparing for a meeting, Eric entered the room and said:
Eric: Guess what, I have to drop by office tomorrow. The investors are saying that they want to meet in person.
Bella: What! What did your manager have to say to this?
Eric: What option does he have? These folks are important to us. After what we have been through in the last 18 months, we cannot afford to lose their backing.
Bella: Oh Goodness! It seems like ages when you say ‘travelling to office’ and I am getting reminded of the countless hours in Makati traffic. It just seemed like technology was doing everything without travel!
Eric raises his hands in disappointment and leaves the room without another word. While some people are longing to visit their abandoned offices and meeting their colleagues even if it is only for a couple of hours, others think that there is no way they can go back to the old normal.
Next day, Eric is all set to leave for office after 18 months and he is anxious for sure. With all the mandatory precautions, he sets out to take the public commute. After 2 hours of travel, Eric reaches office and is immediately informed that his manager wants to see him. He shuffles through his files and carrying the relevant documents, marches towards the manager’s office. The first thing Eric’s manager asks him is if he has checked his email, to which Eric says no. Giving dismissive looks, the manager informs him that the meeting with the investors had to be postponed on account of a health emergency for one of them. Eric is obviously disappointed and realizes that he did not get the time to check his mails/messages as he had to travel to work. He rushes to his desk, only to find his team waiting for the weekly training program he is supposed to conduct for them. He had summoned them to the office as he was coming for the meeting, and he thought it would be a good idea to meet the team in person after such a long time. So, he puts everything else behind and moves to the conference room with them. Multitasking was taking a toll on his productivity rather than enhancing it and he was being overwhelmed by the number of things he had to do in a day.
Soon, it was time for lunch and Eric had to make do with whatever was available in the local food courts. Not satisfied with his meal plan for the day, he disappointedly returns to his desk. He writes some e-mails, replies to the messages, and prepares for the next day. Soon, he gets a call from Bella and is informed that he has to rush home to take care of their baby as she has an important virtual meeting scheduled for the evening.
Tired, exhausted, and disappointed, Eric manages to keep an eye on the child and puts her to sleep. They order dinner and as the day comes to an end, they sit in their respective zones where they work till late night, compensating for what they had not been able to achieve during the day. Both regret the fact that they are unable to spend quality time with each other and with their child.
Sitting is the new Smoking – Dr. James Levine
So, these are some of the ordinary struggles most people go through in their everyday lives. Working overtime and still not achieving targets, dissatisfied with the quality of work they are delivering, personal sacrifices, no time to socialize or focus on their health, etc. The everyday stress depletes not only physical health but also mental well-being. More and more youngsters are falling prey to silent creepers like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders just because of their lifestyles.
Although, countless theories have been formulated by experts on how to manage our time, people fail to put them into practice or achieve what they really want to. Having identified the problems, let us now look at some of the solutions that could simplify our lives to a great extent if followed religiously.
In order to gain the maximum out of each day, the first tip that is handy is to:
HIT THE BED EARLY: We see that Bella and Eric work late into the night. As a result, in the morning, they hardly have time to say a word to each other nor focus on their health and fitness. So, if we hit the bed early and join the 5AM club, we get a couple of extra hours during which we can stretch ourselves – be it reflecting and coming up with new ideas or going for a run or practicing yoga/meditation that energize us for the rest of the day. These rituals when made into habits, not only impart immense health benefits but also keep us fresh and joyful.
The next tactful step is to plan your day in advance. This takes just 5 minutes of your time every night, before going to bed. We have this powerful technique called the ALPEN METHOD which allows us to plan and prioritize our next day before hitting the bed the night before. This leaves us more organized and structured for the coming day. The 5 pointers of the ALPEN METHOD are:
- Activities & tasks
- Length of time
- Planning for buffering
- Establishing priorities
- Note taking
These powerful techniques have been in place for many years and are the thumb rules for many leaders. Another unnoticed factor that eats up time without our knowledge is MULTITASKING. While we feel that we are being highly productive by doing multiple tasks at a time, it actually results in lesser outcome and poorer quality of work.
The shorter way to do many things is to only do one thing at a time – Mozart
To be precise, if we focus on one primary task at a time and switch tasks only when it has been completed, our focus is increased and the quality of work we deliver is higher.
Postponing a task for too long can drain our energy and lower our interest levels leading to less qualitative work or facing harsh outcomes like missing the deadlines. So, a large segment of the working population is fighting with this ancient enemy, PROCRASTINATION that is the biggest killer of time. This is an illusionary maze we happen to get lost in and it is not only difficult but mindboggling to escape this trap. That is why, ‘tomorrows’ are often the busiest days of the week.
In this perspective, renowned author, Brian Tracy has said that “If your job is to eat a live frog, eat it first thing in the morning”. That way, it would be the worst task you would be doing in the entire day, leaving the rest of the day to more relaxed and easier tasks. What this adage actually means is that if we have to do a very important task, we should do it first thing in the morning so that we are relieved for the rest of the day and do not have to stress about it throughout the day and thereby beat procrastination.
