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Just in Time for 2013: An Evergreen Time Management System

Just in Time for 2013: An Evergreen Time Management System

It’s disappointing: you start the new year looking for some solid advice on improving your time management, but all that’s available is yet another list of top 10 tips. You feel let down because they offer little help in moving you towards the working professional’s ultimate destination—an evergreen time management system.

An evergreen system is one that never gets frozen in time. Its methods and tools are continually being evolved by its owner, and constantly being renewed. Here are a couple of reasons to keep your system fresh.

Reason #1 – our lives are dynamic. Things change at work; we get promoted, or selected to lead up a project, or our boss forces us to do the work of two people. At home, we get married, start an exercise program or need to take care of an aging parent. Somewhere in between, we start a part-time Masters degree.

As these commitments make their way into our lives, we find ourselves needing additional capacity… more time… more refined time management techniques to deal with a new level of demands. None of us wants our system to become the bottleneck that causes stuff to fall through the cracks, so we keep it evergreen just so that it can keep up.

Reason #2 – technology is expanding. Every other day we are presented with new choices of productivity tools that simply cannot be ignored. Case in point—there are quite a few professionals who swear that they’ll never use a smartphone, which has caused them to fall behind in developing the latest productivity skills. In the next five years, there will be a further explosion of new mobile products, apps and services, forcing us to make choices about if and when to use them.

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Most people are lazy: they go out and buy the latest gadget, and allow it to shape their time management habits e.g. texting while driving to “save time.” Keeping our system evergreen is the opposite—it means thinking about our system’s needs in an objective way so that we look for the tools we need before they even appear at Best Buy.

We need to learn how to tinker with our systems effectively to keep them evergreen—they don’t stay fresh by themselves.

Many time management gurus are like most auto mechanics, who aren’t interested in teaching you anything useful—they just want you to follow their instructions: “bring in your car.” Gurus often ask us to do the same:”just follow my instructions”. They generally don’t want us tinkering with our systems, doing our own thing, and departing from their advice.

We are on our own.

Fortunately, we can find our way to an evergreen system by coaching ourselves, and by using lessons from other familiar disciplines.

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1. From Professional Sports

“Andragogy” refers to the field of adult education. One of its key principles is that adults already have existing skills (unlike children) and that improvement efforts must build on the abilities that already exist. Top sports teams follow this principle, and start all new players off with an assessment of their skills.

In time management, you already have some good, or even great skills. You need to start with a skillful assessment of your strengths and weaknesses compared against best-in-class practices before deciding to follow a tip or purchase a gadget.

2. From the Martial Arts,

Not everyone who enters a dojo needs (or wants) a Third Degree Black Belt. Most will end up with a more modest achievement in keeping with their aspirations. In much the same way, you need to set goals for your time management system, using your knowledge of world-class standards. Don’t go over the top. Don’t follow someone else’s prescription. Instead, be modest, and set a time to achieve the next rung in the ladder, and then the next, in a way that inspires you rather than scaring you silly.

Making progress at your own pace is the only way to avoid the failure that so many experience from trying to implement too much, too quickly.

3. From Your Math Teacher

If your grade school teachers were any good, they taught you some pretty complex math skills in small, tiny steps. You barely noticed what was happening as they led you slowly, but steadily, through a range of skills.

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Research shows that an adult’s time management skills are just as complex as math skills. Changing them is much easier if you are able to break down the changes you want into small steps that appear to be easy to complete. This is self-coaching at its finest.

4. From Your Piano Instructor

It takes several years of consistent practice at increasing levels of difficulty to become a top-class piano player. You discovered this in perhaps your third or fourth lesson, leading you to re-evaluate your goal of soloing at Carnegie Hall. Fortunately, your instructor showed you how to spread out the small steps you needed to master over a period of several years. She had a plan for taking you all the way and it involved, as Malcolm Gladwell says in “Blink,” at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.

