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Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?

Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?
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Do you find yourself being busy all day with endless to-do’s? Are you constantly stretched for time?

If yes, it’s possible that you’re not making the best use of your time. It’s likely that you have too many distractions that have been masked as ‘tasks’. And it’s these tasks that are eating away your time and energy.

For example, do you believe you are being super-productive when you’re checking your emails or sitting in meetings? You might think so, but at the end of the day – how much have you really accomplished?

Fortunately, as you’ll see shortly, it’s possible to eliminate (or at the very least shrink) the unimportant stuff so that you can make space for the tasks that have real impact and bring about tremendous results. However, before we get to that, let’s take a brief look at what happens when we allocate too much time to low-impact tasks.

Procrastination, Parkinson’s Law and More

Procrastination

The Oxford Dictionary describes procrastination as: “The action of delaying or postponing something.” Clearly, it’s not a trait that successful people are associated with.

Now, to be fair, from time-to-time we’re all guilty of procrastination. It really only becomes an issue when procrastination starts to be our default way of working. I’m sure you’ve had colleagues like that. Whatever the task or project that they’re supposed to be working on – they constantly find reasons and excuses for failing to get started.

You may not be one of those people, but…

I bet you don’t feel that you’re procrastinating when you’re working on low-impact or low-return tasks like checking emails. I know this, because I used to be like that too! I distinctively remember feeling productive when I was working on these type of tasks – even though they never led me to accomplish anything worthwhile.

It took me years to realize this, but focusing time and energy on low-impact, unimportant tasks is a form of procrastination. This is because – if we’re honest with ourselves – it’s easier to work on the maintenance stuff rather than tackling the bigger more important tasks and assignments.

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Parkinson’s law

Parkinson’s law states that your work expands to fit the amount of time you have available for it. In my previous working life, I found this law to be especially true with tasks that were low-impact.

Why so?

Well, your limbic system (nerves and networks within the brain that control drives and emotions) puts up such a fight against working on your more challenging, highest-return tasks, that the low-impact tasks that support your work almost serve as work ‘crack’ or work candy. In other words, you feel productive when you work on them. This is understandable, as you’re most likely super-busy. But, as I stated earlier – being constantly busy on low-impact tasks means you’ll fail to accomplish anything of note.

    There is no order

    It’s Monday morning, you’re feeling tired, and you’ve just arrived at your office. You grab a strong coffee, go to your desk, log in to your computer and start working. However, you immediately fall into the common productivity trap that stops people from achieving their goals – namely, you fail to allocate any time for prioritizing or planning. Because of this, you’ll probably end up working on a whole list of unimportant tasks before reaching any genuinely important tasks.

    For instance, how many times first thing in a morning do you find yourself just catching up with emails (and gossip from your colleagues)? The answer is probably – a lot! It may seem like a way to warm up before the real work, but in most cases, you’ll simply find that you lose an hour or more without really achieving anything. You may even find that by the time you’ve caught up with emails and gossip, that you’ve been called off to a meeting. And by the time the meeting finishes – you’ve probably already missed the deadline for completing a project.

    Company culture and the dreaded meetings 

    I don’t know about you, but previous places I’ve worked have led me to realize that: People love setting up meetings to discuss, to present, to find solutions, etc.

    But in many cases, these meetings may not be the best use of yours or other people’s time.

    Although some meetings are important, the average employee wastes an incredible amount of time in them: 37 percent of the average office worker’s time is spent in meetings. (A shocking statistic!)

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    Furthermore, a survey of 150 senior executives found that they think 28 percent of meetings are an unnecessary waste of time. (I’d argue that number is north of 50 percent for the majority of employees, because senior executives aren’t invited to the most pointless meetings!)

    Unproductive meetings are the opposite of high-return tasks like working on projects. These meetings use up a ton of your time, but have virtually no positive effects on your work output.

    Consequences

    Everything in life has consequences. And this includes how you approach your work.

    If you spend a lot of time working on unnecessary tasks – then you won’t see great results. In fact, your productivity is likely to be stagnant at best. Of course, the reason for this is obvious: you’re not producing your finest work because your time has been eaten up trying to finish those endless low-return tasks. Here’s the sad part about this. You may find yourself falling behind the rest of the pack (e.g., your peers, your colleagues) because your performance is increasingly below par.

    So, what can you do to address this issue?

    My Take on This

    Having previously been a low-impact tasks addict, I now feel confident in being able to help you out of this hole.

