This article was written by Jeff Archer, Director of The Tonic Corporate Wellness.
Someone said to me recently, ‘All I need is an extra hour each day and I’d get everything that I need to do done.’
Unfortunately, we’re all stuck with 24-hours in the day and 168 hours in the week so an extra hour a day just isn’t possible. Or is it? While we can’t magically produce additional time on the clock, we can think about how we make the best use of the hours that are available to us.
Time is not the enemy. We all have at least some control over how we allocate each 24-hour period and some people seem to be better at it than others. So what are the secrets to running a routine that means you leave work feeling calm and satisfied rather than dashing out the office feeling stressed and wondering where the day went? Here are some solutions that have been shown to help employees rethink their attitude to time and keep stress levels low.
1) Value your time
While we talk of spending time, it’s far better to think about investing it. This focuses the mind on the idea that there should be some return for the time we invest. If you look after the minutes, the hours will take care of themselves. Plan your day around creating value for minutes and don’t waste any of this precious resource. Think as carefully about letting others ‘borrow’ your time as you would about letting them borrow your money.
2) Think quality of results, not quantity of input
We run a selection of sleep workshops and regularly someone will ask, ‘what’s the minimum amount of sleep that I could get away with?’ The thinking behind this question is that if we can borrow time from sleep then we can allocate it to more work, fit in some socializing or catch up on family chores.
What must be considered within this strategy is does more time awake enable you to get more done? And this question needs to be viewed in relation to short, medium and long-term results, the reason being that while skipping valuable sleep may give you more time for other things over the period of a few days, keep this up for too long and your ability to operate to your full potential gradually becomes eroded as lack of sleep and insufficient time to rest, recover and recharge the batteries soon catches up with you.
A far more successful strategy is to plan each 24-hour period to include the sleep you need and then establish how you make the best use of the remaining waking hours. Chances are if you are rested and focused on each task you have to complete, you’ll get things done more quickly and to a higher standard than if you force yourself to take on jobs feeling bleary eyed and sluggish. This will save time in the long run.
3) Get hydrated
An excerpt from ‘Dehydration and its effects on performance’ by Asker Jeukendrup and Michael Gleeson says, "Exercise performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as two percent of body weight. Losses in excess of five percent of body weight can decrease the capacity for work by about 30 percent" (Armstrong et al. 1985; Craig and Cummings 1966; Maughan 1991; Sawka and Pandolf 1990).
There is a clear parallel between athletic performance and performance at work. Imagine whole offices at risk of a reduced work capacity of 30 percent simply from not drinking enough water. Then imagine how much more focused and effective staff would be and how much better able to get things done quickly and improve their time-efficiency they would be if they simply prioritized drinking more water.
It might not be an obvious link for many but drinking water saves you time.
4) Monitor and manage your energy levels
Ask most people if being healthy or looking after themselves is important and chances are they’ll say yes. Ask them about their regular contribution to getting the most out of their health and wellbeing and you may not get such a positive response. Wellbeing is one of those areas where there is often a gap between the desire and the action, the knowing and the doing. The problem is that if you don’t optimize your health it can be hard to optimize your time. If you don’t feel great, you’re unlikely to be able to work to the best of your abilities.
The most simple way to overcome this is to stop viewing healthy living as just another thing on your to do list and begin regarding it as the single most important thing on your list that will underpin your success in everything else that you do.
Thinking about creating energy rather than managing health seems to be more motivating for most when it comes to making regular and consistent choices that contribute towards improved wellbeing. Then consider the day-to-day choices you make that will help you experience higher, more consistent energy levels so you can improve your efficiency and get things done faster.
If you think about all your daily lifestyle choices, including what you eat and drink, how you choose to get active (or not) and what work you take on, in relation to the question, ‘is what I’m about to do going to give me energy or rob me of energy?’ then you’ll soon find yourself making different choices and creating a virtuous circle where more energy means more efficient use of time and more time gives you the chance to think about how best to use your improved energy levels.
5) Choose how you spend your time and make life interesting
You’ll have heard the phrase, ‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person.’ Why is it that those who are busy often seem to be more effective? Usually it’s because busy people fill their schedule with many things they want to do as well as all the things they know they have to do.
There’s no bigger way to waste time than to have a long to do list with nothing on it that’s particularly inspiring but the truth is, this does happen from time to time. We all have elements of our jobs that are more ‘maintenance’ than ‘progressive’ but they do need to be done. Don’t let these jobs eat your time.
Rather than procrastinating and meandering through these tasks think instead of what else you really want to do today and that you could have time for if you get the boring jobs done quickly and efficiently. The process of doing less interesting tasks may never become motivating but the idea of completing them and moving on to something much more exciting can definitely spur you into action.
A note of caution with this approach. It's important to give a little thought to what the things you really want to do each day might be. This sounds obvious but I have come across a surprising number of people who struggle to think about exciting ways to spend their time with the result that when they do find themselves with some elusive ‘spare’ time, they’re not sure what to do with it and quickly return to checking emails and tinkering around the edges of boring jobs that really don’t need doing right then.
Be clear on your plans. Make a statement like, ‘If I had an extra hour in the day I’d use 45-minutes to exercise and 15-minutes for planning’. Schedule these slots in your diary and then work efficiently to make them happen.
6) Reset your work clock
Not literally as this could be confusing for others in the office but think about how you manage time through the day. Too often people plan to go for lunch at 1pm only to find themselves tying up loose ends until 2pm before they get something to eat. Similarly the quest to leave the office at 5.30pm usually ends in a scramble to get to a point where they can run out the door by 6pm or even later.
Set your parameters of the day very clearly and create a little scarcity with your hours. Avoid any days where you keep devoting more and more minutes and hours to work time that may not be high quality and think instead of how you could achieve maximum results with the hours you are comfortable committing to work.
If you want to have lunch at 1pm, set an alarm for 12.45pm to remind you to spend 15-minutes wrapping up progress from the morning. If you need to leave at 5.30pm, set your alarm and aim to have the day's tasks complete by 5pm.
This provides you with a margin of error each day but, more importantly, will also help you think differently about how you organize yourself, particularly in relation to how you prioritise what you do, the systems you use to work efficiently and, where appropriate, the ways in which you delegate.
Think priority management, not time management. The truth is that if something really is a priority, you will make time for it. If you feel that you have many priorities but time is short, you’ll be motivated to find new ways of allocating resources to ensure results in all areas without you having to overcommit your hours. Spend time on strategy and management and you’ll save time on operational matters.
7) The ultimate priority management question
Although we all feel pressed for time, there’s still the underlying belief that tomorrow provides a safety net or we’ll find a slot next week to finish up those things we don’t get around to today. But what if you couldn’t rely on tomorrow or next week? If you suddenly had to be out of the office for a month after today, in what ways would this change how you spend your next few hours?
Ask yourself this question every day and you’ll soon find that you develop an efficiency that in a relatively short time can help you carve out an additional 60-minutes each day. You can then enjoy thinking about how you’d like to invest this extra time.
From an organizational perspective, effective priority management requires an element of trust and an open mindedness to do things differently but it’s worth the effort. A culture that encourages reflection and planning time combined with managers that are keen to be approached with suggestions of new strategies and systems, and who are then able to implement positive solutions where appropriate, is an inspiring place to work. Staff are invested in working effectively and feel empowered to make suggestions if they sense their efficiency is being compromised.
The result is a business that gets maximum engagement from its workforce and maximum value from every working hour.