Sitting in my office this past week, I started to feel a bit blocked. I sat there staring at my calendar and to-do list, knowing that I had plenty of time to get everything done but just not knowing where to start, no matter how specific I made the list. Sometimes I think we can get ourselves so stuck in planning mode that it actually keeps us from using our time productively. I started to wonder, how much time do we spend thinking about what we should be doing instead of actually doing it? And how do we fix it?
Where are you losing time?
For me, I have realized that I spend a lot of time thinking. Too much time thinking, actually. I have always considered myself an “ideas person” and, while my creativity bodes well in coming up with things to do, it gets in the way of actually doing things. I lose time in the planning process. Sometimes my mind starts to wander and I start to dream of cool ways to make projects bigger and better, but I am coming to realize that oftentimes I resort to planning as a mode of procrastination.
Although I would like to think that we all have had a similar experience, we are each unique and we all spend our time differently. Similar to establishing a budget for finances, we have to look at places that we are spending too much unproductive time. It may be helpful to sit down with a pen and paper and reflect on how you are spending time each day. Fifteen minutes here and there can really add up and there may be hours in your day that you could be devoting to more productive activities.
Each of us experience different distractions. Some of us can work while listening to music, while others benefit from working in a quieter environment. Many of us work better while multitasking, while others experience additional tasks as distractions from our current project. Figuring out what works for you and what things distract you is the first step in optimizing your time.
Once you define your personal distractions, try to set up your work environment to help eliminate them. For example, I have found that, while my brain loves the idea of multitasking, I am much more productive when I am focusing on one project at a time. I have had to become proactive by sending non-emergency tasks directly to my to do list. I have become to the master of asking “Is this an emergency?” and “Does this have to be done right now?” If the answer is no, I try not to let it disrupt what I am working on. I add it to my to-do list or calendar and try to refocus on the task at hand. I have also gotten in the habit of asking my coworkers to send me an email when they make a request so that I can finish my current project and move on to the email as I finish.
Sometimes we take on way too much. I definitely do this. While stepping up to help out at work is a good sign of being a team player, it is very important to make sure that you actually have the time to finish your own work before taking on other tasks and responsibilities. Sometimes we just have to boost ourselves up with positive self talk and learn to say “no”. You will fill much more accomplished if you are attending to your main responsibilities instead of swimming in over your head in a bunch of additional tasks. Make sure to do the basics of your job first before taking on any extra work.
Speaking of taking on work, we are so quick to help others but we are often very hesitant to ask for help ourselves. Sometimes it is completely okay to ask someone else for help, especially if you are in a supervisory position. Delegating tasks is one of the most difficult yet rewarding things we can start to do for ourselves, and believe it or not, our coworkers will actually appreciate it. This does not mean mindlessly giving out tasks to random coworkers, but rather thoughtfully planning our projects that maximize everyone’s strength and provide solid opportunities for everyone involved. You may just find a win-win solution while working smarter not harder.
Scheduling down time
Okay, remember how we talked about figuring out where you are losing time? The trick is to make some actual scheduled time for those behaviors. It is not about restricting ourselves, but rather about being intentional in our self-care practices. If watching TV is a big distraction for you, reward yourself for hard work by allowing yourself scheduled TV time. For me, because thinking takes so much of my time, I allow myself 30 minutes at the end of each work day to brainstorm ideas and setup my to-do list and calendar. Being intentional about how we spend our time is key in becoming more productive and using our time wisely.