Alexander Graham Bell said, “The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action”. Actions define success and we have to figure out which action precedes others. Randomly shuffling up our tasks can lead to disasters at work. Taking hints from the Pickle Jar Theory, if we put all the pebbles inside the jars first, there would be no place for the rocks or the sand. So, the best way to fit them all is to start with the rocks, gradually fill up the pebbles and the sand and then giving the jar a good shake.
The idea is to do the important and bigger tasks first, fit in the smaller ones and then shuffle our schedule a bit here and there to make room for all. So, PRIORITIZATION has a lot to do with what to do as soon as we start our day and what should follow. Brian also says that “If your job is to eat two frogs, eat the larger one first”. It means that if we have two important tasks at hand, we must first accomplish the more difficult or challenging one that is supposed to be taking more time than the other.
When performing a task that requires our complete attention, leaders all around the world use the popular POMODORO TECHNIQUE to keep themselves undistracted. In this method, as soon as we decide to perform a task, we set a timer of 25 minutes after which we take a 5-minute break. Again, we repeat the cycle and keep doing so until the cycle has been repeated 3-4 times, giving 90-120 minutes of quality work after which, we take a proper break of 15-20 minutes. This ensures undistracted work, and the mind is totally refreshed in the break times. The work rhythms are called as “ultradian rhythms”.
Several surveys have revealed that leaders all around the world suggest setting aside fixed times for checking mails/messages twice a day instead of doing so multiple times in between our tasks. Multiple mail checking in between jobs give us the illusion that we are working while actually hampering our work. Some of them have also set the ground rule that while in meetings, they would not answer any calls. All the calls are sent to voicemail. This has resulted in faster winding up of meetings.
Now in this new normal of remote working coupled with life through a key hole (camera), one needs to find ways to relax and take power naps after constant exposure to the screen. With remote work being the trend in the last 18 months, professionals have been overburdened with multiple meetings and constant communication within the team. But it has been revealed that instead of indulging in busy work after a lengthy meeting, taking a power nap could result in better productivity.
A rested field gives a bountiful crop – Ovid
Also, being able to work in one’s own time zone without having to dress up and being able to have timely meals with family has resulted in greater productivity in most of the organizations. Primary research we undertook at Global Coaching Lab on Virtual Teaming, Productivity and Outcomes revealed leaders reporting that the accountability and productivity of their employees have actually seen a rise during the pandemic and by the end of the year 2020, they were even able to set new records in business gain, achieving higher profits than what they had projected.
While the wall between work and household has been fluid in these difficult times, delegation is an important tool that can come to our rescue. One cannot ignore the household responsibilities and circumstances when we are working from home. In such scenarios, the useful EISENHOWER MATRIX comes into play. It helps us quickly analyse what to do and what to delegate with a pen and paper anywhere anytime without any software or computer.
While talking of technology, one can easily make use of several tools and trackers that are available. They are smart enough to analyze our weekly activities and churn out data, revealing how and where we are investing most of our time. It reveals the exact number of hours we are putting into meetings, doing paperwork, responding to e-mails, messages etc. By looking at those numbers, we can reflect upon them and modify our actions as per our targets.
While we have spoken about all the tools and trackers available in the outside world, what remains untapped is what we harbor within us. Our energy, our emotions, and our feel-good factors. So, the most important tool that we can use is to manage our energy, not time. When we take proper care of our body, mind, emotions, and spirit, when we have full control over our emotions, we are the most productive. Exercising control over what and how we feel results in positive energy.
Another dimension in managing our energy is to be aware of neuroscience and hormones that help us achieve success. Understanding the effects of oxytocin, cortisol, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine etc., and their impact on our performance (actuals vs preferred) is a good way to manage our energy, actions, and results.
When we are feeling low, our productivity falls sharply, and we cannot put our emotions aside while working. They are sure to hamper our productivity and quality of work. This is what Brian Tracy calls as THE LAW OF CORRESPONDENCE. In other words, the outer world is not what we see it as, it is what we harbor inside. Everything is a mirror image of our inner self. Rather than stressing about our to-do lists and spending too much of time in scheduling our jobs, we should focus on deep work and work on only what is essential. This will automatically enhance the quality of our work and at the end of the day, we would be achieving far more than we thought was possible.
Stretching our work hours beyond the boundaries could also be eating up our personal values and relations. When we are overworked and our nerves are under a lot of strain, they lead to displacement of our emotions, wherein, we vent out our frustration and helplessness on people around us unknowingly. This could be a warning sign and needs to be handled with caution before it is too late.
“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
The aim of this articles is to provide some thoughts on a few key challenges surrounding professionals – Time Management, Energy management, Deep Work, Hybrid Work, Diminishing lines between personal and professional lives. Hope we have given you some good food for thought!
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.
- The Psychology of Time Management (briantracy.com)