Article by Ian Price
“I haven’t had time.”
“I’ve been too busy.”
“There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.”
How often do we hear ourselves wheel out these excuses for having let something slip whether in work or in life? We tend to give ourselves and others a pass when “time” is offered as an excuse.
For many of us, life – both at work and at home – is frenetically busy. The demands of an “always-on” culture mean that work bleeds into life and, with our ever-present devices, we are constantly connected with colleagues, friends and family. Research into workers in the UK concludes that we are “overwhelmed employees” suffering from stress with ever-increasing workloads and a diminishing work-life “balance”.
8 tips to help you rethink time, whether at work or in life:
What if we were to reframe our whole relationship with time? When we look at what neurologists and behavioural scientists tell us about time, there are grounds for some “tough love” on the topic. So here are eight tips to help you rethink time, whether at work or in life:
One – Stop being so busy
We’ve become rather attached to being busy. This is possibly because we’ve conflated it with status. If we’re crazy-busy it can make us feel that we’re important and in demand. But in fact, it just means that we’re spreading ourselves too thinly. So it’s time to focus.
Two – Focus on the small number of activities that have the greatest impact
You need a degree of ruthlessness about how you spend your time. At the beginning of the week, identify three big things that you would have to achieve by the end of the week for you to get to Friday evening and say to yourself “That was a great week!” Then focus on those three things and delegate, cancel or postpone everything else.
Three – Stop multitasking
There are only so many hours in a day – twenty-four, as it turns out. There is nothing we can do about that but there’s a lot we can do about our time effectiveness. Whether at work or in life outside work, if we multitask there is good scientific evidence that we are squandering scarce time. Why? Because lab research on multitasking shows that we take 30% longer and make twice as many mistakes than when focusing on one task at a time.
Four – Eliminate distractions and interruptions
The big drivers of multitasking are email and social media with their accompanying notifications. If you are focusing on one of your “three big things”, stopping what you are doing to read a WhatsApp message will not only cost you time, it will reduce your cognitive performance making it harder to concentrate which will cause yet more time loss. Turn off all notifications – and, ideally, your phone – and check messages just two or three times daily. At work, have an autoreply message letting people know that you may not see their email immediately.
Five – Be ruthless with time-stealing activities
With everything that is soaking up time in your diary, run it by the “three big things” test. Ask yourself how that task is contributing to your big three. If it isn’t, find a way to ditch it or, if you have a team at work, to delegate it. We often attend recurring meetings and conference calls at work without questioning the time impact.
Six – Defend your right to be unavailable
Sometimes we slip into multitasking because we respond to communications from colleagues and clients at work – or friends and family at home. We like to be responsive but this comes at a cost for our time effectiveness. Carve out sacred periods for work on your goals and make yourself unavailable, just as if you were at the dentist or in a meeting with a key client.
Seven – Delegate heavily
In work, leverage your team and place as much as possible on their shoulders. This means allowing them to deal with issues that you may be tempted to work on yourself. If you don’t trust them, then you need to work on their performance with clear feedback so that you can build that trust. In life outside work, in order to create sacred time, agree these with your partner so that domestic issues are taken care of.
Eight – Recognise When You’re in Avoidant Mode
Often, the tasks for which we run out of time are the ones that have some sort of risk attached to them. This might be a “difficult conversation” we’ve been putting off or a follow-up call to a client that we haven’t heard back from. Rather than give yourself the excuse of timing out, lean into these risky tasks and plan to build your skills so that you can get better at them. Once you’ve tackled it, you will usually reflect that it wasn’t anything like as difficult as you’d feared.
In summary, let go of the idea of running out of time. In future, stop saying to yourself or others: “I timed out,” and say instead: “I didn’t run out of time, I chose to do something else.”
Ian Price is a performance psychologist and author of Head Start: Build a Resilient Mindset so You Can Achieve Your Goals published by Pearson and available on Amazon