Consider this hypothetical situation: You’ve worked diligently to schedule your time productively in order to accomplish some goals you’ve set for yourself. As your calendar accurately reflects you should be, you’re sitting at your workspace, but your activity is far from congruent with the objectives you put in place for this time period. You’re fully aware you’re squandering precious time. So how do you turn this valuable self-awareness into productive action? Let’s cover some proven solutions.
Awareness of the Squandering is the Catalyst for Change
First, don’t panic. This happens from time to time. To be certain, there are likely some clear reasons this is happening; we’ll get in to those below. But begin by acknowledging that your behavior is not in line with your desires. That’s a giant first step in the right direction. It’s your catalyst for change and is key to getting back on track.
Give it 10 Minutes
The thought running through your mind might be, “I can’t get this work done.” It might even be, “I don’t want to get this done.” But try questioning the narrative, and set out to prove it wrong. Commit to doing just 10 minutes of the task scheduled. Maybe set a timer to hold yourself accountable. Chances are, once you get into it, you’ll make further progress. But even it you can’t, you’ll have made a few steps towards the goal. Remember, I’m only asking for 10 minutes.
Transition to Something That is Engaging
Maybe, after the 10 minutes are up, you realize the task you planned to complete isn’t a fit for the moment. Don’t just say “screw it, I’ve blown it” and start surfing the web or flipping through social media posts. Instead, review your task list. Determine another responsibility that is a better fit for your time and energy level and start on it. Black-and-white thinking is not conducive to successful time management. Just because task A is on the agenda doesn’t mean task B can’t be completed in its place. Progress in another area will free up time later for the project you’re currently procrastinating on.
Reset Your Schedule and Fortify Your Focus
You may have fallen short on the original goal for this block of time this go around, but don’t abandon the original project or the overall time management process. Time blocking is a proven time management technique. Revisit your calendar and slot in future time to complete the original task or project.
Time Management Best Practices
To optimize your time management and schedule planning, keep the following in mind:
- We need to take regular breaks every 45 to 90 minutes to maintain productivity. A four hour block for a task with a relatively heavy cognitive load must include some breaks. A break could be a quick walk, a personal phone call, folding a load of laundry, reading a novel, or grabbing a snack.
- Successful time management includes honoring our unique energy cycle. Some of us are most focused in the morning, perhaps after our first cup of coffee. As such, we’ll do our best work on tasks requiring focus during this time of day. We can slot housekeeping items and routine tasks for the afternoon, when less brain power is needed.
- Email and social media can be real distractions. Schedule time to process email, then turn off notifications to keep on task. Similarly, if you benefit professionally and/or simply enjoy social media, block off time in your day for this activity. Again, turn off notifications to avoid interruptions outside of your scheduled social media time.
- If you struggle to stay focused once you sit down to work, check out the innovative app Focus at Will. It’s designed to help keep your mind focused via strategic, customized music. Mac users can also take advantage of the Focus function setting to customize allowable notifications and minimize interruptions.
- To enhance your time management and planning, it may help to get a good read on what you’re currently spending your time on. Digital activity tracking tools like Rescue Time and Toggle can help you with time tracking.
All Work and No Play….
Finally, if you find yourself frequently squandering time you’ve dedicated for work, there may be one specific underlying cause. It could be that you’re over scheduling yourself with responsibilities. It’s important to balance work with leisure activities. As you map out your schedule, set aside time for doing the things you enjoy. Granting time for vacation, lunch, reading, medication, exercise, and, yes, even web surfing, online shopping and guilty-pleasure show watching are all worthy activities if they renew and relax you. Productivity pulses strong when we’ve just enjoyed, or will soon be enjoying, pleasurable activity. Not sure where to start? Try scheduling in some of that which is “wasting” your time right now.
Squelch the Time Squandering and Boost Productivity
If the hypothetical above is hitting close to home, take some action today. Remember, feeling you’re squandering your time can be a productive call to action. If you can’t get into a groove after committing to 10 minutes on the task at hand, try pivoting to something else. Then, work the original task back into your calendar. When scheduling your time, include pleasurable activities and allow for adequate breaks to recharge. Eliminate interruptions from email and social media notifications so you can remain focused. These tactics will not only squelch the time squandering, they’ll also boost your overall productive output.
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Expert and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.