(Or How to Pluck Time Out of Thin Air when You Need it Most)
Can you imagine how much your life could change for the better if you could make more time for everything? More output at work? – more downtime at home? – More ‘you’ time (at last)? I’m about to show you that it’s not only possible, it’s also one of the simplest life changes you’ll ever make.
For those of you who know me well, this post will come as no surprise. Operationally, I'm what you might call a bit of a machine. Not in a robotic sense, more in a resourceful, logical, thoughtful and productive kind of way.
Helping people towards ‘Operational Excellence’ is a long-time passion of mine, I’ve even created a workshop dedicated to achieving it alongside this blog. As technology moves on, the battleground changes. So, finding new ways to keep pace with the changes is essential for maintaining the perfect work/life balance.
I can confidently share that I ‘get things done’ in half the time it takes many others. I caveat that with how much I pride myself on the ‘quality’ output of my work. But it isn’t speed or higher ability that gives me this life-changing edge - it’s all about focus.
Motivation, whatever that is for you, is the fuel of focus. Mine may surprise you …
I am going to live for 100 years!
Yep, that’s right. 100.
I won’t die earlier than that, but I may live longer. I’ll remain fit and active (ish), and I’m completely certain that I’ll achieve it.
Before you write me off as an eternal optimist; take a look at some facts behind this bold claim that motivate my focus and convince me that it is achievable:
- 100 years is brief, I mean really brief! Scientists have calculated that Earth is 4.54 billion years old. Mathematically, 100 years is just 0.00000000022222 % that of Earth’s. If applied to the clock, it’s less than a nanosecond. So, living to be 100 is hardly anything, barely a blip compared to the age of the Earth. Definitely doable.
- There’s a lot to do in this life – and so little time! Does it feel like the older you get; the faster time seems to go? Life really is what you make it. And there are things I want to do, see, master and accomplish in my life. Stopping short of a goal just isn’t me. I’m gonna make it a reality.
- “Live each day as if it’s your last” - yea right! Whoever came up with this saying was clearly rich with no responsibilities. While I love the thought of this, most people will live to be 80+. So, unfortunately, you do have to do a little planning, make some money, and consider those around you (Bummer!).
So, as I see it, the timescale isn’t unachievable – the things I want to do in my lifetime are my ultimate motivation – and I’ll put a solid plan in place to give me the best chance possible of making it all happen.
My point is this; a simple mindset change can make a huge difference.
Now, before a huge boulder falls from the sky and squashes me to death, here’s my fallback plan. The one that guarantees the time needed to achieve awesome productivity and quality results at work – relax more at home – and do more of the things I love; with the people I love the most.
Stop wasting time on trivial, unproductive shit
Now, we all have mundane jobs in life to do. Admin, shopping, washing, cleaning, ironing and so on. But, with the introduction of technology, the most mundane habit ever has slipped into our lives to destroy any chance of reaching our productive best. Yep, you’ve guessed it, our phone.
If you’ve ever said, “I don’t have enough time for that” this quick challenge is a ‘must-do’. Go to the settings page on your iPhone and look at your screen time, go on, I dare you.
Take a look at the amount of time over just the past week that you’ve spent on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Txt messages, etc. Check out the number of times you’ve picked up your phone too. Crazy right?
If you’ve never checked this before, I’m sorry for the face slap (same thing happened to me a few years ago – still stings!). Please get back up off the floor and read on. I’m about to change your life for good.
When I first started in my career, mobile phones were personal items never allowed on our desks. Nowadays, they’re constantly right next to us, but only you know whether it’s work or social time when you’re on it.
It’s honesty time. How many times a day do you look at your phone, and use it, for stuff that has nothing at all to do with your job? Let’s be generous and call it 3 times (and I know that’s being really generous).
It may not seem like a big deal. After all, Kim’s new hair extensions do look cool in that photo – Tony did have a lovely looking lunch – and that juggling dog is a bloody genius. But, when you see it like this …
3 times you stopped what you’re doing to pick up your phone. 3 times you replied or liked an SM post. 3 times your concentration was completely broken. 3 times in that day alone, you had to re-focus your thoughts on the task at hand and begin again.
Work output and production quality just took a massive hit. And the time you’ve lost is gone forever.
