How to avoid wasting time.
The ability to make the best use of our time can be the difference between a life of mediocrity and one of outstanding achievement. When we don’t do it consciously, we often fall prey to unproductive distractions. Let’s take a look at some practices that might help us reach our goals more efficiently.
Ivy Lee was the expert who helped Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, increase the productivity of his business a hundred years ago. Upon being asked to do so, Lee requested a short interview with each of his executives. Lee declined payment by proposing Schwab pay him whatever he considered fair at the end of a three month trial of the method.
Lee was ultimately paid $25,000, equivalent to $450,000 in our day.
- Before you go to sleep, write down the six most important tasks you need to accomplish the next day.
- Order the tasks by importance.
- As soon as you start working, concentrate only on the first task. Until completion.
- Do the same for the second task and so on.
- If you fail to finish a task, add it to tomorrow’s list.
- Repeat the entire process.
Multitasking is a big deal: it reduces productivity, mental performance and self-assessment skills, it causes accidents, increases stress, anxiety and depression, contributes to premature aging and can become an addiction. Like any addiction, it isn’t easy to overcome even when you’re perfectly aware it’s damaging you.
- Control your physical environment. If you’re a freelancer, use a dedicated room at home for work only, or rent it elsewhere. Don’t use this room for anything else.
- Control your internet addiction. Cold Turkey allows you to block websites you feel tempted to browse frequently.
- Control your online communication. Set a specific time to answer social media messages and emails unrelated to work.
- Learn to say no. Don’t be afraid of being assertive out of fear people won’t like you if you ask not to be interrupted.
- Train your mind for concentration. Meditation can help you relax and learn to control your attention.
The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s. It uses a timer for concentrated work alternated with pauses for rest and assimilation. The work intervals are named pomodoros after the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo originally used.
- Pick a task to be done.
- Set the timer to 25 minutes.
- Work on the task for 25 minutes, until the timer rings.
- Put a checkmark on paper.
- Count your checkmarks. If they’re fewer than four, take a break for three to five minutes.
- After four checkmarks (indicating four pomodoros), take a longer break for fifteeen to thirty minutes, and go back to step 1.
A pre-game ritual is a routine athletes develop to get into the right mindset for peak performance. Perhaps you have your own and never noticed it, like drinking coffee before going to work. It’s a personal thing, but the following are some popular choices that can work for most people.
- Visualization. Picture what you’re about to do in detail and your mind will operate as if it’s already happening.
- Isolation. Move to an environment in which there are no external sources of distraction.
- Dress up. Wearing your pajamas to work - I’m looking at you, freelancers - may be a tad too comfortable for engagement. Dress the part.
- Music. Some kinds of music pump us up for exercise, the same could be said of work. I use mellow electronic music without vocals.
- Exercise. Calisthenics can be a healthy way to start the day and get your blood circulating for intellectual tasks.
A time log is a sheet of paper that displays how you effectively use your time. It keeps track of how much time is spent on each task and what are the most common sources of interruptions you need to get rid of. There are software solutions as well, if you prefer those.
Much more could be said about time management but it would be ironic to spend too much time discussing techniques to reduce waste of time. Share your favorite techniques in the comment section!