"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where IMPACT Community Services' Managing Director Tanya O'Shea explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses mindful time management.
By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24 hours in a day.” -Zig Ziglar
When I ask my team what I can do to better assist them, the answer is often ‘create more hours in my day.’ This response is not unusual, as we often hear people referring to the speed at which time seems to be passing us by. Creating conditions within our environment that support us to focus is therefore crucial.
Often, we wear ‘multitasker’ as a badge of honour, believing that the ability to focus attention across a range of things at one time increases our efficiency.
The reality is very different.
Although multitasking seems like an excellent way to get lots done, the reality is in the research which suggests that our brain finds it challenging to juggle multiple things at once. Comprehension, productivity, and overall performance can be reduced, as we shift our attention and focus from one task to the next. The ‘task switch costs’ result in a tendency to work slower due to the increased mental demand associated with jumping from one task to the next, with psychologist David Meyer suggesting that shifting between tasks can cost us up to 40% of our productive time.
This ‘ability’ to flip in and out of tasks can be complicated even further by an inability to tune out distractions. Unfortunately, we have become trained in a way that can be likened to the work of famous psychologist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered classical conditioning through his experiments with dogs. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, humans have been conditioned to respond to the stream of social media feeds, emails and notifications persistently pinging from their devices. Then on top of that, they have a life to live that is usually filled with additional responsibilities and commitments.
At times, I feel myself holding my breath. The demands on my time feel so overwhelming it feels like there simply isn’t enough hours in the day.
Yet, we all have enough time. We just choose to use the time that we available to us in different ways.
After years of personal experimentation, I have landed on three things that I consider to be my ABC of Mindful Time Management.
Amplify priority items on your to do list by chunking tasks from the large to do list into small, manageable actions that enable you to remain focused and achieve traction. Put no more than three things on your daily to do list, with the most important thing at the top. Review and reprioritise actions at the end of the day.
By doing this, you are choosing to do a few things well and at the end of each day when you do your review, you feel like you are making progress.
Francesco Cirillo, who developed the time management method ‘The Pomodoro Technique’ found that 25 minutes is the sweet spot when it comes to successfully creating periods of uninterrupted focus, followed by a 2-5 minute break. Some refer to this method as time-blocking – blocking out time to do a specific task and then repeating it until the task is complete.
As outlined in Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique, creating space for unfocused, break time however is just as important. This time enables our brain to go into automatic or default mode, when it is less reliant on navigating new information and better positioned to rely on well embedded information that forms part of our habits and routines.
Setting aside specific time to work on priority tasks without distraction followed by short breaks enables us to effectively smash through all the actions on our daily to do list. And before we know it, we have also steadily eliminated many of the things on our larger to-do list!
BAM! Don’t you just love it when we can see that we are making progress!
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as ‘the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.’
Incrementally building our focus muscle to be less resistant and more equipped to focus for longer periods of time requires patience and consistency of practice.
We need to deliberately bring our mind back when it becomes distracted during focus time. We need to force ourselves to turn up every day and dedicate time to building our focus muscle, even when we don’t feel like it. We must remove any friction from within our external environment to create the right conditions to minimise distraction.
We all have a choice when it comes to how we manage our time.
We can choose to maintain the status quo, getting to the end of each day and wondering what we have achieved.
Or we can choose to make a change and hold ourselves accountable by being more focused on why, what, when and how we spend our time.
What choice do you make? Does anything need to change for you to make that choice?