I liked to think I was pretty much as productive as I could be, but on auditing my own day I realised I was, and still am, wasting a lot of time.
People like to think they are busy, it makes us feel like we are moving forward and achieving, and I was one of these people. Hardly enough time to get everything in, and often feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list.
I found myself saying these words a lot when asked if I had done some something I was supposed to do; “I didn’t have time to do that” I also started paying closer attention to when friends or clients would say the same words. I would analyse what we all really meant, which is; “That’s not important enough to me” or more accurately; “That’s not high on my list of priorities”
This started a somewhat uncomfortable investigation, and led me to an interesting conclusion; people don’t like having their time audited.
If I ask someone why they didn’t make it to the gym, or prepare some food for the week, or get to bed on time, there are various answers, (I was too busy/didn’t have time/something came up) but they all amount to the same thing; those things aren’t important enough to me.
Even with the worst time management skills in the world, people will find time to do the ‘non-negotiables’ these are the same for almost everyone; eat some food, go to the bathroom, go to work, get 6-8 hours of sleep. But really these things don’t take up the whole day, not even close. So what do we do with our ‘free time’?
The answer is quite varied, some read, some watch TV, some play video games, some play sport, some study, some go to the gym, or hang out with friends or family.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to take time out to stop and relax during the day, I believe this is an essential part of being highly effective over the long term, the issue comes from the organisation of time. There is a massive difference between wasting 60 minutes over the course of the day on unproductive time wasters in between tasks, versus having a whole hour blocked out to relax and re-focus. Same amount of time, hugely different effect. One way you feel like you haven’t really stopped all day, and the other you have a big chunk of time to really recharge.
If you don’t run your day, your day will run you.
Let me first preface this by saying if you are completely happy with how things are going in your career/health/personal life, then you can stop reading right here, but I’d wager if you’re being honest, that’s a very small percentage of people.
The most successful people in the world don’t spend their every waking moment working (with a few exceptions) they are just much more efficient with their time. That means; they have an effective method of prioritising their daily/weekly/monthly and yearly goals, and execute against the tasks that will achieve them.
I personally have a difficult time staying focused on the most important over-arching tasks in favour of the most recent additions. And I know I’m not alone.
It becomes very easy to get caught up on the last email/text/phone call we received and start off down that path, especially if it seems like an easy/quick task to complete. The issue with this is that switching tasks wastes time, it takes time to focus on this new goal, and it takes time to switch back once you are finished.
Aside from this loss of time, which can really add up, the biggest issue with this task-switching is the fact that the new task is almost never the most vital to your over-arching goal, which means time spent on these tasks is never well spent.
So what can we do about these productivity leaks?
1. Set goals. This might seem obvious, but you would have your mind blown if you knew how many people don’t actually have a concrete goal. See this article if you aren’t currently working towards a solid goal.
2. Establish the time frame you want to achieve it in, then work backwards and establish the monthly/weekly/daily tasks that need to be completed to achieve that goal.
3. Don’t get distracted! This will take practice, and actually goes against our nature, as we have evolved to process new occurrences first (if a food source or predator appeared it required our immediate attention) These days we have almost zero predators and food is practically unlimited, so we must adjust and setup our environment to eliminate chances of distraction. Put your phone on aeroplane/do not disturb mode, (the world will survive without you for 30 minutes) Close social media pages.
This may seem simple, but executed consistently this will yield far better results than the vast majority of people are achieving. Even if you miss a day here and there, the majority of your time is going to be allocated to the thing that is the most important.
So if you feel like you are crazy busy, but not necessarily achieving a lot, it might be worth having an honest look at your day.
Do you have concrete goals?
Where are you spending the majority of your time and energy?
Are you frequently distracted/switching tasks?
Address these and see if you don’t see an increase in productivity.