There is not enough time in the day! Have you ever said this? Of course, you have because it feels like time is flying by. Life feels like Star Wars - warp speed ahead. You are 30, poof you are now 40 with kids, poof you are 60 and bam 90, it's over. In this article, we are going to discuss psychological barriers that destroy time and then strategies to become more efficient.
Part 1: Psychological barriers that destroy time
A. Identify unwritten rules. Many of us feel like we must follow a set of unwritten rules, such as accepting and attending every meeting or the invisible pressure to respond to an email immediately. By following unwritten rules, we lose time.
With meetings, most of us take the lazy route by either not asking at all or asking a lazy question such as, "do you need us at the meeting?" The easy answer for the meeting planner is, "yes, I need you." Instead, we need to ask a more thought-provoking question such as, "I have a lot on my plate and want to make sure that I add value to your meeting. What should I come prepared with?" A challenging question requires the meeting planner to think deeply. As a result, it is easier for them to say, "don't worry about attending the meeting; we're good without you." On the other hand, if you are essential to the meeting, then the meeting planner will come up with why you need to attend, and you will be more motivated to participate.
The second significant unwritten rule is email. Many of us feel we have to respond immediately. I suggest bringing up this unwritten rule with your boss or colleagues. Here are some options for what you can say.
Option #1: "I check email once every two hours, so if it is urgent, please text me, and I'll respond right away. This helps me to focus and meet deadlines."
Option #2: "How can we best work together? I become ineffective when switching between a focused task and email. What is your expectation of response time? How can we determine which emails I need to respond immediately to and when there is less urgency?
Option #3: "What is your expectation for response time on emails? How can we determine what is and isn't urgent so I can respond accordingly?"
Option #4: "I am inefficient switching from work to email and back to work. If you need an urgent response, would you be able to state urgent in the subject? Another option is text message. That will give me the signal that I need to respond immediately. Otherwise, I will assume you are ok if I respond within 48 hours. This adjustment enables me to focus and be productive. I am open to other ideas."
B. Silence the perfectionist. Perfectionism is the biggest time-waster on the planet. If the perfectionist wins out, we will never complete our project. We don't have time in this article to go deep, but I encourage you to explore the source of your perfectionism. By facing the source, you have a better chance of letting perfectionism go. If your perfectionism is rooted in fear, then do your best to face the fear. In the words of Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, "fear is not real. ... It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real, but fear is a choice." Perfectionism can lead to obsessiveness and massive inefficiency. I'm not saying there isn't a place for perfectionism, but the ability to silence perfectionism is critical if you want to save time.
C. Mind high jacking. Many things will high jack our thoughts during the day. For example, if your boss or significant other says, "we need to talk." As soon as you hear those words, you will not be able to focus until you have a conversation. These words high jack your brain with anxiety. There are many different scenarios where our brain gets high jacked, and we feel angst. We need an intervention strategy to keep our minds from getting high jacked. One strategy I use is repeating a short mantra. My mantra is, "it's all going to work out." When I am stressed and my brain starts running, I repeat the mantra over and over. Not every time, but most of the time, this calms me. This strategy won't work for everyone but discover the strategy that will keep your mind from getting high jacked, and you will be amazed by the amount of time this frees up.
Part 2: Practical strategies to be more efficient.
A. Turn off email preview pane. When you turn on email preview, a small email preview goes off in the top right corner of your computer screen. This email flash will tempt you to open your email. It's similar to when I say, "don't think about a pink elephant." It's all you think about. When the preview goes off, it's close to impossible to ignore it. Task switching from email to word docs to excel spreadsheets to text messages eats time. Research finds that task switching will add up to 25% more time to complete a task. What was I working on?
B. Time-bound social media. It is easy to go on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook, and you intend to go on for 5 minutes. Before you know it, 5 minutes turns into 50 minutes. My wife is pregnant, and she gets stuck in the baby vortex. She will research strollers, and 4 hours later, her hair looks like Christopher Lloyd from the movie Back to the Future. I ask, "where did you go?" and she responds, "I was looking into strollers, and I read 300 reviews, and I still don't know which one I am going to buy." Social media will suck you in so I recommend time-bounding. Go to your phone and set a timer for 5-10 minutes before you log into social media. When the timer goes off, log off of social media.
C. Time-bound your to-do list. Next to each to-do list item, write down the number of minutes it will take you to complete the task. Writing down the time estimate will unlock your competitive nature. You will want to complete the job quicker than your time estimate. As a result, you will eliminate distractions and focus on the task at hand, increasing your efficiency. Time estimates work for small quick jobs but are less useful for large projects.
D. Find your power hour. According to author Dan Pink, your Circadian Rhythm can help you determine the right time to do your productive or creative work. That is a fancy way of saying if you are a morning person, then do your demanding work in the morning. Map when you have the most energy and schedule your most challenging work for that time.
E. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Go beyond the basic shortcuts and will discover this is much faster than switching from mouse to keyboard and back to mouse. Shortcuts require an initial time investment, but if you use a computer a lot, it will be well worth the investment.
The modern world provides us with an array of time sinks, and once you start to eliminate these time sinks, you will find there is more time in the day than you thought. I will leave you with this. Don't say "there is not enough time in the day" because that is what your brain will focus on—not having enough time. Instead, say, "I will find the time." This new mantra will empower you to focus on finding solutions rather than complaining. This mental shift will make a big difference. I encourage you to experiment with these strategies to find more time in your day.