    Firstly, whatever your job, there will be low-impact tasks that you can eliminate.

    That’s right. Every single support or maintenance task in your work can be either shrunk, delegated, or even – in a few cases – eliminated entirely. After you have gotten a better grip on how much time and attention you spend on these tasks, you’ll open up opportunities to work on what I like to call… the real stuff!

    From my experience, here are some of the low-impact tasks that you’ll be able to shrink or eliminate:

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    1. Recurring, low-return meetings.
    2. Low-return phone calls, and the productivity porn of social media and news websites and other time wasters.
    3. Tasks and projects that make little use of your time, unique talents or skills.
    4. Tasks and projects in which you contribute negligible value – but which suck up an abundance of your time.

    Take email, for example.

    In Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project, he conducted an informal survey, where he asked several friends, to keep a tally of how often they checked for new email messages at work every day for a week. The average between them? An astonishing 41 times!

    Another (and this time, more scientific) study found that most people check their email about every 15 minutes – which adds up to 32 times over an 8-hour day.

    When you check for new email 32 times a day, that’s 32 times your attention is derailed from what you’re supposed to be working on. It’s pretty hard to maintain any mental clarity in those conditions. Email may be a vital support task, but you also shouldn’t be checking it 32 times a day.

    Here’s How to Get Your Productivity Back on Track

    Keep note

    The simple act of keeping a time log makes you more aware of what you’re working on daily. But time is only one part of the story. Low-return tasks also take up a boatload of your attention.

    After you identify these low-return tasks, think about how frequently you focus on them throughout the day, by keeping a formal tally for a day or two.

    List them in order of how much time and attention they consume. For example: replying to emails, attending meetings, paperwork, managing your calendar, etc.

    Chances are that you have maintenance-type tasks like these that support your real work – pretty much every office worker on the planet is inundated with email and gets invited to too many meetings and events. But, as I highlighted earlier, it’s possible to shrink, delegate or even eliminate those support tasks. You can do it – and you definitely should!

    Set limits

    I find the most effective answer to shrinking low-return support tasks is to become aware of how much time and attention you spend on these tasks – and then literally shrink them by setting limits.

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    Some support tasks in your work take up a disproportionate amount of your attention rather than your time. For instance, most emails only take a minute or two to respond to, but when you check your email dozens of times a day, those are countless times you’ve had to transition from focusing on something important to focusing on email.

    The switching costs associated with multitasking can be enormous. (And not in a good way!)

    Of course, there’s also the uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether you have new messages – which impacts your attention. And then there are the frequent email alerts that interrupt you when you’re actually trying to work on something more productive.

    For tasks like email, the best way I’ve found to shrink their impact on time and productivity is to limit how often I focus on them throughout the day. I turn off my email alerts, and only check emails at a few specific times: in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.

    The same goes for meetings.

    Don’t just accept every meeting invite you receive. Instead, limit the number of meetings you attend a week. Not only will you free up time to get on with your real work – but going forward, you’ll also discourage colleagues from inviting you to unnecessary meetings.

      Over to You

      So, please don’t let low-return tasks drag your productivity levels to hell. Start each working day, week and month with a plan. Know the things you want to achieve – and by shrinking and eliminating time wasting activities – go ahead and achieve them!

      I promise you, you’ll be amazed at the uptick in your productivity when you put your focus on the big stuff. Your boss and colleagues will look at you with new eyes. They’ll wonder how you now manage to accomplish so much – with seemingly, so little time. One thing’s for sure. Your new super-productive work life will in time pay you handsome dividends. These could come in the form of increased job satisfaction, pay rises and even promotions.

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      As the saying goes… the world is your oyster!

      Featured photo credit: janeb13 via pixabay.com

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

      A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

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      Last Updated on June 1, 2021

      10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

      10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner
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      The importance of learning cannot be underestimated. Learning empowers us to fulfill our ideas and realize our full potential. The speed of gaining new knowledge is practically as important as its volume. Who wouldn’t love to remember tons of information as quickly as possible?

      If you want to start learning faster, you need a new approach towards the process which would enable you to comprehend the essence of the matter and relate it with new concepts you encounter.

      The following 10 tips will help you become a fast learner:

      1. Analyze Your Learning Style

      Before you can start experimenting with different studying methods, you need to understand what type of learner you are:

      Is your memory associated to sound?

      Maybe you can remember what you were reading when a particular song was playing? If this is your case, then you fall into the category of auditory learners.

