22 May 2018

Creating More Time: The Self-Care You Didn’t Realize You Needed

Notebook open to start planning how to create more time.

Photo by Studio Ease on Unsplash

Each of us gets 24 hours each day to use as we will.  It’s a renewable resource — the next day we get another 24 hours. But it’s not an expandable resource — you can’t get 28 or 36 hours in your day no matter who you are, who you know, or how excellent your credit score is.  So what do I mean by Creating More Time?

I mean that if your life feels like you never have enough time to get everything done, or you feel like a drone because all you do is work, you could decide to change a few habits that would allow you to feel less harried and behind. Change a few more habits and you might begin to feel like you had some breathing room and even a bit of (dare I say?) leisure.

Here are some habit changes that can make a huge difference in the felt experience of your life. Start with one that seems the most do-able and see how that goes. Then you can try another.

  1. Under-promise.  If you think you can get something done in a week, say you’ll get it done in 2 weeks.  That way, when you remember all the other things you’re responsible for this week, or when a “surprise” happens, you won’t feel the pressure.  You can ALWAYS over-deliver.  My husband and I went to dinner at a restaurant where the host told us he could seat us in about 40 minutes, did we want to wait?  We said yes.  About 20 minutes later, our “buzzer” went off — there was a table for us. The host was our hero!  He had managed our expectations, and then he over-delivered.  Even if you never over-deliver, under-promising and simply delivering what you promised is a great way to create more time.
  2. Give yourself 2 hours of “protected time” each day when you can focus on one thing at a time without interruption. Tactics that help: headphones, go to an empty conference room or a public library, don’t take email or phone calls, let people know not to interrupt you now.
  3. Start overestimating how long things will take you. Most professionals underestimate how long things will take, and then feel ineffective when it takes longer.  We can spend hours discussing how this bad habit came into being, but it’s actually not as important as learning how to correctly estimate how long things will take. Here’s an easy rule of thumb for how to change the habit: if you truly think something will take you a week, then plan for it to take at least a week and a half, maybe two.  This is a lot like under-promising, but it’s between you and yourself.  In time, you’ll get better at estimating.
  4. Get more help somewhere in your life.  At work, see if you can make the case for hiring a temp, or hiring a whole new permanent person. Delegate more effectively to people you can delegate to — stop protecting them at your own expense. Outside of work, see where you can get help with household work, yard care, food shopping, and all manner of errands.  There are apps such as Task Rabbit, Uber Eats, and Instacart that provide useful services. Neighborhood listservs such as Nextdoor.com allow people who need help to find local people who can help, for a fee (or not).  Are you using professional resources effectively or are you trying to do everything yourself: your own taxes, your own financial plan, your own will, etc?  Getting good professional help usually means there’s much less on your plate and hanging over your head, AND in most cases they’ll do a better job than you will because they’re experts and you’re not (sorry).
  5. Reduce your daily To-Do list by 2/3. Having too many items on your list day after day takes a toll on your sense of yourself as an effective person and contributes to your feeling perpetually harried and strapped for time. You can keep all your To-Do items on your master list so you don’t lose them. But on a daily basis? Get real.
  6. Stop underestimating the value of time OFF the To-Do list! See cartoon, at the top. Have you ever found a solution to a  seemingly intractable problem when you were not actually working on it?  Or had a flash of insight, intuition, or creativity when you were out for a run or reading a novel?  Our hard-driving pre-frontal cortex is not the only part of our brain that can solve problems. When we’re relaxed and at leisure, it’s easier to hear from some of the other parts of our brain.
  7. Fire your Inner Perfectionist — she’s become way too controlling. You don’t need to do A+ work in every, every, every aspect of your life. For example, try delivering a B+ job next time you have friends over for dinner and notice that you all have a good time together anyway (which is the point, isn’t it?). Or at work, consider dialing down your word-smithing — there may be emails you can send without multiple re-writes. Chances are there are some aspects of your life and work where you can be less than stellar and not lose your edge.

You may not be able to implement all of these tips, but picking a few that address your biggest culprits is a great first step.  It’s hard to escape a constant feeling of being on the edge of burnout when we are fighting the clock all day every day. Taking back some of your time is the self-care you need.

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23 September 2014

3 MORE Tips to Boost Your Productivity at Work

For many of us, the pace and volume at work skyrocket in September.  It can be a rude awakening after a somewhat relaxed August, and the consequences of not being completely on top of your game can be intense.  My most recent post offered 3 Tips to Boost Your Productivity at Work, and this post outlines 3 more great ones.  Grab one and run with it!

1. You have less time than you think you do and the items on your to-do list all take longer than you expect them to.  I’m sorry, but it’s true. The good news is: you’re in charge of how you spend your time.  You don’t HAVE TO wordsmith that email into perfection.  You don’t HAVE TO read every email you’re cc’d on.  (You might even consider getting yourself removed from some of those long cc lists – think about it.)

Keep in mind the YES-NO Rule: by saying YES to spending time on any activity, you are effectively saying NO to something else, since you don’t have infinitely expandable time.  Just be sure you know what you’re saying no to when you say yes.  Tightening up your time budget can do wonders for your output.  Try it.  You might like it.

2. Reduce your spinning time! Notice when/how you spin your wheels and accomplish nothing.  Does this happen when you should be working on a daunting task?  Do you spin when there’s a decision to be made?  Do you spin while waiting for other people to return your call, answer your question, give you their part of the project, etc?  Really take a close look at your spinning pattern. Once you know what it is, you can address it.

I tend to spin at times I have allocated to low-level, money-related tasks that have some anxiety charge to them, like doing my bookkeeping (always charged for me, even after 20 years of working for myself), calling customer service to work out a billing discrepancy,  running my clients’ monthly credit card charges.  I’ve tried out having an assistant do these tasks but the tasks seem to always require a judgment call that I need to make, so it’s most efficient for me to do them.  Once I saw my pattern I’ve been able to reduce my spin time – as soon as I catch myself spinning, I tell myself, “Don’t spin, get it done!”  It sounds simplistic, but really, it works.  Check it out.

3. Become a better delegator.  Being a great delegator involves many skills, every one of which is learnable.  Are you regularly disappointed by the job your team members deliver?  You may need to upgrade your follow-up skills.  Do your direct reports drive you crazy with their questions?  You may want to support your team to be more powerful and able to figure it out on their own.  Picking up even one new skill or refining an old one can make you a more effective delegator.  So find a book, take a self-study course, work with a coach – and become more effective in this key arena.

One of the responses I often hear from clients when I raise this subject is, “There’s really no one I can delegate this to — everyone at work is swamped and buried.”  If that’s true for you, , consider what you can delegate on the home front.  What’s on your home list that is nothing but an obligation?  THAT’s a prime target for delegating (or ditching).  Getting help on the domestic front can free up some time for you to re-charge your batteries.  Farming out the yard work, the laundry, the food-shopping, etc can provide a huge boost to your all-around productivity by giving you a break.  Or letting you get something else done in its place.  It doesn’t have to be a forever commitment.  But in a crunch month it can be a huge boost to have someone else do even ONE THING that you would otherwise do yourself.  The “someone else” could be the supermarket that provides the already-cut-up fruit for the soccer team’s snack, or the prepared food for your mid-week dinner.

Do you have a productivity tip to share?  Please leave a comment here.

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