One reason why recent graduates aren’t made into Vice Presidents immediately is that they don’t have the personal time management systems to accomplish very much, a fact which executives understand acutely, but rarely share. They must learn how to replace today’s time management habits with new ones, executing a plan that might take weeks, months and even years of practice.

5. From Your Attempts at Weight Loss

If you have ever tried to lose weight, you might appreciate how challenging it is to learn new habits, and unlearn old ones.

We humans have a difficult time changing habits, and researchers have labored to find a magic formula. So far, they tell us that we over-estimate our willpower, and need much more help than we think. This help must exist beyond the boundary of our memory and emotions, in the form of support groups, coaches, reminders, incentives, dis-incentives, plus more. The key is to build in layers of support that simply don’t allow failure when the urge to eat a sugary snack kicks in.

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While this might sound simple enough, the research also states that we need custom support systems, and can’t simply recycle the supports that a colleague used. This step takes self-knowledge, and very smart tactics.

If we take what we know from these areas in our lives, we can assemble evergreen time management systems that never go stale, and are powered by our innate love of learning. For many of us, tinkering effectively can be a big challenge, but also a lot of fun.

Featured photo credit:  a pen on a book point at a day is New year via Shutterstock

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Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Improve Concentration and Sharpen Your Attention at Work

How to Improve Concentration and Sharpen Your Attention at Work

Keeping focused and paying attention are core competencies needed to excel and stay productive at work. But we all have those moments when our mind starts to wander and all of a sudden we find ourselves scrolling endlessly through Twitter instead of working on the tasks that are due at the end of the working day.

According to a Microsoft study, humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.[1] Where a goldfish can hold their attention spans for 9 seconds, ours starts to decline after 8 seconds. This comes as no surprise considering the climate of information overload that we currently live in.

With notifications buzzing left, right, and center, our focus on a task is so easily pulled away by the lure of a bit of new information. So much so that a study from UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, found that people, on average, checked their smartphones every 12 minutes while awake![2]

And not only do we have phones, but when we’re at work—for those of us who work in an office that is—we also have access to computers and tablets as well. So, it’s not hard to understand why it can be difficult to keep our attention sharpened and focused.

In this article, you will learn how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention; so you will stay focused and get stuck into the task at hand instead of being distracted.

1. Do One Thing at a Time

With so many duties to take care of and deadlines to meet, it’s easy to think that multitasking would be the best solution to get things done. While it may appear that we’d be more effective and efficient tackling more than one task at a time, it actually makes things worse.

Trying to do more than one task simultaneously is not an ideal option for staying concentrated. In fact, research suggests that our brain can’t actually do multiple things at once, instead it just switches tasks quickly.[3] This means that every time we switch tasks, the process stops and restarts in our brains.

So, to stay focused, it’s best to stick to completing one thing at a time.

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2. Switch off Notifications

Notifications are a great way to keep informed of the world going on around you. Many of us are signed up to countless apps and are involved in numerous group chats just so we’re not left in the dark when it comes to new information; whether it’s a breaking global news or something that happened to one of our friends.

But the constant buzz of accumulating notifications can be distracting. Your best bet on how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work is to turn off all your notifications. This includes your smartphone, tablet, and even on your work desktop.

If you’re worried about friends and family not being able to get a hold of you in case of an emergency, make sure they have your work number.

3. Increase Your Concentration Step by Step

The Pomodoro technique is a time management philosophy created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique aims to stop you from falling prey to procrastination and equip you with optimal focus through a method of incremental task management.

The idea is that you work on your tasks for 25 minutes then take a five minute breaks. This is considered one pomodoro.

You repeat this process 4 times (100 minutes of work and 15 minutes of breaks) and then increase your break time to 15 to 20 minutes. Taking regular breaks can keep your mind refreshed and your attention sharpened.

It’s advisable to keep track of your progress by marking an “X” for every pomodoro you complete, as well as recording the number of times you were inclined to procrastinate. That way you can compare your development.

