Too much to do, too little time, constant stress. Most of us have been there. Not too long ago this is how I lived my life. I had deadlines to meet but I would constantly come up with excuses not to do the work that needed to be done. "I'll start after watching this TV show." or "I don't have time to complete this tonight. I'll start on it first thing in the morning." are some of the things I'd tell myself.
Of course the result would be that I was always rushing to finish things at the last minute and I'd produce poor quality work.
Usually, there's not much you can do about the amount of work that needs to be done. But there's a way you can increase the time you have to do it in. A recent time management study by the University of Leicester, in England, found that for every hour we spend working only 30 minutes are actually productive work. The rest of the time, we waste on little or no value tasks. The study also found that most people worked in short bursts followed by periods of waiting, distraction or mini-breaks. Just think: If you could do an hour's worth of work every hour, you'd be able to pack 48 hours into each day!
Bad work habits usually result from some form of fear of failure or procrastination. You learn over time to protect yourself from the hurt of failing by making excuses. "I would have done better if I had more time" becomes a self fulfilling reality. In order to have that excuse you unconsciously leave things to the last minute. Watching a show you always hated suddenly becomes very appealing when you have work to do.
So how can you learn to pack 48 hours into each day? Surprisingly, it's not that difficult. Most bad work habits tend to be sub-conscious. To avoid them, you first need to be aware of them. Try these five tips to a more productive way of working.Break tasks down. It's much easier to get motivated to start and finish a small task than a large one. For example if you need to do yard work tomorrow, chances are that tomorrow will come and you'll find a dozen excuses why you can't work on the yard. However, if you break the task down into smaller pieces: (a)Rake the leaves. (b)Mow the lawn. (c)Trim the edges. (d)Mulch the flower beds. Then tell yourself that tomorrow, you'll start by raking the leaves. Chances are pretty good that when tomorrow comes, you will rake the leaves because you know exactly what to do and it's not a big job. If you do that, then guess what, you just started on your goal of doing the yard work.Set achievable goals. Break tasks into bite-sized pieces. Don't say I'll tidy the lawn because that's too vague and too big. You'll find a dozen excuses not to get started on that. Far better to say rake, mow, edge the lawn instead.Reward your successes. It's very important to give yourself a mini-reward for achieving your mini-goals. For example, if you tell yourself "I'll start by raking the leaves but I'll have a can of coke after I finish edging the lawn." You'll be amazed at how fast you finish edging.Start on the best tasks first. The hardest thing is to make a start so if you schedule your favorite tasks first then it's much more likely that you'll start on them. Once you make a start, the momentum will carry you over into the other tasks.Keep records. I use 5 x 3 index cards to list all the things I want to do on any day. In the top left corner of each card I write the date in red ink. Everything else, I write in pencil. At the start of a day, the card usually has three or four high level items listed in order of priority. Then I expand each of them into sub-tasks (here's where using pencil becomes important). Some days, I might reprioritize tasks onto the next day's card. The point of the cards is to train myself to be more disciplined. I never remove a high level task from a card. I may only write down a few sub-tasks under it but it's important that I make at least a start on each high level task. As I work, I jot down task related notes on the card itself. By the end of the day, not only have I used the card to pack more into my day, the card itself becomes a record of what I did that day. I use the date in the top left corner to file the card.
Technology can also help in your quest for the 48 hour day.
The most underrated piece of technology for managing your time is your watch. It's very easy to spend way too much time on tasks that you enjoy and too little on ones you don't. A glance at your watch or clock every now and then will give you a balanced sense of time. It's OK in the beginning to be way off on your time estimates. You may write down too many or too few items on your 5 x 3 card. Eventually, you'll gain an instinctive feel for how long tasks will take you and what you write on your card will exactly fit your 48 hour day!
PDAs are really useful for 48 hour dayers. They can be used to store all your to do lists and almost all have schedulers and clocks built in. When shopping for one, be sure to get the lightest, slimmest one that has the features you want. I can speak from personal experience that once the novelty wears off, you won't want to carry around that bulky PDA. Which kind of defeats the purpose of owning it.
Another invaluable time management tool, if you work in an office is the online group calendar. In our office, we rely on our web calendar as a centralized office notice board. We've set up sub-headings for each person in the office and use them to communicate with the group on our schedules, our vacations, important deadlines, whose turn to make the coffee etc. Another really useful feature, for when I'm away from the office, is that our group calendar can also be accessed from a cell phone or a PDA.
It's not difficult to gain control over your work habits. It is mostly being aware of the excuses you make to yourself and countering them. If you start saying to yourself: "I may not be able to finish this today but I'll start now and see how far I get." You'll be surprised how many times you actually do finish today.
About The Author
Ayesha Dean has helped 1000's of people find time to do the things important to them. She's CEO of Web Software Firm ManagedTime.com Visit http://www.ManagedTime.com and signup for E2Cal, the only FREE wireless enabled group calendar.