If you regularly over or underestimate the amount of time it’ll take you to accomplish a task, if may be time to reset your internal clock. Here’s how to reset it and get more done with less stress.
Having an accurate internal clock is the bedrock of solid time management. If you’re not good at estimating units of time and what you can accomplish in those units, however big or small, you’ll always be stressed over what isn’t getting done and how little time you left to do it.
Psychologists Jane B. Burka and Lenora M. Yuen, in their book Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It NOW, offer a set of concrete exercises to improve and insights into our time management shortcomings. Today we’re taking a look at their techniques.
Practice Telling Time
Whether due to an overambitious nature, lack of practice, or chronic stress, many of us do a poor job accurately telling time. Burka and Yuen highlight how age, dopamine levels, and outright wishful thinking diminish our ability to accurate judge the passage of time. Photo by Jon Mitchell.
The first step in correcting your misadventures with time and planning is to start measuring how long things actually take. If, for example, you have it set in your mind that your commute takes 20 minutes but in reality it takes 35 with the morning traffic, then you’ll need to adjust your morning routine accordingly. The same thing with your morning shower; if your quick 10-minute shower is actually a groggy 25-minute wake-up session, you’ll know where those precious extra 15 minutes vanish too every morning.
If you don’t wear a watch, now might be a great time to start wearing one—if only for the duration of your self imposed time-boot camp. Start keeping a simple log of where your time goes, either in a basic reporter-style notebook or smartphone app (like Timr for Android). If you spend most of your time at your desk, check out these desktop-oriented time trackers. Spend a week or two reacquainting yourself with the amount of time it really takes to commute, prepare reports at work, cook dinner, and other daily activities.
Learn to Use Little Bits of Time
Here Burka and Yuen defer to the excellent “Swiss cheese” method championed by Alan Lakein. Projects should be viewed block in which holes, like Swiss cheese, can be poked using little pockets of time. Just because a project would take 10 total hours to complete doesn’t mean you have to spend a marathon 10 hours working on it. All day windows of time present themselves that can be used to knock our small pieces of larger projects. Keeping a project list, list of phone calls to make, or other planning tools in your bag or on your phone makes capitalizing on these little windows even easier. Photo by Patrick Hoesly.
This is also a great place to use a timer. If you’re used to getting distracted away from your work and feeling hopelessly lost in your work, it’s helpful to use a timer to create a tangible deadline. Set the timer for 30 minutes and hammer away at a project then shift gears to another project or take a well earned break.
A close sibling of the poor internal clock is unrealistic expectations of focus. Your plans will be, in some small or large way, be interrupted. Whether this means that a minor crisis at work ruins the one hour you’d set aside to work on the monthly report or you show up to work two hours late because of a snow storm, outside forces practically conspire to throw off your time tables. Work preemptively whenever possible. Not all situations afford you this ability but when ever possible work ahead of schedule so that interruption into your report-planning session doesn’t force you to tell your boss the monthly report will be a day late. Photo by Michael Karshis.
The I-can-do-it-all attitude is the depth charge that tears apart the best time management techniques. Many people are too reluctant to delegate work whether because they believe they’re the only ones who can do it right, or that they should be good enough at their job that they can do it all, or because delegating is for losers who can’t handle their work load. Burka and Yuen insist, rightfully so, that these are myths that plague the workplace and often an excuse to put off real work. Brush up on your delegation skills here and free up time to focus on tasks that really matter. Photo by tableatny.
Identify Your Prime Time
Although all the cups of coffee and a too-strong adherence to the Puritan Work Ethic might make us all feel like we’re on and ready to go all the time, that’s hardly the reality of it. Some people leap out of bed ready to get things done, others shake off late evening sleepiness and feel most alive after sun down. As part of your time-tracking project also pay attention to what time of day you feel most alert and effective. Many of us are at work during traditional hours but have the energy to get things done earlier or later in the day. Make sure to pay attention to your diet, it might not be that you’re really a night person it might just be that you don’t eat a solid meal until dinner time and get a burst of energy from it. Check out how to eat your way to a high-energy workday to make sure your eating habits aren’t contributing to your poor time management. While you’re on a self-improvement kick, take stock of your sleep cycle and give it a reboot if need be. Photo by Martin Petitt.
Start Scheduling and Enjoying Your Free Time
It’s no coincidence that Burka and Yuen place as much emphasis on scheduling and enjoying free time as Neil Fiore (another procrastination-busting author we’ve featured) does—they were all colleagues at one point, studying time management and procrastination together.
Procrastinators and others with poor time management skills fall into a trap when it comes to leisure time. They don’t use the time they have effectively and may even spend a portion of it goofing off and doing fun things instead of work, but they ultimately don’t get the same benefit from it as they would from real leisure time. A half hour of real leisure time after the work is done is far more relaxing and rewarding than a half hour sneaked throughout the day while you’re avoiding your work. Part of having a mastery over your time and schedule is knowing when to stop working and take care of personal needs like family, socializing, sleep, and relaxing. You’ll work harder knowing the window of time in which you are working is limited and guilt-free relaxation awaits on the other side. Photo by d3b.
For more time management tips and an in depth look at the causes of and solutions to chronic procrastination make sure to check out the whole book: Procrastination: What You Do It, What to Do About It NOW.