One of the biggest time management killers we all face is….interruptions!
It takes an average of 17 minutes to return to a previous task after an unplanned disruption. Think about how many times a day you receive a text message, an email, a phone call, someone walks up to your desk or you get side-tracked in some other manner. That’s a lot of wasted time!
I can hear you saying “Actually, I’m really good at multi-tasking!” I used to have a colleague who felt the same way about her time management skills. However, a quick Google search of “multi-tasking” reveals an abundance of research which suggests it’s actually impossible for our brains to do more than one thing at a time. Every time you change tasks, the brain has to stop what it’s doing and refocus on the new task. Even if it takes only a few milliseconds, it builds up over time and negatively impacts your time management. This back and forth, or as some are now calling it “switch-tasking” can cause a 40% decline in productivity and a high degree of mistakes.
The Good and Bad
Technology has made it increasingly simple to stay in touch, which can be both a good and a bad thing in our time management practice. What used to take weeks or even months through the pony express or “snail mail” now takes only seconds through the internet. While we used to be reachable by phone only when we were at home, cells phones have made it possible to communicate from almost anywhere in the world. There are certainly circumstances where the benefits of technology are immediately evident. However, proper time management requires that we pay close attention to the other side of the equation as well.
Email, cell phones, social media and other sources of technology make it so easy to communicate, we have developed the expectation of an immediate response. When it doesn’t come quickly enough, we often tell ourselves a story about what’s going on at the other end.
“He’s avoiding me.”
“She’s mad at me.”
“They’re thinking I’m incompetent.”
While all of this is going on in our heads, we can’t possibly concentrate on the task at hand. It’s a distraction.
There’s an even larger negative impact to time management when you’re on the receiving end. The occasional interruption is no big deal. Perhaps your spouse needs a quick answer so he can finalize travel plans. Maybe an employee needs some additional direction before he can proceed. However, I know people (and I’m sure you do too) who receive hundreds of emails a day or get caught in a group text that yields dozens of messages an hour. Although we can control these interruptions to some degree by asking for consideration from those around us or scheduling certain times in which to respond, we cannot control the actions or expectations of others.
You Have Control
The other kind of technological interruption to time management is completely in our own courts and is easily corrected. Facebook, video games, surfing the internet for pleasure, text conversations – all have the ability to chew up hours of time we could be productive in our goals. (My weakness is movies. I can get sucked into a good movie if I’m not paying attention. I love them!) Every one of these things can be controlled by us and yet, we lack the time management skills or discipline.
Years ago, there were less ways to communicate…..and yet, we got by just fine. Sure, it’s convenient to have our answers immediately…..but we won’t die (under most circumstances) if we have to wait a few hours or even a few days to get an answer. If you think turning your devices off will ruin your business, this is one of the things you can delegate. Have someone screen your calls and emails and let you know if there is something pressing waiting for you. If you believe turning them off will ruin your life……all I can say is, you may not get out enough!
My Little Challenge for You
Go for one hour – just one hour – when you would normally have technology available, without it. Turn off your cell phone. Switch the TV off. Obviously, if your job requires a computer or other form of technology, you can’t apply this challenge to that device. However, close your email for the hour. Try this for a week, just one hour a day and if you’re feeling better about your progress, go for two hours. (We’ll talk about scheduling time to handle your emails later.) Your time management skills will slowly develop as you focus on the things that will bring you closer to your goals.
I’d love to receive your feedback about how this challenge goes for you and what benefits you can see. (Hint: You may notice improvements in more areas than simply productivity.) If you need support during this process or in altering other time zapping habits, reach out to me through my Contact Me page.