Have you ever said, ‘There’s never enough hours in the day!’, or ‘I wish I had more time’?
I’ll be amazed if you didn’t answer ‘yes’. And you might be looking at the title of this article and thinking, ‘Robyn’s lost it! Of course we can’t make more time.
Can you think of any day, or portion of a day, when the hours seemed to slow down and you packed through far more than you expected? On such a day, you were probably applying some of the strategies below, either consciously or unconsciously.
Here’s the thing. You’re correct in that we can’t manufacture more time. However, we can change the feeling of limitation by changing our behaviour and/or our mindset. Result: it feels as though we’ve got more time. And though that sounds both simplistic and impossible, I’ve got four practical steps for you that will make a profound difference.
- Stop multi-tasking. There’s heaps of research to show that you’ll achieve more and faster, by single-tasking, attending to one thing at a time instead of trying to keep a bunch of tasks running simultaneously. Why? Three major reasons – context shifting, interruptions and loss of flexibility.
Lost time due to context shifting. The moments when you shift from one task to another, also known as context switching, mount up to a surprising amount of lost time per day. Heaps of research has shown that It’s faster to do consecutive tasks than to toggle back and forth between those same tasks. By staying focused we save ourselves the refamiliarization time needed whenever we flick back and forth.
Interruptions. As we shift track from one task to another, we’re more open to interruptions. And knowledge workers, especially in open plan offices, lose AT LEAST 30% of a working day because of them. It’s not just context shifting time (which we’re often the initiators of). Except for very simple tasks, it takes, on average, 10-20 times the length of the interruption to get restarted on a task you were interrupted on.
We lose flexibility. When we try to focus on several things at once we put strain on the brain’s frontal lobes. We revert to black and white thinking and start to lose perspective and the ability to see possible nuances and variations. We set ourselves up for dissatisfaction, loss of joy, stress and even burnout. We struggle to stay organised, set priorities and manage our time. And the constant low-level feeling of panic and guilt makes us feel that we’re losing or wasting time.
- Change your language. If you constantly bemoan the shortage of time, you’re reinforcing that message. Your subconscious (obedient operator that it is), says, ‘Oh, you want less time. Let me help with that.’ And sure enough, you’ll continue to be short of time.
Instead, try new language patterns (affirmations) such as ‘I have all the time I need’ or ‘I focus well and effectively on one thing at a time.’ If affirmations are new to you and you can’t yet get such a positive statement out past your lips, try changing the phrase to something in the process of becoming, such as ‘I’m learning that I have all the time I need’.
- Educate those around you. One of my regular correspondents wrote, ‘I’ve got a new boss who expects me to operate like him – constantly switching tasks. At the end of the day I go home exhausted, not having achieved as much as I used to. What can I do?’
If this is your situation also, would it help if you say something like ‘I find I work more effectively if I ….’ (e.g. work on tasks one at a time instead of trying to multi-task)? You might have to show them this article. Perhaps you can start a conversation over a coffee about effective work practices. Or, see if I’m available to speak at a conference, or for in-house training or personal coaching. Also, all my re-edited and fully updated books, most of which discuss this issue in various ways, are now available on Kobo and Amazon. You can find the links to all versions at my author site https://www.robynpearce.com
- Get present. Aim to be ‘in the moment’ of each activity as much as possible. Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘The power of now’ goes into this in far more detail, but a simplistic summary is – when we focus on the activity we’re engaged in, we heighten our experience, notice more, feel more, hear and see more, and will both achieve and enjoy it more. It feels as though time has stretched.
In a work situation, focused single-tasking is a practical example of being ‘in the moment’.
To practice being present, next time you’re waiting for anything, instead of filling the gaps with activities on your smart phone, observe your environment and the people around you. How would you describe them if you had to write a short description? How do they make you feel? What are you hearing, smelling, seeing? Those moments and experiences will feel richer for the noticing. Another good practice time is when you’re travelling. Observe your surroundings rather than rehashing, worrying or planning about past or future events.
Try this several times a day and see the difference in your mental state and peace of mind. It takes practice, but if you find yourself slipping back, don’t beat yourself up – just start over.
Curiously, applying one or more of these techniques gives you the feeling that you have more time.
But don’t take my word for it – give it a go.