How do you manage your time in the digital world? Allow us to help with three simple ideas to maximise your productivity.
Between 1980 and 2008, the use of the phrase ‘time management’ in published works rose sharply. Since 2008 though, the number of Google users seeking tips and techniques to boost their workplace productivity has fallen. In tandem with this decline – and the introduction of the smartphone – there’s been a continual rise in the search term ‘time management apps’.
The digital world we live in demands a correspondingly ‘smart’ approach to this critical workplace skill of effective time management. “Our mobile phones are more powerful than the total Apollo space engine [was],” said Ian Goldin in the TED Talk Navigating Our Political Future; today, the humble to do list, scribbled on a post-it note, seems almost quaint.
While consumer technology has clear benefits for productive workers, so to can it become one of our greatest ‘time thieves’ (log into our everywomanNetwork workbook Managing Your Time to discover yours). Discover below how technology is driving new thinking in time management.
Too many systems equals more work!
“One of the reasons we are so busy is that we end up complicating systems and adding extra work,” says Carson Tate, the author of a new book Work Simply, which advocates simplifying your approach to workplace efficiency. Likewise, with so much advice available on the subject of time management, it’s easy to get caught up in techniques that simply don’t work for your personal style. Her solution? Spend time thinking about what type of worker you are, and which approaches will be compatible in the long term.
In her book she defines four styles, summarised in the Financial Times: “Are you a people-focused Arranger, a goal-orientated Prioritiser, a Visualiser or a Planner?
“A to-do list app will satisfy a Planner but leave a Visualiser cold; they are better off using a mind-map to see what needs to be done. When managing email, a Prioritiser should set a numerical goal for the number of messages in their inbox at any time, while an Arranger, who is likely to find communicating this way dull, should line up treats to help them get through theirs.”
Our popular workbook Managing Your Time is designed to get you thinking about your personal styles and find the stickiest techniques.
We’re more distracted than ever before
While technology is an enabling force for workplace productivity (a recent survey found that 55 per cent of worldwide participants attribute their productivity levels to their software, while 34 per cent say scheduling tools afford them greater work-life balance), the distraction factor of social media, email and the Internet cannot be underplayed (another survey of 5,000 Americans revealed that nearly 70 per cent admit to productivity nosedives as a result of access to connective technology).
It’s worth noting that the former survey was conducted by software creators Microsoft, and the latter by the makers of technology which temporarily blocks the websites most likely to tempt you away from the task at hand. What cannot be denied though is the enormous rise in volume and popularity of such applications.
OffTime, an app developed by a Berlin-based psychologist, offers ‘digital quiet hours’ by intercepting incoming calls and texts for whatever length of time the user defines – a virtual secretary, if you like. It’s been downloaded over 300,000 since its launch in October 2014 and made it onto Google’s list of the year’s best apps. While the concept of ‘ digital detoxing resonates, many clearly fall short at self-imposition.
A plethora of similar apps aims to boost productivity – some by blocking social media platforms for hours at a time, others by tracking and providing daily summaries of time wasting activities to ‘shame’ the frequent browser into quitting. Another provides a flashback to the earliest word processors – limiting your workstation’s functionality to the user’s ability to type.
If 2014 was the year of ‘mindfulness’, 2015 is the year of ‘timefulness’
The idea of using ‘mindfulness’ as a time planning technique might seem at odds with its advocates’ ‘live in the moment’ mantra.
“Bizarre as it may seem,” says time management expert Tom Evans in an article encouraging tax return submitters on a fast approaching deadline to alter their perceptions of the passage of time, “our left and right brains experience time in different ways. [The left] sits inside space and time and [the right] experiences everywhere and ‘everywhen’ else.”
Marrying the two hemispheres, he says, creates the harmony in which we can ‘get more done, in less time’, and isn’t as complicated as it sounds. We’ve summarised some of his key exercises below.
- Slow down your breath. The animals that take fewest breaths have the longest life expectancy (tortoises breathe four times a minute and can live to be 140!). Taking a moment to take a few deep, diaphragm-awakening breaths can – particularly during the stressful, breathless moments you experience when running late for a meeting or approaching a deadline at the speed of light – slow down your perception of time passing. Changing your relationship with time has a multiplying affect on what you can accomplish in it.
- One thought at a time: “The normal human mind can only have one thought at a time. So just think about what you are thinking about right now and the thing you are thinking about gets replaced with the thought you are having about that thought.” You might need to read that sentence a few times, but once it clicks you’ll have tapped into a key principle of mindfulness. As deadlines approach and time truncates it’s easy to wind yourself into self-fulfilling self-talk (“I’ll never get all this done!”). Taking things one step at a time is all you can really do, so start today.
If you’re all tangled up in that place of not knowing where to start, the very idea of taking time out to meditate might send you into a tailspin. How can you possibly justify the luxury when you’ve got a million things on your plate?
But when things reach the point of stagnation brought on by an overflowing inbox, a couple of minutes of mindful meditation can be all it takes to reset your equilibrium. In our article Meditation: your secret weapon for workplace success we outline the ways you can fit mindfulness into your day in three minutes or less.
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