We are more overloaded than ever before. Many of us manage portfolio careers or several roles within the same job title. We must meet tight deadlines, and satisfy the speed and relentlessness of social media. It can often feel impossible to get work finished and, at times, even started.
The biggest culprit in hindering our effective time management and all-round productivity is procrastination. Dealing with this can have benefits for our social, mental and physical health.
Why do we procrastinate?
The psychological theory of why we procrastinate is straightforward: procrastination works to actively limit our performance. When our performance is limited, we don’t work to our full ability. And, when we don’t work to our full ability, our self-worth is protected, regardless of how well we actually do.
We have been conditioned to correlate our self-worth directly with our abilities. We are usually educated that way – the pupil with the high marks often gets more attention and more approval. So we take pride in what we can achieve and work hard to protect our fragile self-worth.
If we do things at the last minute and do well, then we can glow in the knowledge that we could have done even better. If we leave things till the last minute and don’t do so well, then we can console ourselves with the knowledge that we can easily do better.
So what can be done about it? Here are five steps to more effective time management.
1 Slow down
Remember the fable of The Tortoise and The Hare? Steady, consistent effort is way more effective than last-minute pushing, whatever you may tell yourself. Break down each of your tasks into three smaller, bite-size chunks and keep your effort consistent.
2 Incentivise yourself
Take breaks at regular intervals to improve your focus. One way to do this is by adopting the Pomodoro Technique. First, set a timer to work for 25 minutes without interruption. If a distraction pops into your head, scribble it on a piece of paper and get back to the task at hand. After 25 minutes, take a 10-minute break. Repeat this cycle four times before taking a longer break of 30 to 60 minutes. You will get so much more done and feel far less overloaded and overwhelmed with this strategy (you can download the free app Focus Keeper to help you).
3 Learn how to say ‘no’ and push back
People-management skills go hand in hand with time management. Working efficiently is all very well, but what about the people who hijack our time? An effective way to avoid interruptions is to remember that saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair – buying time to help with a request can be useful. Phrases such as “I can speak to you about this in 30 minutes” can improve not only your own negative patterns of time management but other people’s too.
Another appropriate response is: “I can help you with this after 2pm, but not before.” This phrase is a positive and helpful response that also creates boundaries and pushes back on time-encroachers. Practise these kinds of phrases when the stakes are low initially, and then you will feel more comfortable using them in high-pressured situations or when influencing more senior members of the team.
4 Manage your self-talk
Our monkey minds can tell us all sorts of things that can sabotage effective time management. Often these thoughts are unconscious. Look at how accurate your self-talk is by listing all the reasons why you procrastinate. These might include ‘the project is too big’ or ‘I want it to be amazing’. By comparing your thoughts with the reality of a situation, you can reclaim a sense of perspective and a calmer, clearer head.
5 Remember your strengths
When you have confidence and focus on your abilities, you work more effectively. So write down your best qualities and revisit them regularly. This will enable you to develop the skills you already have, and avoid wasting time repeatedly trying to fix the things you are less good at.
Dannie-Lu Carr is an acting coach, author and communications specialist. At CIPR, she runs courses including ‘Time Management and Personal Effectiveness’. dannielucarr.com
Image courtesy of flickr user Vic
This article was originally published in Influence magazine, Q2 2017.