Lost time is never found again.
Time is a key resource that we simply cannot replenish. The 24 hours of each day are all we are given—once spent, these hours are lost forever. This means that if you’re struggling to fit all of your priorities and “to-dos” into your day, it’s time to look for methods to use those hours and minutes more effectively.
Here are a few research-backed suggestions that can help you make the most of the time you have.
1. Value Every Single Minute
As a coach, I've realized that on a basic level, we tend to sell ourselves short in the time department. In many cases, we even allow others to take advantage of our time. So the most important step in time management is to take ownership of our time, making room for the activities that are meaningful and productive, and eliminating those that have less long-term value.
What sets worthy tasks apart are the outcomes associated with your time investment. For example, you might routinely attend a meeting that includes a lot of back-and-forth, but not a lot of action. Could that allotted time be better spent on an alternative activity, such as connecting with clients or collaborating with colleagues? Often, there are opportunities to “mine” time for more productive activities—we simply overlook them.
To this end, take a hard look at how you’ve been spending your time by completing a calendar audit. Start with this exercise: Record your hour-by-hour activities for two weeks. Then review your entries with these questions in mind: Was the time well spent? Were there solid benefits associated with the time spent? Would you go the same route again? In many cases, a “time” issue is actually a “task” issue. So jettison the tasks that add little to your effectiveness.
2. Make Room for More Focus
From ringing phones to co-workers stopping by your desk for a chat, distractions are plentiful in most office environments. (Handling the “drive-bys” can be a real challenge.) While these distractions have become an accepted part of work life, they can wreak havoc on our levels of productivity. When we’re in stop-and-start mode all day, we find ourselves repeating tasks, losing our place, and spinning our wheels. In fact, it can take 20 minutes or longer to re-focus after an interruption.
In some cases, open offices are the culprit. However, we also contribute to the problem with the choices that we make. Psychologist Daniel Goleman discusses that we need to take control and protect ourselves from our own schedules—building time into our work lives to focus deeply on important tasks. We need to identify slices of time when, as Goleman explains, we have the opportunity to “cocoon” and concentrate fully.
You might consider silencing your cell phone or utilizing Google’s Inbox Pause feature to turn off incoming email for an hour or so each day. You can also ask your manager about setting aside two, uninterrupted 30-minute time periods during your workday, perhaps as your day begins, at lunchtime, or at the close of the day, where you can hunker down and do focused work.
You’ll likely be surprised just how much you get out of that time.
3. Tame Procrastination
Procrastination is one of the most common workplace challenges—and for some of us; it can become a huge time waster. While procrastination can stem from feeling overwhelmed or under-prepared (in which case, don’t delay seeking guidance), research also suggests that procrastination can occur as the result of how we view tasks and goals. Specifically, we cast certain tasks in a very negative light—for, example, “I’ll finish the report by Friday, so my manager won’t be upset with me.” These are called “avoidance” goals—you complete them to avoid a negative consequence—and interestingly, they have a greater tendency to be correlated with procrastination.
But here’s the good news: You can curb procrastination by attempting to view these tasks differently, reframing them as an “approach” goal versus an “avoidance” goal. If you’re dreading a certain task, attempt to see it in the context of a possibly more appealing outcome. Could its completion contribute to advancing a larger, more positive goal—for example, impressing clients or being viewed as a team player? This may help you stay on course. An added bonus? Approach goals seem to offer more satisfaction when they are ultimately accomplished.
Want to get more out of your day? Sign up for our Hack Your Work Life class at Muse University!