It’s a killer. As a writer, I am provided with tasks – articles, posts, website content, etc. – and I am usually given deadlines for completion. When I first began this journey, I was filled with enthusiasm and focus – pumping out my tasks at a phenomenal level, staying up all hours to finish them, and setting a goal of at least 4,000 words a day. Most of the time, I can meet that goal. Over time, though, I began to develop what I can now call burnout. It was a gradual thing, and it manifested itself in distractions. Even in the middle of a project, I would want to leave my computer and do something else – almost anything – to take what I called a “break.” Gradually, those breaks became more numerous and longer, and I even found myself resenting having to return to my writing work, even to meet deadlines. My productivity was going down the tubes.
I had to address the burnout. It was causing anxiety and stress, and worst of all, I was letting down clients who were expecting their pieces on time. This was the beginning of my research on burnout and productivity, two things that are hugely connected. And I would suggest to many of you who are reading this, that you might explore this same connection. It is one thing to know you are easily distracted – it is quite another to determine the cause of those distrations. While there are certainly some medically confirmed causes (e.g., ADD, hormonal changes), much of the inability to focus comes from internal and external factors that can be identified and controlled. And once you can identify those factors, you can set up behavioral patterns that will control them.
The Role of Time Management in Productivity
What I came to realize was this: My burnout was related to a lack of organization in my life. I am single, don’t have to answer to anyone, and easily move from one activity to another, eating whenever, sleeping whenever, etc. This set me up for a dis-organized lifestyle in which I didn’t have to manage my time, as many others must. But as I moved through this journey of behavioral change, I realized that people with obligations and responsibilities also experience a lack of organization and time management. They are what I call the “last minute” people.
So, no matter what your lifestyle, no matter what your responsibilities, if productivity is an issue, you need some time management skills. Here are 4 tips that should get you on track and make your life so much more pleasant.
1. Divide Up Your Day Into Reasonable Segments
Whether you work a full-time job, are an entrepreneur, or even a stay-at-home parent, you only have so many hours in your day and a certain number of things that need to get done. Make a list of what you must do daily, and provide a reasonable amount of time that you need to complete each of those tasks. You may need to enlarge that list to weekly, as opposed to daily because some tasks you may not complete in one day. For example, if you are a freelancer working from home, how many hours a day should you devote to your work tasks? While this may vary somewhat, based upon your workload and deadlines, you need to have at least 6-8 hours of your day earmarked for work. If you have to add hours on certain days, then change out your daily schedule to meet those demands.
The idea here is to have an overall plan. What will surprise you is the number of waking hours you have and how many you may be wasting in total lack of productivity. Even those who have full-time jobs work far fewer hours than the normal 8-hour day. A recent study of 2,000 office employees reported that most people engage in work for about three hours a day. Access to the Internet and all of its distractions play a major role in this today. But, daydreaming, talking with co-workers, phone calls, and other non-work activities are culprits too.
Schedule your working time and stick to that schedule as much as possible. Author Steven Spielberg sets aside three hours every morning to isolate himself, remove all distractions, and just write. And it obviously works.
2. Time Management Includes Sleep
Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and renown author and speaker, recently published a book called The Sleep Revolution. She conducted a huge amount of research on sleep after her lack of sleep resulted in some serious physical issues and the inability to focus on the work at hand.
“We take better care of our smartphone than ourselves. We know when the battery is depleted and recharge it.” – Arianna Huffington
The results of her work advise that everyone must get 7-8 hours of sleep every night if they are to be truly productive. Your time management plan must include the right amount of sleep.
3. Organized Breaks
Hopping up and down, moving from one task to another, without any organized pattern, is the worst enemy of productivity. Consider this: you are working on a project, and all of a sudden it hits you that you haven’t thrown in that load of laundry you intended to do today; or you haven’t coded those bills that need to be paid; or maybe you haven’t made that call for a dental appointment you need to set up.
The worst thing you can do is leave your work and take care of those tasks. You lose total focus, and when you return to your task, you have to spend time getting yourself mentally acclimated again before you get back to work mentally.
Keep a running list next to you. When these things pop into your head, write them down and let them go for now. When you take your break time, you can start checking off those “to-do’s.”
You have to organize your breaks just as you do your work time. If you have a list of things to get done, your breaks will be just as organized as your work time, and you will complete them faster and better.
4. Plan Your Down-Time
OK. So, you have a favorite TV show you don’t want to miss. You have a group of friends you want to get together with once a week; love going to the gym three days a week; need time to just relax and read, or love to try out new gourmet recipes. All of these things make for a well-rounded you and are necessary for your emotional well-being.
If you don’t manage your time well, you will not have time for the things that make you whole. That’s why I encourage you to schedule them into your overall time-management plan, and commit to them, just as you commit to your work responsibilities.
These are only four tips. You will read a lot of other articles on productivity and time management that will give you a host of additional tips. Read them. Absorb what is relevant to you and use them. But, if you begin with these four big behavioral change suggestions, you will be amazed by how much time you have to do everything you want or need to do.