Athletic achievements have been improving ever since the first playoffs and have recorded accelerated progress in the last three decades of sporting events around the globe. Given the fact that records are being incrementally broken even under heightened scrutiny, it could only mean that athletes are pushing their limits. Is it the same with other passionate professionals? Rajesh Monga, Associate Director – CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd, analyses the correlation between the failure to perform with the failure to learn about managing time
Stark opposite to the extraordinary passion of Jesse Owens (100m race at 1936 Olympics in 10.3 seconds) or modern-day Champion, Usain Bolt (100-meter race at 2016 Olympics in 9.58 seconds) for improving the athletic performance, there is life in modern offices and attention deficit trait that are turning professionals into frenzied underachievers. People swindle away hours working at their computers and attending physical or virtual meetings and yet do not feel close to the sense of achievement. “I wish I had more time to do things I wanted to do” is the common grumble at workplaces. Span of focus is shrinking exponentially and it’s not a neurological disorder but the digital dementia. Waning focus and ability to manage time is brought on by the demands of work and life where too many things are seeking our attention at the same time.
Gaurav, an ‘A’ player in a large organization, plays drum on his desk with his fingers, stares into his computer screen reading an email, talking on the phone to someone far-far away, intermittently unlocking the strap of wrist watch and removing it only to wear again and reaches for his cup of coffee within easy reach of his hand. He is so lost in multiple activities that he’s forgotten to start the Skype call that he was reminded off by the Outlook. Gaurav may be slogging at work for 12 hours or more everyday but do you think he’s productive enough.
You said, “No”? Right. Actually, far from even average work.
Unfortunately, Gaurav is not the only one. He represents hundreds of thousands of his colleagues who’ve lost their passion and sense of control and are just trying to survive – staying afloat. Most people have trouble focusing on one task for longer than few minutes. Hooked up to phone and obsessively checking for the messages that are not received, hoping to see “likes”, and liking a streak of messages and pictures from others, posting wishes in the lowest possible words as if each letter costs a dollar. If nothing at all, they’ll be popping balloons or breaking bricks with a ball. They may or may not goals to achieve but they are almost certain that they don’t have just enough time.
It’s astonishing that we have abundance of tools and technology, calendars and checklists than ever before, and yet, we still always seem to be behind? We don’t seem to be catching up with schedule despite clocking more hours at work and moving faster between places. There is plethora of guiding books and blogs about time management and yet stress is at an all-time high. Possibly, the failure to perform well could be a correlation of failure to learn about managing time. Read on further if you believe that effective and productive work can be achieved only and if only you know how best to manage your energy and attention. Managing time can’t be learnt in isolation.
Ever since the rise of management principles, the work has invariably been pitted against rest of life. What we actually need to feel like a fulfilled person is the defragmented approach to integrate work, home, self and community. Unless we have priorities spread across all four spheres of “the whole life”, managing any priority within any area will be a tough challenge.
Do you want to have more time? Well, you can do small adjustments in your schedule and habits and increase a few hours every week. However, a far more important question then arises – what you want to do with the extra time you created successfully. What’s your motivation to spend more time on? Do you have that one or two choices that you can confidently termed as your passion to pursue? If you can find what motivates you more than anything else, that motivation itself will find time. If there is no interest, no passion, no fire to excel time will never be enough.
The Chemistry of high performance is not a mystery anymore. The science that helps an athlete master his game is the same science that can help an office worker to perform at consistently high standard without a burnout. It’s not just the intellect and attitude that help producing phenomenal success but it’s the energy that one can invest into a project to turn it into reality. Look around you and notice whether the most successful people like – actors & artists, businessmen, celebrities, professionals, politicians, scientists have more intellect or they have more energy. It couldn’t be a matter of chance that each of most successful people are able to create massive volumes of work, creativity, motivation and innovation not for just a day but every single day.
The single most important quality that separates an average and an amazing person is the way they use their energy to achieve results. The top achievers across the globe demonstrate an amazing commonality about the way they use time and energy. They are so sharply attentive on the purpose that they wouldn’t spend their time and energy on anything that depletes it and would do an array of actions that either replenish their energy or free up their time in future. It’s an art to focus on a single thing at a time and aligning all actions with the big purpose. This art of focusing the mind – when mastered – promises unlimited reserves of energy and unparalleled performance at anything we do. True productivity is determined by better energy management rather than simply cranking out more hours at your desk.
Productivity principle of managing time and energy is simple – it’s not easy but it’s simple. First wave paradigms of “managing priorities” and second wave theory of “urgent and important matrix” were extremely relevant in times of lesser distraction. Today’s problem relating to attention deficit has to have a newer and more effective approach which talks about managing energy more than managing time. The energy spent in doing things needs replenishment – even small things like keeping away from technology, phone, taking a walk, playing with kids, listening to soft music, meditation, playing and stretching will revive your energy quickly. Spending time with family is a definite way to increase energy at physical and emotional level. Getting enough sleep too is a big antidote to drifting mind. Building your day around such essential pauses will fill you with great amounts of energy to do all other activities in a more efficient way.
Managing your time isn’t about squeezing as many tasks into your day as possible. It’s about simplifying how you work, doing things better and faster, and knowing when to take a break and refresh. The urgency to do something could be false sometimes and urgency wrecks productivity. It’s a big distraction to be doing something urgent at the cost of neglecting things that are important to life. Doing the reverse – doing important things more than doing urgent things – is the only way to master time.
Be mindful of how you spend your time. Constantly check and reflect on how you spend your time (and energy and attention) throughout the day. Contemplate on doing things that make your tomorrow better. Apply the “5-Times-D” approach that I usually recommend to improve usage of time. 5Times-D is expanded as Delete-Defer- Digitalize-Delegate-Do. The moment a task appears on your list, think if you really have to do the task or can any of the other three Ds be applied to it. For example, paying multiple bills through the month can consume a lot of time but it still has to be done and can’t be deleted, delayed or delegated but can be digitalized (or automated). Using auto-pay can process these bill payments automatically and error-free through your bank. If you use a credit card account then it can still be settled through a single transaction. Setting up the auto pay may take an hour or so only once and then it will keep on giving back several minutes every month.
Identify areas of your life where you are wasting time and try to reduce these. A good way to do this is to log everything you do for a week in meticulous detail and then examine your record to see how you use (or misuse!) your time. Build out routines to help you work better and not just stick to it, protect it from any known or unknown interruptions. Be absolutely resolute and committed to follow through routines and achieve the mastery you always wanted to achieve.
Distractions have always been a part of life. Our mind is subjected to thousands of distractions throughout the day. Modern technology thrives by exploiting our urgency addiction: email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and more will fight to distract you constantly. As much as a short beep of the phone announcing arrival of a message is enough to break the focus of several minutes. Try putting your phone out of sight (and touch) for uninterrupted productivity.
Energy or focus or attention, works like biological principle of muscle memory – using poorly makes it weaker and using it more helps it grow. Focus is indeed powerful. Sustained attention produces consistent results on a task over time. Ability to focus longer is becoming a stronger skill than the intellect today. The ability to single-task without distractions is a critical component of success. Multi-tasking is a disaster and sure way to fail to perform. Great organizations have started understanding the value of energy and have started viewing it as single most important factor that differentiates between mediocrity and greatness both in context of individuals and organizations.