Whether it’s in life or in business we all have opportunities where we could improve our levels of productivity. There’s probably a good chance that you’ve tried a number of different approaches to make better use fo your time but if you’re reading this right now, they probably didn’t work, right? So in this article I’m going to take a different perspective on time and look at how we can use neuroscience and the mind to improve our time management and productivity.
A Different Perception of Time.
Before we look at managing time, let’s start by recognising how we view time. We experience time as a linear thing. The past, then the present, then the future. That’s our conscious experience of time and yet, even though we can only really perceive the passing of time based on what is happening right here and right now, we still spend a lot of our time focusing on what hasn’t yet happened (and maybe never will) and on our memory of what has passed.
The beliefs and the experiences we have from the past inform who we are today. If we believe that rich people are bad people then we are unlikely to take actions to earn money. Our expectations of the future also have a huge impact on what we do in this given moment. If we don’t believe we will be successful then it’ll be harder for us to take the action required to get there. So our past and future beliefs impact on our present moment.
Understanding our personal beliefs around time, and especially how well we ‘manage’ it, will help us to recognise what gets in the way of being more efficient and to change it.
It’s All about perspective.
Special Relativity (as presented by Einstein) tells us that time is as relative as distance, albeit in a less obvious way. For example – Imagine you are on a train that is magically travelling just below the speed of light, from point A to point B. I am standing still, at a distance from the train track and half way between these two points (at point C). If I see lightning hit both point A and point B at the same time, you would experience it differently. The light from point A would have to catch you up before you see it. The light at point B would reach you first as you are close to it and moving toward it. So you would see lighting strike FIRST at point B and THEN at point A.
We both saw the same lighting but the timing of it was very different for each of us. I know this sounds like a rather extreme example but I think it’s a great way of highlighting how subjective our reality really is. The way we experience the world is very much governed by our own personal perspective. So reality is entirely different for us as a result of the view we are taking of it.
How does this help you to manage your time? Well, it doesn’t entirely. But it does help you to realise that you have a CHOICE on how you perceive and interpret time. By exercising the choice to see it differently (and maybe with that see yourself differently) you can change how you interact with time and therefore you can manage your relationship with time.
If You Want Something Done – Ask a Busy Person
So far this may not seem all that practical to implement – maybe reading this far was just another great procrastination opportunity for you. BUT, thinking about time differently makes it easier to see how you can build a better relationship with it. If you’re that’s not what you cam where for, read on – there are more practical tips to follow.
Have you ever heard the expression “If you want something done, ask a busy person”? People who are busy generally have a better ability to make sure they are getting things done than those who don’t have a lot of responsibilities to consider. It’s largely born out of necessity. I am reminded of a friend who had a lot on and I asked them to meet me for a walk and take some time out. They said they were far too busy that week and to be fair, they did have a lot of demands on their time (all the more reason they would have benefited from the time out). They listed all the things they needed to do that week and I could see how tough it would be for them to fit it all in. Then their fridge broke down. I helped them clear out their food and stored some of it for them. A couple of days later I returned some of the items as they had a new fridge to put them in. They didn’t let any of their other commitments slip that week but they still found time to clear out an old fridge, buy a new one and restock it. When something is urgent enough we can always make time for it. Sometimes it’s not about how much time we have and more about what we are choosing to prioritise.
Top Tips For Time Management
Okay, on to some more specific and practical tips to help you improve your relationship with time…
Sometimes we find ourselves distracted by lot of ‘busy’ stuff that detracts from what we really want to be doing. It’s easy to keep busy and there’s nearly always someone else wanting your attention for something. We can have a great idea that could really move us or our business forward but put that off being ‘too busy’ with the day-to-day stuff that would actually be easier to manage if we did the ‘big thing’ that we keep putting off.
Rather than letting everyone else dictate how you spend your focus and time, be meaningful and intentional with it. Take some time to be clear on what you real purpose is – this doesn’t have to be a huge ‘raison d’etre’ or meaning of life. It can be as simple as a defined purpose for that week. By having a clear intention it’s easier to achieve it than if you just want to ‘be more productive’ in a general sense.
If you do have a greater sense of purpose and you know your ‘why’ then remind yourself of that daily to help you keep that drive going. (Get in touch if you’d like more help with that).
The Planning Fallacy
Perfect Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. To achieve more and better manage your time it really helps to have a plan in place. Without it, it’s much easier to allow other distractions to creep in. After all, ‘if you fail to plan – you plan to fail’, right?
