by Josh Millar
Most of us are probably all too familiar with the common time-sucks. You log into LinkedIn to share a work-related article, and twenty minutes later you realize you’re deep into your newsfeed, clicking on content you weren’t looking for. That kind of time-suck is easy to spot which makes a little easier to avoid. What I wanted to talk about are some of the sneakier actions and habits that may be draining your productivity. In my own quest to learn more about time-management strategies, I’ve discovered that although many of these actions seem small, they really do add up over time. In working to eliminate them, I’ve found I feel more productive and in control of my work days.
You’ve just finished up a project, and you’ve got a meeting starting in ten. How often do you think, “why break into something new when I’ve only got ten minutes?”. This is a deadly habit for busy professionals. With ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, it can sometimes add up to writing off hours of your day. I still don’t love the idea of jumping into a big task when I know I only have a small window of time, so instead, I keep a running list of simple to-dos on hand that I reach for in these in-between times. While a 10-minute window may not be the best time to call a new client, it is a great opportunity to clean up my inbox and reply to a few emails. Being prepared for those windows will allow you to take advantage of them, not the other way around.
Lack of routines
Routines can be powerful. When you get into an automatic stream of positive action, you’re protecting yourself from distraction. By positive action, I mean habits that you’ve intentionally cultivated because you know they serve you in some way. A routine in the evening of packing a lunch and getting your gym bag ready, for example, can save you precious time the following morning when you feel rushed to get these tasks in. Or perhaps mornings are your prime time. If that’s the case, you can use that knowledge to pack in some productive habits that will support the rest of your day.
For so many professionals, accessibility is a top priority. We want clients to be able to reach us when they need us. I believe it’s important. In my own experience, when I can’t easily get in touch with someone, it makes me less likely to want to work with them. The way I navigate this is to carve out several windows throughout the day where notifications (email, phone, social media, etc.) are silenced. These windows are for working on the most important projects that I know require complete focus. I intentionally schedule in a block of time after these windows to check my messages and follow up. Though it might not feel like a big deal to read an email in the middle of working on something else, that gear change can slow your momentum. Though this strategy does mean that a client may get my voicemail from time to time, they also will usually get a call back in less than an hour. And if I’m not in a notification-free window, they’ll get through on their first try. It still allows for easy accessibility, but it doesn’t allow incoming messages to dictate my day.
You probably know who I’m talking about. They may be in your personal life or professional life. You may love getting lost in the conversation or dread the inevitable monologue. Regardless of how much or little you enjoy these folks, they can seriously sabotage your time-management efforts. They’re tough to plan for, as they may drop into your office or call unannounced. Just by bringing some awareness to the situation, you can regain a lot of control. Identify who these people are for you, so you can be on alert when you interact. Whether you let them know you need to leave the conversation at a specific time or simply don’t engage in unrelated tangents, being prepared to defend your time can make a real difference.
By bringing awareness to the things that are holding back our time-management success, we can reduce their power. It’s rarely as black and white as ‘phone calls distract me, so I’ll keep my phone off all day’. While some time-sucks may be impossible to eliminate completely, I found that identifying them and developing strategies to combat them can have a significant impact.