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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 November 23, 2020

      9 Types of Goals to Get Your Life Moving in the Right Direction

      9 Types of Goals to Get Your Life Moving in the Right Direction

      Goals can be about anything in life, as long as it is something you set to achieve within a timeframe. There are different types of goals you can set to make your life better.For example, you can set a goal to improve your vocabulary by reading 30 books in a year. To achieve this goal, you’ll probably have to set smaller goals, like reading 30 minutes a day or 4 hours a week and reading up to 3 books every month.While at it, you may discover that your family and relationship needs more attention, as does your business. You might also find that you need to raise the bar of your income to meet surging expenses. Moreover, you also do not want to keep your health in the danger zone while pursuing your wildest dreams.In order to put things in shape and keep your life on track, the following are the goal categories you should focus on when setting goals and objectives. They will help you increase your productivity, achieve tremendous success, and live a balanced life.

      Time-Based Goals

      Popular author and International Bestseller, Stephen R. Covey said:

      “The key is not spending time but investing it.”

      Nothing else helps you to invest your time wisely more than time-based goals. These can be in the form of short term, long term, or lifetime goals.

      1. Short Term Goals

      Short term goals are the types of goals you set to accomplish in the immediate or near future. These goals help you to think about what you can do in the next year to achieve your dreams. You can think of short term goals as smaller units of larger goals, the smaller steps that connect you to your bigger dreams.For example, if your long term goal is to buy a house in 5 years, your short term goal might be to save a certain amount of your monthly income to be able to buy the house in the set time.Here are more examples of short term goals:

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      • Lose 10 pounds in one month
      • Increase income by 40% over the next six months
      • Take 5 online mini-courses in 2 months
      • Save up some money to enjoy a vacation later in the year
      • Read a book every month

      Setting short term goals will keep you motivated. That feeling that comes with getting something done and checking them off your list keeps you motivated to want to achieve more. Here’s How to Set Short Term Goals for a Successful Life.

      2. Long Term Goals

      A long term goal is something you want to accomplish in the future but have to take steps towards achieving now. They usually require a broader scope and more time to achieve.Long term goals can be about the things you want to achieve for yourself, family, career, business, health, etc.Here are examples of long term goals:

      • Obtain a doctoral degree
      • Found a non-profit
      • Land your dream job
      • Buy your own house
      • Save for retirement
      • Learn to speak another language fluently
      • Move to another country

      Long term goals connect you to your bigger purpose and give you a sense of direction. Achieving long term goals also brings lasting results. Imagine being able to buy your dream home; you will enjoy it for as long as you want. Learn How to Set Long Term Goals and Reach Success.

      Learn more about how to go after your big goals in this video:

      3. Lifetime Goals

      Lifetime goals are the types of goals that you intend to achieve in your lifetime. They essentially connect with your life dream, vision, and purpose and can occur at any point in life—early adult life, middle-age, or old age. There is no limit to what you can set to achieve in your lifetime.For example, you can set a life goal to have your own family and raise 3 children, own a private jet at 40, or retire at 50. Another lifetime goal can be to feed 2 million destitute children with your resources before you die.A faith-based preacher was credited to “winning” 79 million souls before he died at 79.[1]. That’s just an example to show that lifetime goals can be just about anything.More examples of lifetime goals:

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      • Become a TV Host, host the top hierarchy in the world of Politics, Business, Sports and Entertainment before turning 35
      • Climb Mount Everest at 65
      • Travel to all countries of the world before age 55
      • Buy and develop a 100 hectares of land in Africa as a retirement home and farm
      • Stay fit and run the marathon at 80

      Setting your life goals should not be a difficult task. If you are unsure of what goals you should set for your life, look toward your values and passions for direction.[2]

      Life-Based Goals

      In order to live a balanced life and achieve all-round success, there is a need to set specific types of goals for different areas of your life. Setting goals in these key areas will help you to take control of your entire life and achieve more as you think steps ahead.

      4. Health and Fitness Goals

      Before anything else, your most important goal in life should be to stay alive and healthy. When you are fit physically and mentally, you will find it easier to function well in other areas. Here are some health goals you can set for yourself:

      • Walk for 30 minutes a day
      • Avoid foods with high cholesterol
      • Keep a regular bedtime
      • Quit smoking
      • Drink at least 2 liters of water a day

      Get inspired by these 15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year.

      5. Career Goals

      Career goals are the roadmaps that help you achieve a more productive and progressive professional life. Irrespective of the stage you are currently at in your career, you need to continually set these types of goals to grow and achieve more.Your career goals should reflect your professional vision, and you should also think carefully about what you want to accomplish.[3]Below are some career goals examples:

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      • Earn a higher degree or executive certification
      • Become a consultant in your field
      • Rise to top management position within 5 years
      • Increase your job performance metrics
      • Find a job with better staff welfare package

      6. Financial Goals

      Most of us are making less than we could and spending more than we should. Setting financial goals will help you take control of your finances.To set financial goals, you have to be able to figure out what is important to you and what you can afford in the short and long term. Here are some financial goal examples:

      • Prepare and stick to a monthly spending plan
      • Save a certain amount monthly
      • Develop alternative income sources
      • Grow income by 50%
      • Pay off debt

      7. Business Goals

      Growing and keeping your business on the right track requires setting the right types of goals. To achieve this, you have to determine your long term vision and mission for your business and also create measurable short term objectives.Below are some examples of business goals:

      • Reduce overhead by 30%
      • Acquire new clients
      • Enter a new market
      • Create a new product
      • Increase your market share

      Here’re even more examples: 10 Simple Yet Powerful Business Goals to Set This Year

      8. Personal Goals

      Personal goals are the goals that you set to have a better version of yourself in the near or distant future. These include activities and plans that are geared towards personal development goals, spiritual goals, or even educational goals. Examples of personal goals include:

      • Read a book per month
      • Develop a habit of gratitude
      • Stop procrastinating
      • Wake up early
      • Develop emotional intelligence

      9. Family Goals

      The home front is crucial to experiencing balance and well-being, so these types of goals are especially important. Setting family goals will help you to keep your family in order and experience happy moments with the people you love most.Examples of family goals include:

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      • Eat more veggies to have a healthy family
      • Create a weekly/monthly time out
      • Have a daily family devotion/meditation
      • Volunteer to do some chores for your spouse
      • Save up for a Disney Cruise

      In addition to family goals, you may want to consider setting marriage and relationship goals too: How to Set Marriage Goals That Make Your Relationship Stronger

      Making Your Goals S.M.A.R.T

      To make your major goals workable and achievable, there are some things you have to consider in the goal planning process. The S.M.A.R.T framework is one of the goal frameworks that you can use to put your goals in the proper perspective.S.M.A.R.T is an acronym used to represent Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-based. A goal that is not SMART is nothing but a vague goal and such can be hardly achieved[4].

      A breakdown of SMART goals -- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based
        Setting SMART goals begin with knowing what you want to achieve and what it takes to achieve them. Taking your goals through the SMART process can help you refine your ideas and redefine your goals.If you want to learn more about setting SMART goals, don’t miss these tips.

        Final Thoughts

        Never let a moment pass in your life without setting specific types of goals or working to achieve the ones you have set. Find out what you can do from now up to six months time to contribute to your progress in life.Don’t forget to plan for the long term either. You have only one life to live, so set the goals you wish to accomplish in your lifetime. You only become truly successful when your life is in shape.Learning types of goal setting will be a futile activity if the goals are not SMART. Make your goals SMART and you will find that reaching your goal is not as difficult as it seems.

        More About Goal Setting

        Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

        Reference

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