Given how busy most of us are and the ever-increasing demands on our time or attention, we are all hungry for relief. Having some simple, go-to strategies for adding efficiency and effectiveness can sometimes make the difference between feeling a sense of overwhelm and burden or accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of a long day. So in service of creating a tiny glimmer of hope in your mountain of to-do’s, this post is just a couple of tips. It’s not a comprehensive plan for fixing your life, overhauling your time management, changing out your technology or re-engineering your schedule.
In some earlier posts I do provide a more holistic approach to time management. But not today. These ideas are simply strategies I’ve been using for years. The strange thing is that I have recently discovered that a couple of them have support from the scientific community who have tested and (conveniently) named them. For me, they were just personal tricks I used to gain peace of mind. I must say, I sure appreciate the reinforcement of real data proving me right! Anyway, these tips may help in various degrees. I know that they make a difference for me.
There are certain things that I love, but never have time to do. For example, I love reading newspapers, novels, magazines and so forth as well as listening to audio books and podcasts. But truth be told, I very rarely sit down and read beyond the twenty minutes I spend on breakfast and newspaper in the morning. There is simply not a time in my ordinary day when I can sit, stop doing anything else, and focus on a book or the New York Times Magazine without feeling pangs of guilt and the compulsion to check my email. For you, those activities might include watching Game of Thrones or playing Angry Birds.
In contrast, there are things I am committed to doing but don’t necessarily enjoy that much. For example, staying on an elliptical machine for an hour or running in 90 degree heat in the summer in Florida where I live. For you it might be commuting 45 minutes in traffic, or sitting and watching your child play with other children at the park. You have to do it, but you don’t love it. I have a friend who is a professional pet sitter and spends all day driving from house to house, walking dogs and filling water bowls. She has to take all those doggie walks, but doesn’t relish them.
You could imagine these two categories of activities as carrots and sticks. The carrots are the things you crave doing but don’t have time to give them. The sticks are things you believe you ought to do but which would benefit from distraction. Bundling is exactly what it sounds like. It is combining two activities together. One activity is the pleasurable “carrot” and the other, the medicinal “stick”. For example, I use my time on the elliptical machine to read the New York Times, a novel or a magazine. I can get through the entire Sunday Times in one workout. The time flies and I get to indulge my craved pleasure. My friend the pet-sitter uses her time dog-walking to listen to podcasts and enrich her brain. Since she mostly talks to or about four-legged creatures in her work life, she craves intellectual stimulation. Bundling lets her do both! By enticing yourself to do what you believe you should do with the indulgence of the thing you want to do, you short-circuit the tendency to procrastinate. What could you bundle together to get yourself in action more pleasurably?
There are some activities that you have to do every day, every week or every month. They may include your commitment to exercise, or a carpool or even grocery shopping. One of my repetitive activities is writing these posts. Creating an ad hoc to-do list requires cognitive energy both to think of the tasks that go on it and to then remember to do those routine activities. What I do is automate my calendar with respect to routine events like writing a weekly post. Then, instead of using my limited brain capacity to remember to write my blog, I have a standing appointment in my calendar to work on it for a few hours every week. The event happens on the same day, at the same time each week – barring unavoidable conflicts. And as per my custom, I have an alert set to remind me. In the case of the writing, I have the alert set to remind me a full 24 hours in advance, because I’ve found that within the 24 hour period before the scheduled writing I mull it over and come up with something good to say.
The trick here is to automate the alert and the time allotment. Take it out of the realm of conscious volition and put it on autopilot. What routine tasks are you using cognitive energy to complete? Grocery shopping? Laundry? Paying bills? When do you normally end up doing them? Pre-select those times and put them in your calendar and then set the repeat feature at the required frequency. Don’t use the default alert. Instead, choose the right alert for the task. You will know better than I what that should be! You can even create an event for a series of repetitive chores. For example, I find that I follow a similar circuit of errand-running about once a week. It often includes going to the bank, the dry-cleaner, the post office and the grocery store, in that order. So instead of fitting things in on a spontaneous basis and thereby using brain power to navigate and plan it, I have that circuit in my calendar. Sometimes it requires adding an extra errand and sometimes one or another drops off. But the time is pre-dedicated and pre-planned, freeing me to think about something else. That’s always the goal, freeing your brain for its highest and best use!
If you use social media on more than one platform, you will love this app. It is an app, not a tip – but it mimics a behavior that many of us use. For example, every time I post something about smart cities (an area of interest for me) on Twitter, I also post it on LinkedIn and on the Facebook page I created about smart cities. That activity of copying and pasting into three different platforms is amazingly annoying and inefficient. The app, IFTTT stands for “If This Then That”. That phraseology comes from the world of computer coding, in which a line of code actually gives the instruction that if some variable X or Y happens, then another process, Z, should take place. So now, when I post to twitter anything with the hash-tag “SmartCities”, IFTTT automatically also posts it to my LinkedIn and Facebook page. I have several of these “recipes” as they call them at IFTTT. So, check it out here. It’s going to save you a ton of time! Bonus: It’s really fun to use.
I hope these tips are useful for you. If you would like to get ongoing ideas and feedback to optimize your work, why not take advantage of my offer of a complimentary, no-obligation initial consultation. You can contact me here, or go to this website and schedule a time that is convenient for you to chat!