One key point to consider here is the Planning Fallacy. It’s one of our many cognitive biases that can trip us up in our thinking. We have a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task despite knowledge of it taking us longer to complete in the past. It’s a common reason for writers missing deadlines, property developers going over time and over budget and the reason why I’m still finishing this blog off later than I intended to. Make sure you plan in the extra time. Better still: remind yourself at the START of a new piece of work how much longer it will likely take you and use that positive pressure to overcome the procrastination before it becomes a problem.
Known as gates law from a Bill Gates talk it is said that people underestimate how much they can achieve in a longer period of time and overestimate what they can achieve in a short timeframe. By committing to smaller, regular actions you will be able to achieve incredible progress over a few years but that’s harder if you don’t commit the time to taking those actions now because you believe you’ll have time to do it later.
If something is really important to you, it’s worth doing that thing FIRST so that nothing else can come up to get in the way of that thing.
If Something’s Worth Doing – It’s Worth Doing Badly
We often hold ourselves back from something because we are worried that we might not do a good enough job of it. The problem is, NOT doing something is far worse in reality than doing it to less than perfection. If something is truly important, wouldn’t it be better to have it done – and then improved on if needed – than to not even begin it? Taking action will help you move forward, you can still adjust the course as you move further if you need to.
We are designed to be distracted. If you’re still here and reading this then well done! – oh, you’ve just been skimming it? Fair enough, I do the same. Anyway, as I was saying – we are easily distracted. It’s a safety mechanism and it can be incredible useful in the wind – not so useful when we have a deadline to nearly miss. Being planning specific times in your day where you put your phone on ‘do not disturb’, lock the door – unplug the router if you need to and focus. It may feel really alien at first but we are NOT good at multitasking. No matter how good we think we are at doing it, multitasking just leads to us doing a lesser job of more than one thing at a time.
Practice in bursts of focus – twenty minutes is a good thing to aim for but you can build up starting with just five minute intervals if this is more achievable for you.
Focus and Hyper-Focus
Your mind is capable of being amazingly well focused on one specific thing. Think about times when you have ‘lost yourself’ in something. When time either ‘stood still’ or ‘flew by’ because you were fully absorbed in the moment. You CAN recreate that for yourself. One of the best ways to achieve this (on demand too) is through the use of self hypnosis. (Get in touch to find out more.) But there are other things you can do to improve your focus. The brain is malleable and can be re-trained. Training yourself to improve focus doesn’t have to be painful either.
Here are some ways to train your focus:
Meditation in general has been shown to improve focus in other areas of life but using it specifically for focus can be even more beneficial. We often think of meditation as an attempt to ‘empty’ our minds but that can take a lot of patience and work to get to that point. Instead mediate by focusing intentionally on ONE THING. This could be a flickering candle, the smoke from an incense stick, your own breathing or anything at all. My person favourite is a camp fire.
Focus on just that one thing. Your mind WILL wonder and think of something else, that’s okay. It’s designed to. When that happens, rather than getting frustrated about it, allow it and accept it. The good thing here is that you NOTICED it happen. As soon as you become aware that your thoughts have drifted from your focus, you have a chance to bring them back. Every time you return your focus you are building that muscle and improving your ability to focus. In this sense, being distracted becomes an opportunity to improve and a very welcome part of the process rather than a stress or pressure.
Set yourself an alarm to go off at various intervals through the day (you could use https://creativetechguy.com/utilities/randomtimer for example and reset it each time it sounds).
When the timer sounds, make a mental not of what you were thinking about and how focused you feel you were. Then reset the timer and continue with your work. The aim here is to increase your awareness of your thoughts and focus. If you have allowed yourself to get distracted you can use it to get you back to the task at hand. Either way, change comes from awareness.
Research shows huge increases in productivity when people feel happier. There are things you can do to improve you overall mood which, in turn, will improve your productivity. One of the main things can be as simple as planning in time to take regular breaks. If you find yourself sat down a lot, remember to get up between tasks and include more movement in your day.
We often feel like just continuing to work means we are achieving more. In reality we tend to achieve far less when tired and overworked than we would from taking a short break and coming back to the task feel more rested. Efficiency levels drop hugely if we don’t take time to look after ourselves.
There’s lots you can do beyond this to improve your time management but looking after yourself and thinking differently about how you manage yourself to make the most of the time you do have is a great foundation to focus on. If you’d like further help in overcoming procrastination, understanding motivation and generally getting out of your own way – contact Duncan today.