      If you want to start studying more efficiently, then it would be wise to record the lectures and listen to them instead of reading textbooks.

      Do you relate information to visual content?

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      If you are a visual learner, you should implement images, graphs, charts, infographics, colorful lists, flashcards, and other types of visual content when you study.

      Are you a physical learner?

      If your learning style is not auditory or visual, then you might be a physical learner. Some students have too much energy; they tap their feet or play with a pen during lectures.

      A walk before a lecture will calm your nerves down. You can try studying or listening to audio lectures during a walk. That will help you remember the information more quickly.

      2. Use the Right EdTech Tools

      Technology has the power of making everything easier. There are plenty of websites, online tools, and smartphone/tablet apps that will boost your skills of planning, writing, time management and brainstorming, etc.

      One way of improving your productivity is using flashcards. You can make your own cards, but you can also download pre-made kits online:

      • StudyBlue is one of the best online destinations when it comes to creating and discovering flashcards from all areas of study.
      • If you are looking for a tool that makes the process of brainstorming more effective, then you should try PapersGear.
      • You also need the SelfControl app, which will eliminate all distractions when you need to stay focused.
      • Quizlet is another website you should bookmark; it offers study tools that will transform the learning process into a fun activity.
      • Notella is an app that will help you take quick notes at any time.
      • Brainscape is an educational platform that makes complex subjects easy by relying on cognitive science.
      • You can also try Dragon Dictation, especially if you are an audio learner.

      3. Train Your Brain to Accept New Information

      Efficient studying is a habit. Your brain needs constant training if you want to improve your focus and complete complex tasks without taking breaks.

      One way to achieve this goal is to create a private learning space in your home. You’ll also need a specific time of day that you’ll devote to studying. That will make your brain ready to accept the information it gets, so you’ll notice you’re starting to learn much faster by the day.

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      4. Get Some Exercise

      You are aware of the fact that physical activity is good for your body, but your brain needs it too!

      Light exercise, such as yoga, can help you learn much faster. If you are inactive throughout the day, your body will want to move, so it will be difficult for you to stay focused.

      If, on the other hand, you canalize your energy through light training sessions, you will be ready to study productively.

      5. Work on the Ambiance

      If you have a noisy neighborhood or a working environment full of distractions, you won’t be able to learn or study no matter how hard you try.

      If you want to learn quickly, you need a quiet, distraction-free environment that won’t disturb the mind in any way. Such a peaceful place will set you in learning mode as soon as you find yourself in it.

      6. Take a Lot of Notes

      Only few people are capable of remembering information as they read it. If you don’t belong to this category of privileged learners, then you absolutely need to start taking notes.

      This simple learning method will force you to think about the essence of the material. It will also give you a nice framework that will help you review the things you’ve learned.

      Write down only the most important information. That will help you remember all the other things you’ve learned.

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      Here’re some tips to take notes effectively: Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

      7. Make Mind Maps

      Mind maps are among the best tools to speed up the learning process. Your mind will process information effectively if you create a visual representation of the things you’re about to learn.

      You can create a nice mind map in the old-school way: take a large sheet of paper and organize all facts and explanations. Use pictures, note-cards, and other symbols you can think of. Group similar items together and connect them with colorful pens.

      Some tips mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

      Of course, you can also use an online mind mapping tool if you want to save yourself some time.

      8. Experiment with Memorization Methods

      Memorizing is often misused in the process of studying. Some people memorize whole sentences, paragraphs and lectures without grasping their essence.

      However, memorization can be useful when you need to learn definitions and classifications really quickly. Don’t avoid this technique if you want to fill your brain with information without wasting any time.

      Try this if you want to memorize more and faster: How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

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      9. Find the Right Context

      Memorization works solely in times of urgency. If you want to learn in the most effective manner, then you need to have context for information.

      Find an aspect that’s interesting for you; try to research for related information, and you’ll discover the joy of learning.

      The first step? Jot down as much information and as many ideas as possible: How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

      With time, this practice will make you a faster learner.

      10. Study Every Day

      It will take some time before you get used to a daily studying routine, but your mind will eventually grasp the habit.

      The more frequently you study, the less time it will take for you to remember the things you read.

      If you start studying as soon as possible after you have learned some new concepts, it won’t take long at all for you to get ready for an exam. Now that sounds really good, doesn’t it?

      More to Help You Learn Quicker

      Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

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