Advertising
Advertising

The New LifeHacking #4 – Why You Should Ignore Snake-Oil Claims of Instant Improvements in Time Management Skills

The New LifeHacking #4 – Why You Should Ignore Snake-Oil Claims of Instant Improvements in Time Management Skills

In the prior article in this series, I mentioned that each of us must create our own improvement plans to make time management improvements. The best time to do this is right after we have done a diagnosis, rather than in the middle of a store looking at a shiny new piece of equipment. The key to making a successful plan is not only to set customized goals, but also to make sure that they aren’t too big and aren’t too aggressive.

David Allen has it right—on a daily basis, it’s better to focus on small next actions than on huge goals that leave us paralyzed. With some big goals this is easy: they can easily be broken down into small, sequential steps. Other more nebulous goals can’t be pre-determined and must be reassessed at each point on the journey.

Advertising

When we make the mistake of not using small steps, it’s partly because we are thinking like Superman rather than Clark Kent. The truth is, a productivity-improvement plan based on us being at our best 100% of the time is likely to fail. Most of the time we are kind of average, and our goals should reflect average effort in order to be realistic.

Changing Habits Over Time

This practice lines up perfectly with recent habit change research that tells us that we need to take small steps in order to be successful. Habit change, as I mentioned in my prior article, is tough. Mark Twain said it well: “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time.”

Advertising

In much the same way, the goals that we set need to be conservative. It’s better to space them out over time, thus reducing the risk of failure. When it comes to changing our productivity habits, this is no time to be setting up stretch goals that need extraordinary effort. Instead, conservative goals and small steps build confidence and momentum. Unfortunately, most time management books and programs simply ignore these lessons, leaving it to the learner to wing it on their own.

This is exactly what most learners do—right at the end of a book or a program, the ideas seem easy to understand, and effortless to implement.

Advertising

If all this sounds like a recipe for failure, it should: it’s better to bring some reality to our individual change effort by making a schedule of changes over time. We can construct a Gantt chart of personal changes that shows the practices we want to implement, and when. Once the chart has been made, the individual items to work on can be transferred to our personal calendars, or embedded in electronic reminders of different kinds.

Given the fact that time management and productivity systems are built on foundations of human habits, practices and rituals, rather than technology, we need to be savvy in managing our expectations. The savviest professionals work on themselves skillfully, by manipulating their habits to make consistent improvements. They don’t chase after the latest trend and can’t be found rushing out to join the line at the Apple store when a new release is announced.

Advertising

It’s not rocket science, but you’ll have to ignore the authors who keep telling you how easy it is to change a personal habit, and how it can be done overnight. It’s snake oil. Don’t buy it.

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

Trending in Productivity

1How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done 2How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain 3Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus 4How to Organize Your Thoughts: 3 Simple Steps to 10X Your Productivity 5How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Published on July 17, 2018

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

What is compartmentalization

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

Advertising

Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

Advertising

Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

Advertising

Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

Reframe the problem as a question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

Advertising

For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

Choose one thing to focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Read Next