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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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Published on May 20, 2019

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

Time.

When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

So, how do you start?

Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

Assess Your Current Time Spent

Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

Tricks to Tackle Distractions

Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

2. Beware of Emails

Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

3. Let Technology Help

As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

Time is in Your Hands

At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

So what are you waiting for? 

Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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