How to make peace with time at work
I have this quote on my desk-
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
I mostly read it on Monday morning to kick off the week on a high octane dose. And just as I get in the groove, the feeling subsides with a huge pile of distractions.
My calendar starts shouting the names of people to whom I have committed my time. Interviews, peer reviews, design meetings, leadership talks. And just when I come back to my seat to breathe, the finance team has some breaking news for me. Starting my day at 8 am, the next time I look at my watch and it’s already 3.00 pm. And the most important task on my to-do list is still struggling for my attention.
How I wish I had more time! Or at least the Time Turner.
But then my consciousness reminds me of Jackson Brown Jr’s quote-
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
This may sound like another motivational quote but it’s the truth. Wonderful things can happen if you know the art of protecting time from distractions. Assuming that you are also caught in the whirlwind of distractions, let me share few things which work for me (sometimes)-
1. Practice ‘Time blocking’
The concept of Time blocking technique was introduced to me by Cal Newport. Although its results are based on the honesty you put in. But all famous writers and athletes use this technique to produce incredible results.
Time blocking is like scheduling – only more strict. You need to divide your hours into blocks and allot yourself tasks in that time block. And then Lockdown! You can not go past that time block for that particular task.
Cal suggests batching together small things and tackling hard things when you have the long stretches to make progress. Spend 30 minutes or an hour in the morning to prioritize, and then jump straight into your most important work.
2. Believe in the power of routines
Do you know one thing common between Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Benjamin Franklin and Stephen King- they follow a fixed routine. Every single day. Following a fixed routine doesn’t only remove distractions but it also reduces the decision fatigue and limits procrastination. For instance, if you take up Cal Newport’s suggestion to do Time blocking and practice it as a routine, then people around you know that you won’t be available for any discussion during that interval.
Routines, like meditation, can change your entire perspective on life and work. Once you get into the habit of it, your mind and body will be in sync and you will notice that work will start to flow effortlessly.
3. Learn to say no
I learned it Sarah Cooper’s way- How to Say No Without Ever Saying No. Trust me, it’s the right way to take charge of things. Here’s my all-time favorite (BTW, you might want to follow her. She writes great satire)-
Okay, I lie.
It’s not the best way. The best way is to weigh your options- don’t say yes because you don’t want to feel bad saying no. Just be courteous, have the right reasons in place and as long as you are not being the Malfoy to Hermione Granger, they will still consider you human.
So, say no to meetings where you aren’t needed. Yeah, the same meetings where you have to constantly stare at your laptop screen assuming that no one is looking at you. Say no to work that crushes every single brain cell by its sheer mediocrity. Say no to frivolous coffee meetings where you are constantly tinkering with the idea of disappearing by pushing the button of “warp speed” of your imaginary spaceship.
Saying no is not equal to being selfish. It’s equal to making right choices.
4. Do one thing at a time
Imagine yourself designing wireframes, mockups, writing code, doing automation testing, reviewing peer’s code, together. How many hours before you start banging your head on the wall and screaming like King Kong? I bet, only a few hours.
We all have piled up numerous things on our to-do list. And we try to do multitasking to accomplish these tasks.
The best thing is to believe – “By the yard it’s hard; but inch by inch, anything’s a clinch!”
Juggling between tasks when one isn’t logically completed is counterproductive. According to Gloria Mark, if you do context- switching, an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds are required in order to get back to the original task. That’s a lot of time.
But, Helleww! Good news is you can save it. Back to square one – Time Blocking.
On that note, I would just close it by saying that it’s important to realize that your time is precious. I hope you make peace with the running-out-of-hand time and be more productive. Oh! Sorry, I mean effective. Because being more effective is more challenging than being productive.
May the force be with you.
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