There’s not enough time. Right? We’re all too busy in our personal and professional lives to squeeze in everything to make us feel happy and successful.
But what is sucking away our precious time and how much control do we actually have over it? Turns out the answers are: 1) distractions and 2) a lot.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to better maximize my time in order to accomplish more, reduce my stress, and increase my overall satisfaction in life. In this pursuit, I’ve read a couple of new books that help address this.
In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown writes that the way of essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time and it’s not about getting less done. Instead it’s about getting only the right things done and challenging the assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”
McKeown suggests the way of the essentialist requires doing less and doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution in your personal and professional life.
In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that enables you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport doesn’t argue that distraction is necessarily bad; instead he wants us to honor the massive benefits of focused attention.
This deep work, according to Newport, requires following four rules:
- Work deeply – The trend of open floorplans to engage greater collaboration and serendipitous encounters is helpful only when it includes a hub-and-spoke model where individuals can seclude themselves or their teams in areas to focus for regular long periods of uninterrupted time as well.
- Embrace boredom – Structure your time to reduce multitasking and your addiction to the little dopamine hits from reacting to text messages, emails, phone calls, etc. Consider an Internet Sabbath or digital detox in order to recharge yourself regularly.
- Quit social media – When you analyze the benefits you receive from using social media, many of us will find it is not really supporting our long term goals for productivity and happiness. Isn’t this virtual form of connection more anti-social anyway?
- Drain the shallows – Reduce the amount of shallow work you are currently doing that is not essential. Email is a big component and needs to be managed more effectively. Non-essential meetings are wasteful to individuals and companies. Schedule your entire day into 30 minute blocks and stick to this routine to help you focus on what’s important and eliminate much of the shallow work.
Now as a blogger who actively promotes this post via social media, I cannot justify fully quitting social media. However, I can choose to regulate how and when I interact with this tool. Simply calling social media a tool provides an important clarification regarding its overall value to me.
As an independent consultant, I should have the ability to take control over my time. But I also want to be responsive to my clients’ needs, react to new client requests, and be able to shift my schedule in order to accommodate shifts by others. On the personal side, like many of you, I have the usual demands and desires with regards to my family and friends that often run counter to my efforts to control my time.
Nevertheless, managing my time is entirely up to me and I can be successful if I choose to be intentional and disciplined. I suspect whether you work for yourself or someone else, you also have this opportunity to a large extent.
For me, managing my time effectively requires:
- Maintain my priorities. The health and well-being of me and my family comes first. All my work and activities stem from what helps support these, and this means I can then choose how and when to attend to everything else.
- Important and hard things first. I make time in the morning to work on the projects that require the most concentration and focus. I try to remove or delay distractions and less important tasks until later in the day.
- 90-minute timeframes for focused work. Much like the importance of complete REM cycles when sleeping, a minimum of 90 minutes is required in order to go deep into focused attention. Keep away from multitasking as it undermines focus.
- Take breaks to recharge. This can include the shallow work of writing and responding to emails and texts, taking phone calls as well as eating healthy meals, exercising, and chatting with co-workers.
- Reduce web surfing and social media. In this age of distraction, we have the choice to either rule over the tools at our disposal or let them rule us. Judge for yourself whether time on these activities is helping or harming your ability to reach long term success and happiness.
- Setting and maintaining boundaries. This is perhaps hardest for me as I want to say yes as often as possible. The trouble is I am undermining my effectiveness when I let people and projects permeate the important boundaries necessary for me to remain focused on one important thing at the expense of many other possibilities.
The older I get the more precious time becomes. I want to make the most of it and therefore I choose to be more intentional and disciplined about my time. I hope you can too.