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Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?

Have You Been Wasting Your Time Wrongly?

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.

      As the saying goes… the world is your oyster!

      Featured photo credit: janeb13 via pixabay.com

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      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on March 19, 2019

      How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most

      How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most

      Nod your head if you’ve ever had to ask for help at work, at home or anywhere else. Now, nod again if you’ve ever felt shy or silly when doing so.

      I’m sure some of you reading would have nodded twice!

      Whether it’s not knowing the answer to a question in class and looking around to see if your classmates knew, getting stuck on a project at work and needing to get additional input from colleagues, or just being in a new city and needing help with directions, we’ve all been down this road before.

      We may not know what to do, and clearly would benefit with some help, yet we won’t–or are afraid to–ask for help. We either very reluctantly do so eventually, or decide to suffer in silence altogether.

      Why Are We so Afraid of Asking for Help?

      So what stops us from seeking the help that we need? Sometimes it might be that we fear requesting assistance as we don’t want to seem weak, needy or incompetent in front of strangers, our peers or superiors.

      Especially if you’re in a competitive work environment, there is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, this information about you not knowing will be used against you. If you’re too open about asking for help, people may start associating you as the leech who’s always relying on someone, and you’ll start to appear incapable in front of your peers. And as much as you would like to play a fair and just game, the reality is that not everyone thinks that way. There will be overly aggressive individuals out there who will gladly walk over you to get to the top in their career.

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      Not to mention, your reputation is at stake. If word got out that you had to seek help of some form, you’ll feel embarrassed or perhaps insecure. You might feel less confident about your abilities and worry about what others think of you. You’re afraid to attract that kind of attention at work.

      Unfortunately, we all have a natural tendency to judge ourselves harshly–often thinking of situations much worse than they actually are in reality. As a result, we also miss out on a lot of potential knowledge or help. If only we were able to see past all that self imposed negativity! Or, at least learn how to manage such situations in a more confident manner.

      Meet Paul

      I have a friend by the name of Paul who runs his own company. He started at a young age and is already a very successful business man at age 40.

      When I ask Paul to name something he does to stay focused and on track in life, he tells me that he has a life coach. He has regular monthly sessions with a life coach who helps him through different aspects of his life.

      “It almost sounds like a counseling session”, I told Paul.

      He simply replied, “Yes.”, with a smile.

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      To Paul, the purpose of having a life coach is to give him perspective and to call out on areas of his life that he may have missed out on or neglected.

      He see’s having a life coach as a benefit to his success, and not as a sign of weakness.

      We’re Seeing It All Wrong

      This got me thinking. Many of us automatically assume that going for counseling, taking self help courses, or seeing a life coach means that something unpleasant has happened or is happening in your life. The word help is regarded as a negative.

      But the truth is, if we can turn “help” around to see it as a positive act, then going for any of the above would actually be an empowering act.

      You need not be in some dire state to seek change. You also don’t have to be at some terrible dead-end or crossroad in life only to seek help. It may just be that you’re wanting to better improve your wellbeing, or to go through some self development to become a better you.

      Everyone goes through periods of change in their lives. Whether it’s naturally occurring, or a ‘forced’ change, it’s always meant to improve our well being, and allow us to become better versions of ourselves. But we can’t always make or go through change alone, and that is completely normal. So we should embrace that fact and know that seeking help from someone or somewhere is a perfectly normal thing to do, and not something to be ashamed of.

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      Help Is Not a Form of Weakness 

      In Paul’s case, having a life coach helps give him an extra set of eyes so that he can envision his life and plans much clearer.

      As a busy working professional, he has many responsibilities to attend to alongside being a father and husband. In order not to burn out or lose sight of his goals, Paul’s life coach acts as a reminder and offers him new insights to problems or situations that Paul may find himself in.

      This is applicable to any form of help and not limited to what a life coach can bring to the table. Research has proven that having a support system has many positive benefits, such as higher levels of well-being, better coping skills and a longer and healthier life.

      If this isn’t enough to convince you, even the most successful people like Richard Branson and Warren Buffet require asking for help and have other people advise them.

      Take athletes for an example. Behind every successful athlete, or any athlete for that matter, is a coach. He or she is there to train and guide them on their path to greatness. Coaches have the ability to point out blind spots and play on the athlete’s strengths. The athlete focuses on a current or specific training routine, but the coach already has a bigger plan mapped out and that one training routine that the athlete is focusing on, is but one of many more training routines that will eventually lead to the athlete succeeding and outperforming. Without the coach’s vision to map that out and guide the athlete, the athlete will be training blindly, and not maximising his efforts.

      Seeking Help Is Strength

      By taking an active step in seeking help or advice, you’re actually taking control of your life, and not letting external circumstances (such as what people think) affect how you behave and perform. It is courageous to accept your weaknesses!

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      So if you’re at a point in life where you’re wanting some change to happen, or feel stuck in a rut, it’s time to turn your weakness into strength by seeking help.

      Here at Lifehack, we’re committed to your personal development. We want to be your transformational coach, to pull you out of that rut so you can be up and going again. Even if you’re not feeling stuck or at a crossroad, there is always more that you can do to improve and upgrade your life.

      Want to learn how to save more time than wasting it? Or how to find out what you should be focusing on at present? Perhaps you just simply want to learn how to ignite that spark of motivation within you again to either pursue new interests or to continue pushing ahead with existing goals.

      Learning never ends. So no matter your age, we’re here to guide you towards becoming a better you.

      If you’re keen to take that step towards becoming a better you, begin a journey of transformation with us here!

      As we guide you through important lessons and Cornerstone Skills that will significantly change your life, you will live the life you’ve always wanted!

      Featured photo credit: Andre Maliik via unsplash.com

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