Maximize your time and achieve more with less

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D

Imagine you had three extra hours this week to devote to your own improvement as a leader. What kind of difference do you think that would have on your effectiveness, accomplishments, and long-term success?

Or imagine you had half a day this week to catch up on some of the backlogged work that never seems to get done. How would that help you clear the way to your bigger goals?

Or what if you had a whole day off this week to use for rest and renewal? What would you do? Do you suppose that would make you feel more refreshed? How would a dose of restoration affect your mood, your thinking, your relationships, and your decisions?

Each of us can think of valuable ways to spend our time, and chances are some of those ideas are more valuable than the ways you’re spending your time right now. The fact is that when you maximize your time, you actually do have more hours in the day. So if you’ve ever wondered when things would slow down, you’re in luck. The time is now!

The key is to take advantage of shortcut strategies for maximizing your time. The five “shortcuts” will dramatically reduce the time you spend racing around the fast track so you can exit into a life of leading and living well.

1: ModelingIn many industries, modeling is a strategy used to mock up an end product before investing the time, effort and expense required to complete it. Your time may be the most precious resource you have; make a model before you go out and spend it.

Figure out what the ideal schedule would look like. Sit down with a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketch the way you’d like the next stretch of time to look. In just a few minutes you can design your ideal week – or for that matter, your ideal day, month, or year. It will take time to turn the model into reality, but now you know what’s possible. You may actually find creating the “real thing” to be easier than you think.

2: Define Your TimeYou can define your time by thinking about the various activities that take your time and grouping them together. Start with the basics, such as meeting days (when you are available to meet with other people), work days (those you keep to yourself to do your own work), flex days (to have a cushion for spillover activities), admin days (for catching up on paperwork and other administrative tasks), and days off (for rest and renewal).

If a whole day seems too long to devote to a single kind of work, then go by half days or even two-hour blocks. You can make your days as specific as you want.

If you don’t define your days, then every day you bounce around from one activity to another to another, all day long. Time is lost as you try to transition from a high-energy activity to one that requires you to be calm and quiet. You have a harder time getting focused because you’re constantly changing the focus. In contrast, defining your time allows you to get into one mindset for a particular type of activity and stay there. You can find your rhythm and get into a groove so you actually accomplish more in less time.

3: Make Appointments with YourselfYou make appointments with clients, and you keep them. You schedule time with your boss, and you show up. You commit to meetings, and you attend. Now apply the same concept to yourself. Set a meeting with a specific purpose and be there to get the job done.

You don’t have to set a recurring meeting that happens every week. You might just need to make one appointment to do some quality thinking or make some important phone calls that keep getting brushed aside. The important part of this strategy isn’t the “what” or the “when” or the “how many” of the appointments. The important part of this strategy is the fact that you recognize there’s something specific you want to do, decide when you’re going to do it, and schedule the time. Keep that appointment and you’ll have the time you need – guaranteed.

4: Breaking Time RulesWhether we know it or not, we are all operating on unspoken time rules, such as:

  • You must work eight to ten hours per day.
  • You must take time off on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • You must be available by phone and email at all times.
  • You must take vacations in full-day or full-week increments.

But you can escape the rules of time. How you spend your time is a choice. For instance, maybe you’d rather leave work every day at 3:00 p.m. but work six days a week. Maybe you’d rather get a long massage once a month instead of taking a full-week vacation. Start defining the length of your workday by the results you achieve instead of the hours you work. Time rules don’t necessarily mean working less, but they do mean working with more freedom and choice.

If you think this won’t work in your company, the first question is, “Have you checked?” A host of creative work options are available as people and their companies look for ways to use time in a way that works for them. And if not, there are plenty of creative ways for you to break time rules within your existing agreements. Ask for what you want. Make a proposal. If you’re willing to be fair, negotiate and persist, you will be surprised at how accommodating others will be.

5: Replace Multitasking with “Unitasking”Multitasking is a fact of life in a high-speed world. And it does work to help you manage complex, non-linear tasks, like being available to people whenever they need you, staying on top of “moving targets,” and handling phone calls and requests that come in at random. But recognize the impact multitasking has on you. Your actions become fragmented, your thinking is interrupted, you make hasty decisions and you do things poorly. To get the focus you need to be effective in achieving your vision, try replacing it with “unitasking.” The whole strategy is this: do one thing at a time.

Doing one thing at a time – even for a short time – improves concentration, calms you down, and allows you to get more done in less time. Considering that on average only about three minutes out of every hour are used with maximum focus, you can improve your “concentration rate” in just five minutes at a time. Then fifteen. Then twenty.

You don’t have to unitask all the time, just when it counts, like when you are strategizing, visioning, goal-setting, brainstorming, planning, and having one-on-one conversations. These are the kinds of activities that benefit from unitasking. Unitasking communicates a respect for the people and processes that deserve your full attention. As much as you possibly can, practice doing one thing at a time. Set the time aside, focus, concentrate, and you’ll get your tasks done both fast and well.

Accomplish More in Less TimeYou will never have control of your time until you take control of it. So while your day will still consist of 24 hours just like it always has, when you implement these five shortcuts you’ll feel like you accomplish more because the time you use will be most productive. Therefore, stop long enough to get a handle on how you want to spend your time, and then implement these new ways to maximize the time you do have. Rethinking your relationship to time takes an open mind, it takes commitment, and (ironically) it takes time. But the investment you make in it will pay you back hour after precious hour. You’ll find that you’ll achieve more progress and fulfillment in all areas of your life – and in less time than you ever imagined.

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D. is an executive coach, keynote speaker, and author. She specializes in Personal Leadership, which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves. To learn how you can leverage your talents for better results, download your free Executive Summary of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership at www.JoelleKJay.com.


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