September 2020 Newsletter Manage Your Time…Organize Your Brain
Since many of us are no longer commuting, I have noticed that many of our work day schedules are now back to back meetings. Our individual work tasks are focused upon whenever we have “time.” And we have other priorities as we work virtually— attending to children and their needs…and myriad other distractions throughout our day. Please check out Julie Morgenstern’s wonderful tips from her book, Never Check Your Email in the Morning. It may save your brain from burnout and overload! And you might be able to create some team agreements about when you have meetings and when you don’t!
Julie Morgenstern Tips on Time Management
Grouping Similar Tasks
Every day, you face a myriad of choices about your daily to-dos. There are things you have to do, things you want to do, and things other people ask you to do. Tasks for work, family, self, and friends. Tasks that require mental concentration, physical strength, charm, creativity, or diplomacy. When looking at a long list of to-dos, it can be tempting to dive right in, starting at the top and knocking them out as they come at you. But don’t. Take a moment to sort through them to ensure you approach your day efficiently.
In an organized closet, you stretch space by grouping similar items. The same is true of your to-dos. Grouping similar tasks (i.e., batching calls, errands, paperwork, creative activities, interaction with others) helps you get more time out of your day because you gain efficiency and momentum as you repeat each action. For example, when paying bills, it makes sense to balance your checkbook at the same time, because you already have the “financial” part of your brain open. Batching phone calls saves time too. With your sales or social “hat” on, you get more clear and concise with each call. If you have several letters to write, it’s more efficient to blast through them sequentially than switch to financial activities in between.
Studies have shown that it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you’re working on when you switch back and forth among tasks. This means that if your day is a random free-for-all in which you hop from task to task, your work will literally take much longer because of the real time you lose switching gears.
Think about it: If it takes you 10 minutes to get oriented to a new task every time you switch gears, and you switch gears 10 times a day, that’s over 1.5 hours of wasted time. Not only does multitasking have a quantitative impact on your day, it can also damage the quality of your work. Science journals have determined that managing two mental tasks at the same time significantly reduces the brainpower available to concentrate on either one, ultimately damaging the quality of your final product. Severe multitaskers experience a variety of symptoms, including short-term memory loss, gaps in their attentiveness, and a general inability to concentrate.
Start in the middle. If it’s hard to get started on a project at the beginning, try jumping to the second or third step to ease into the water. For example, when writing a letter, the opening paragraph may be the most difficult. If you’re stuck, try jumping to the body of the letter, outlining the bullets you want to cover first. Get that out of the way, and the introduction may come easier. Focus on the payoff. By taking your eye off the particular task and focusing on the happiness and success you’ll gain from completion, you can often keep yourself moving forward. For example, when filling out expense forms, think about what you will buy with the reimbursement.
Set time limits on difficult tasks. Setting aside either too much time-or not enough time-can make you procrastinate. Setting aside an hour to do expense reports? Minimize the torture by shrinking it down to 30 minutes and get as far as you can. Trying to plan a holiday event in 30 minutes and can’t get started? Try giving yourself an hour and see if that does the trick.
Studies show that when you are interrupted, it takes 20 minutes to regain the level of concentration you had reached before the disruption. Furthermore, in nearly 50 percent of the cases, a person never even returns to the original task.
Track yourself for a week or two. Use the Tracker section of your daily pages to learn who is likely to interrupt you and why. Understand your own proclivity to be railroaded by someone who bursts into your office begging for help or that tendency to reach for the phone every time it rings. Each time you are interrupted, note the time, who it was, what they needed from you, and how long it took. Then, grade the importance and urgency of the interruption: A = critical and urgent; B = important but not urgent; C = unnecessary and not worth the time. At the end of the week, study your log to determine the average time lost to interruptions each day, giving special focus to A- and B-level interruptions. If the average time totals up to two hours of important and necessary interruptions a day, you need to start planning for them. In this case, you’d reserve two hours of open time in your daily schedule and use the rest of the day for planned tasks.
A powerful way to minimize the time lost to switching gears all day long is the grouping of similar kinds of tasks. The pattern can be as simple as paperwork in the morning and calls in the afternoon or quiet work in the morning and interactive activities in the afternoon. Or, you could organize your day around your core responsibilities, setting aside two hours for creative work, one hour for financial tasks, and five hours for people management every day. If you were in business for yourself and had complete control over your schedule, you could devote one day to administrative tasks, one day to marketing, and three days to client service.
Use the following strategies to prevent unnecessary interruptions:
· Choose two or three people who can interrupt you at any time. Make a short list of key people whose interruptions you will always take, no matter what you are doing. Defer everyone else to a better time.
· Always ask how long it will take. Every time you’re interrupted, ask how long the person needs (15 minutes? 45?). Tell them you want to know so that you can provide the focus and attention they really deserve. Holding people accountable to the time they ask for helps them be more efficient too.
· Begin the conversation with “What can I do for you?” not “How are you?” “How are you?” is an open invitation to chat. “What can I do for you?” immediately focuses your interrupter on getting straight to the point.