Don’t panic. You’re not getting fired (yet). Consider these three options to keep you laser focussed – ultra-productive – and put your working day back in your full control…
- OPTION 1 (For the ‘ping’ addict) Turn off ALL notifications except for phone calls and text messages. Yep, that’s right, all of them! This will stop the apps you never use pinging their frustration – and the ones you do from sapping your productivity. This way YOU will go to your phone when YOU want to, not when your phone tells you to.
- OPTION 2 (If you’re a sucker for a juggling dog) Put your phone well away from where you work. Check it only at break/lunch/home time. All your posts will still be there when you want them.
- OPTION 3 (For the ‘just heard a ping - can’t miss a thing’ nightmare ) Download Off the Grid. Set your downtime, and if you break it early you’ll be charged $1 each time :) Drastic yes – but highly effective.
Any of the above will put valuable time back in your hands - make you far more productive – help you get through your work quicker and produce excellent ‘fully focused’ results by keeping your mind on the job at hand.
A calendar is for life – not just for meetings
Most of us use our work calendar for meetings and events, but have you ever used it for anything else?
I live out of my work calendar and use it to manage not only the meetings and events I have, but also to effectively manage my workload.
All too often I hear people saying, “I’m in back to back meetings and need more time to get my work done. This happens to me often in my role, but unless you block out the time to actually ‘do’ your work, you constantly chase your tail.
Here are some quick tips you can instantly action that’ll make a world of difference:
Figure out your own calendar colour code and stick to it.
This is what mine looks like:
- Red - Meetings & events
- Yellow - Personal, e.g. gym session, dog walking, family event
- Green - Work Task, e.g. meeting prep, content creation, project X, write X
- Purple - Check email & Plan the following week (I’ll talk about this later)
Apply your colour coding and ‘block out’ times you’re going to actually ‘do’ your work.
Working this way means you constantly ‘ask yourself questions’ and ‘consider the repercussions’ of moving things around. It also means you have a visual representation of what you need to complete in the week (smart eh?).
Here’s a couple of examples of how this plays out:
A one-hour meeting drops into your calendar for 3pm Thursday. This is right in the middle of the time you allocated for a deliverable which is due Monday morning (aarghh!).
Previously, you might have just accepted the meeting, gone, and regretted going.
Now you have a process which helps you make the decisions early on. A way to pause. To ask yourself questions that give you better options …
- What is the meeting about?
- You check the agenda and the invitees
- Is it a necessity that you need to be there?
- Do you need to be there for all of it?
- Could a colleague fill you in on the meeting?
- Can you afford the time, or will it affect the deliverable?
In a meeting with your manager, they dump delegate a ‘quick project’ (yeah right!) onto you, to run next week’s team meeting - the agenda - and sharing of a recent project you’ve been working on.
This week is crazy busy for you, so you just turn your calendar around and discuss all of the priorities you have this week with your manager. You prove there’s not enough time for you to take this on and you both agree you will do this at the next team meeting and lock time in your diary for it.
See how this helps you take control of your priorities and tasks? Bringing people on the journey with you?
Embrace the unthinkable - work off-line
Now, not many people feel comfortable with this one, but if it’s well communicated, it will transform your life.
Distractions are killing our productivity, and I’m not just talking about mobile phones, office chit chat, or the odd tap on the shoulder to answer a question.
Often, our work involves working out of our email, but every time a new email comes in; you can’t help but stop what you’re doing - open it - answer it - or get side-tracked into another piece of work.
Check out this Udemy 2018 workplace distraction report where they noted:
When I’m head down in a project, workflow or deliverable, I go into ‘work off-line’ mode.
For me, it’s pretty simple; I close everything else down and I can then work through my emails and responses without any new emails coming in to distract me. As soon as I connect to online mode again; all of the emails I’ve been working on are sent - and any new emails are allowed into my inbox.
It means I’m far more focussed and productive, I feel accomplished, and I have less ‘fizz distraction’ in my head.
The key to this style of working is communication:
- Message your team before you unplug
- Explain to your manager how you intend to work and the benefits to them of you working this way
- Let them know where you’re going to be in the office should they need you
By the time you plug back in, you’ve achieved everything you needed to achieve - to a great standard of work. You then get to leave on time - go home - and spend more time with the people you love, doing the crazy things you love doing in your spare time ;)
Over to you …
Go ahead, try out some of these tactics and let me know how you get on. Trust me, you’ll get better at them every day, and you may even live to see a century birthday.
And, if you have your own methods for saving time or increasing productivity, please share them. Every second helps in the time war.