4. Keep a Distraction List

With the internet and search engines available at our fingertips, it’s easy to succumb to the questions that run through your heads while you work. Keeping a distraction list can help keep any impulses at bay.

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A distraction list is a list where you write down unrelated questions, thoughts, and ideas that run through your head while you work. Once you finish your task or have the opportunity for a break, then you can look up the answers to those questions or research the thoughts and ideas you had.

This list acts as a barrier against distraction. Instead of looking up the answers to the things that fill your head while you work and interrupting your workflow, by writing them down, your thoughts won’t be forgotten and you know at the back of your mind that you can action them later.

5. Exercise

We already know that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that it can also have a significant effect on your mental health? A study by Dr Stewart Trost of Oregon State University discovered a link between exercise and improving concentration, behavior, and memory.[4]

If you find it difficult to focus on everyday tasks at work, try engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Whether it’s participating in a team sport, doing a training program at the gym, or simply walking around the block; as long as you keep your body moving, it can help to enhance your mental health and well being.

6. Meditate

When most of us think of meditation, we probably think of it as something exclusive to gurus and yogis on retreats somewhere out in the middle of the forest. But in fact, it’s something that everyone can engage in regularly, even in the comfort of your own home!

Meditation is known to be great for freeing your mind from clutter which is why it’s a great option if you’re asking yourself how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work. It recharges your brain and can leave you in a restful and restoring state.

Along with clearing your head, other benefits of meditation include recovering from distractions, handling stress better, and helping to overcoming Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

7. Listen to Music

Working in an office can get noisy. From the phone ringing, to people chatting, to the sound of the coffee machine or kettle going off every minute, it can get distracting.

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Listening to music can help drown out the noises from your surroundings and keep you concentrated on your tasks.

According to Dr Masha Godkin from Northcentral University, listening to music can activate both the left and right brain simultaneously, and the activation of both hemispheres can optimize learning and improve memory.[5]

Genres such as classical, ambient, and new age electronic music are recommended as they don’t usually contain lyrics that can distract you. The tempo and volume are also aspects to keep in mind. You want something that’s 60-70 beats per minute and not loud enough so as to overpower your thoughts.

Here’re some music recommendations to help you stay productive: Enhance Focus with Productivity Music (Recommended Playlists)

8. Handwrite

Nowadays, when it comes to written communication, going down the digital route has eclipsed writing things down with a pen. But even something as simple as writing out the letters of the alphabet can help sharpen your attention.

Handwriting has been known to enhance memory and learning skills.[6] Think about it, when you are writing something down, it requires you to focus on the task at hand. You have to concentrate on forming the letters as they turn into words which eventually turn into sentences.

So the next time you have to remember something important, opt for writing it down on a sticky note instead of typing it out on an online document or your digital planner.

9. Stay Hydrated

One of the many benefits of drinking water is that it can improve your cognitive abilities and energy levels, which is why staying well hydrated is important. In contrast, dehydration can deplete short term memory skills.

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The ideal daily intake of water is dependant on the individual. Factors such as age, sex, weight, and health conditions can influence the amount, however, the average adult should aim for something between 1.5 to 2.5 litres a day.

If you find that you keep forgetting to drink enough water, a good tip is to keep a bottle on your desk. Not only will water be easily accessible when you feel thirsty, but having it in front of you can act as a reminder to drink it!

Another tip, for those who find the taste of water a little bland, is to spruce it up with fruits such as lemon and cucumber for added flavor.

The Bottom Line

The ability to focus on a task and attentively observe are important elements for staying productive at work but, living in this world of information overload can make it difficult.

There are so many things that can prove to be distracting, from the noises in the office, to the incessant buzz of notifications. Yet here’s hoping that the aforementioned tips can help with keeping them in check.

While you shouldn’t deny yourself the luxury and convenience of smartphones and the internet, it’s probably best to keep it aside while you’re in the office so as to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work.

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Featured photo credit: Studio Republic via unsplash.com

Reference

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