Don’t you wish that there were more hours in a day to accomplish all the things you’d like to get done? I know I do. Every day I start with my list — even multiple lists — but inevitably, I get side-tracked by a colleague, a seemingly urgent email or another tab opened on my browser that’s just calling out to me.
All of a sudden, it’s 6pm and some combination of your stomach, your family or your exercise trainer is about to take centre stage.
If we wasted food the way we waste time, we’d all be malnourished.
Well, Dr Syd has the prescription for you. It starts by recognising that the biggest reason you keep running out of time is because you’re not treating the hours and minutes as the precious resource it is. If we wasted food the way we waste time, we’d all be malnourished.
Here are five ways to stop wasting time:
Turn off your email. Don’t just close out the program on your laptop, but also on your mobile phone, your iPad, whatever electronics are within earshot. How could it possibly be a good idea to surround yourself with irresistible distractions that are sure to disrupt? Instead, set aside time to go through those emails two or three times a day all in one shot. And remember the “one and done” rule that applies to most email messages: deal with it right away, don’t save it for later — and delete often.
Stop going to meetings because you think you need to be there.
Minimise meetings. The mere thought of meetings is enough to trigger horrible memories of countless hours wasted. While I can’t ban meetings from your life, or mine, I do have two suggestions to help you pay a lower “meeting tax”. First, stop going to meetings because you think you need to be there. Either you definitely do, or you definitely don’t. Don’t waver on this. And second, for those meetings you’ve got to go to, try to schedule them back-to-back, leaving time at the end of each meeting to quickly take some notes to remember the key takeaways.
Take advantage of free time. On airplanes, use the time to work through something that can’t be rushed. (I wrote the first draft of this column on a three-hour-flight from Miami to Boston.) The forced isolation for a set time period on airplanes takes away the pressure to figure out stuff super-fast and it’s a time that’s nearly distraction-free. Less pressure, more thoughtfulness.
Stopping yourself from wasting time isn’t rocket science.
Set tough, but realistic, deadlines for yourself. I know sometimes everyday work gets in the way of efficiency. There are ebbs and flows of various projects, and you definitely can’t control people around you. But, you can try to get more control over yourself and how you do your own work. When you finish one task, move on to the next. Or if one project hits a roadblock, move on to the next and come back to it when you’re fresh. Try to wrap up for the day at a point that will be easy to pick up the next day.
Self-reflect. At the end of each month, take a cold, hard look at your calendar and how you spent your time over the previous four weeks. Are you proud of how you used your time? Did you get a solid return on investment from what you chose to do? Are you following the suggestions in this column to stop wasting time? Even the best intentions aren’t enough to break old habits. If you’re serious about this, monitor how well you’ve been doing. It’s one of the best ways to get anything done. Don’t just say you’re going to stop wasting time, or assume that you are, but check and make sure. Ready? Schedule your check-in right now, one month from today.
Like many of the most important things in life, stopping yourself from wasting time isn’t rocket science. It’s a combination of what should be common sense but often isn’t, and a healthy dose of personal discipline. It’s just not more complicated than that — which means there’s no reason why you can’t make it happen. Now, what will you do with all that extra time?
Sydney Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of The Leadership Center at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. His new book is Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent (Portfolio/Penguin, 2016).
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