Right or wrong, these are the expectations our society places on us, which probably leads to waking up with good intentions and a mental note on things we want to accomplish during the day. However, for a multitude of reasons, most of us fail to tick all the boxes on our to-do list, and it’s aggravating to reach the end of the day feeling like we’ve “run out” of time.
Common complaints, like there isn’t enough time in the day, get passed around the office, expressing a desire for more productive hours to get things done. But here’s the thing: You have the same hours to work with as everybody else. What you need isn’t the ability to cram more hours into an arbitrarily defined day but to make better use of the hours you have.
If you take a closer look at your day-to-day schedule, you’re going to notice big chunks of time that aren’t being put to good use. Good use is a subjective term here, but it could mean both work that doesn’t get much done or leisure time that isn’t enjoyable. Distractions play a big role in affecting our daily productivity. From checking social media to an unexpected chat with a colleague, we often don’t realize the time we spend distracted daily. Whether you receive a call, check your email, chit-chat with a colleague or take a small break that always seems to make time fly by, you experience a loss of focus. This loss of focus interrupts workflow, creativity, and productivity and, in turn, adds stress and pressure. Before you know it, the day has passed by without accomplishing much, or anything for that matter.
To be able to search for solutions, we first need to take a closer look at what the causes are. Most people in the workforce are likely to live by scheduling their life, but what if they’ve been scheduling wrong all along? Consider the idea of Parkinson’s Law; essentially, we tend to expand the amount of time it takes us to complete a task, to fill whatever amount of time is allotted for it. If you have an hour to complete a report that usually only takes 45 minutes, you’ll find yourself taking the full hour.
This is just one of the reasons why setting a semi-strict schedule for yourself is necessary if you want to get everything done in a timely manner. Before signing off for the day, sit down and set a schedule for the next day that includes everything you want to accomplish, including some free time for communication and interruptions.
When you feel you’ve run out of time, it usually isn’t because you have a handful of small, easy, unimportant tasks left over. It means you’ve forgotten or neglected something big, so you probably didn’t prioritize your day adequately. Organize your tasks into different tiers and focus on your most important ones first. If you feel that everything’s important, you need to take a step back and subdivide even further.
How many times throughout the day do you look up at the clock and say, It’s that time already? If you feel pressed for time, chances are, that scenario happens often. This is because you aren’t keeping track of your time; just as it’s important to track your spending to stay within your budget, it’s important to track your time to get everything done in a day. Set alarms and notifications on your phone to keep yourself aware of the time.
And if you’re strapped for time, you’ll likely be tempted to stack tasks on top of one other, completing multiple things at once in the same amount of time. Seems like a good, time-saving strategy, right? Wrong. The science is counterintuitive. Multitasking really makes you less productive and negatively affects the quality of your work.
More importantly, if your schedule is really so packed you literally feel that there isn’t enough time in the day, you need to delegate some of those tasks to other people. Delegating efficiently is a skill all its own, but you’ll need to master it if you want to keep your sanity in this high-pressure environment.
Most time is lost due to inefficient communication, one way or another. Maybe you spend too long writing emails or chatting with colleagues. Maybe too much of your day is tied to taking phone calls and getting interrupted. Maybe your team’s communications are disorganized, which makes you spend twice as long on certain tasks. A thousand things could be wrong, but smoother, more concise, more streamlined communication can solve almost any of them.
We live in a glorious age of technology, so what devices, software, and platforms are you using to get your job done? Of course, most likely, the best tools come with a financial cost, but it’s well worth the exchange to get more of your time back. If you aren’t using any high-tech tools in your job, or if the ones you have are more irritating than helpful, it’s time to do some research and find some systems to help you.
I hesitate to say this since relationships aren’t the normal domain of productivity time-cutting. But some people in your life use up much of your time without adding to the relationship. Not entirely caustic, these relationships drain your energy without providing many benefits. Navigate away from those people and focus on friends where the investment is worthwhile.
Having a lot of unnecessary paper, gadgets, and pens can be detrimental to your performance at work. Studies show that clutter can badly affect your ability to focus and your anxiety levels. It can trigger coping and avoidance strategies that make you seek other distractions, which worsens the problem.
One of the most important yet terrifying things you can ever do is say ‘no’ – no to a project, no to a commitment, or no to someone’s request. Your inability to say ‘no’ to others end up taking any of the spare time you could have left to relax. Burnout is a significant and terrifying psychological problem where people become so overwrought with stress that they end up hating their work. You may even experience physical symptoms such as physical exhaustion. Just say no. Finding time for yourself and relaxing in your spare time should be your top priority. Prioritize yourself and your well-being over others.
Last but not least, it may be your own personal thoughts and problems distracting you. This may be the case if you’re pressed down by fatigue, illness, personal problems, and worries. Just like you can’t properly focus when you’re hungry, you won’t be able to properly focus when you’re tired or not feeling well. The longer and faster you work to catch up with your work, the more tired you’ll be, and thus more likely to be distracted.
In the end, this leads to a lack of satisfaction, engagement, and motivation at the workplace, which may lead you to succumb to even more distractions proving that distractions are a vicious circle bound to repeat once you succumb to them. Again, this leads to stress and frustration, which may lead you to overwork yourself to burnout. By taking breaks for relaxation, you’ll recharge your batteries better. As a result, you’ll feel less tired and be less prone to diversions. So, schedule regular 10-minute meditation breaks in your daily calendar, especially when you know you have a lot of work to do. The same goes for other ways of taking time off. If you take a couple of days for a vacation, you’ll be better rested when you return to the office and less likely to fall prey to workplace distractions. This time off can also help you tackle your personal problems or worries.
And the final discussion isn’t about just doing things faster but doing the right things. Constantly measure and be aware of your work activities’ actual value. Those that don’t add much should be simplified or eliminated to focus on those that do.
Given our busy routines, we often feel like there is not enough time in the day to relax or finish the impending tasks. To add balance to your daily routines and, at the same time, finding spare time for yourself to relax is important. Having a consistent routine, prioritizing your tasks and keeping a check and balance on yourself can help you eliminate the sense of “I don’t feel like I have time for this!” and restore balance in your life.