03 Mar Work Smarter: Get off auto-pilot & create a productive work day
How often do you end your work day thinking, “Wow, I just worked a whole lot but didn’t get much done.”
You walk into work and face what feels like a tsunami of emails not to mention a totally packed calendar. Everyone requests your time. You open your email to dozens of requests that take you away from your core work. These emails flow in all day long – ping, ping, ping – asking for your time. People contact you for favors. You are invited to join meetings.
As your work piles up, you become more and more anxious. You try to multi-task but that just leaves you feeling even more overwhelmed. Your brain isn’t focused at all. Before long, your day is over. And nothing on your to-do list is scratched off.
This is a day on auto-pilot.
You feel like time management, scheduling, productivity, and task management aren’t your calling.
But I’m here to tell you there is one thing you can do to take control of your time.
The problems that come from being on auto-pilot
When we feel we are not in control of our day, we are likely in a reactionary mode and making our way through the day on auto-pilot.
The average American receives 139 business emails daily (and sends out about 40 emails) We spend, on average, 2.5 hours reading and responding to emails and over 4 hours a day on our mobile phones. That is 86 hours a month!
We check our phones 80 times daily according to this survey (31 percent of us feel anxiety when we are separated from our phone).
And it’s not just that. We are overwhelmed with information. We now take in 5 times more information than we did in 1986. Every day, we process the equivalent of 100,000 words not counting television or online videos. This means we digest the equivalent of a book equivalent to War and Peace every week. Research suggests we are now bombarded with information equivalent to 147 newspaper articles every day.
The result? Research now shows that a significant number of people (47 percent) spend our waking hours thinking about something other than what are doing. Our minds are wandering. Another way of putting this: we operate in a space of mindlessness. We are not intentional about what we are doing.
The result? We are totally unintentional about what we are doing and how we are spending our time.
Between auto-pilot, information overwhelm, and distraction, it’s a wonder we get anything done.
Yes, you can take charge of your time and calendar!
What would your day look like if you were actually in charge of your time?
You would feel more calm and focused. You would feel more productive. You would feel on top of everything.
You can be in charge even as you faced a deluge of emails, meetings, and demands for your time.
So what is the trick?
The fundamental tool you actually need to seize control of your time
Taking control of your time begins with one very specific tool: INTENTION.
In short, you need to wake up your mind, pull it off auto-pilot, and take the wheel.
When you are intentional about how you go about your work day, you begin the process of taking charge of your time. This is what it means:
You are hyper aware about the actual time you have in a day.
You avoid distractions including email and web browsing.
You take intentional breaks to give your brain and body a rest.
You are realistic about how much time it takes to complete tasks.
You allocate time for what you intend to do.
You intentionally arrange your time (your schedule) to focus on what needs to get done.
You understand that interruptions and distractions can take you off track but you work to get back on track.
We often over estimate what we can do in a month and under estimate what we can do in a year.
How to create an intentional work day
You can bring intention into the workplace and take control of your time. At its core, the intentional work day is about being hyper aware about how you plan and navigate your day. It is about being conscious with managing time.
Four Steps to Creating an Intentional Work Day
- Start your day with a pause – assess the time you have before you.
Before your work day – the night before or the morning of – you want to get crystal clear about what time you actually have available. Note meetings, obligations, calls. In particular, know what is your scheduled and unscheduled time.
2. Identify key priorities – identify no more than 3 priorities you want to ensure you get done.
This is key! Choose three discrete tasks that you want to ensure you complete by end of he day. Typically, these tasks will occur during your unscheduled time.
Your tasks do not just have to be about work; they can be personal priorities. Consciously choose tasks you know you can realistically complete. If the task is something you are completing over multiple days, list the task by amount of time (e.g. Work on X project for 45 minutes).
3. Schedule your day being sure to also schedule time for your key priorities – lay out your schedule outlining how you are allocating the time for scheduled and unscheduled tasks.
Now it’s time to put it all together! Lay out your exact schedule for the day. Include the scheduled time (meetings, calls) as well as time you have allocated for your priority tasks. I usually write out my daily schedule by hand (even though I generally keep an online calendar) to ensure I have one piece of paper with my top priorities and schedule carefully laid out.
4. Remove distractions – be sure give yourself focused time for your priority tasks especially removing all distractions.
When you are working on priority tasks, remove ALL distractions while creating an environment to help you ensure you succeed. This means turning off email and avoiding interruptions from colleagues.
“A plan is what, a schedule is when. It takes both a plan and a schedule to get things done.”-Peter Turla
4. Plan breaks that give your brain and body a break by stopping work and pausing so you can focus better and maintain your intentional day
Here are some ideas for how to take simple breaks that hardly take any time!
- Take a 1-minute break: Pause from work, sit back, walk around the office, and refocus your attention on your senses. You don’t even need to close your eyes. Just 60 seconds to realign your thoughts.
- Pause to do some deep breathing: Deep breathing activates the part of the brain which is used for judgement, reasoning, and compassion. By contrast, shallow breathing activates that part of your brain which is focused on your fight or flight mode.
- Savor your lunch (or at least your first bite): You gotta eat lunch right? Detach from work and take the time to actually taste your food. Notice the texture. Notice the temperature. Enjoy your food with a mindful lunch.
- Use forced breaks to take a mental break: You gotta walk to your meetings right? Why not use that walk for a 20-second recharge? While you walk, notice the walk itself. Take a moment to soak in your environment, the sounds, smells, and temperature.
Take action: Make a plan to create your intentional work day STARTING tomorrow
Every day brings a new opportunity to create intentionality to your work day. We are often looking for silver bullets and new time management systems to overhaul our unhealthy relationship with time. But sometimes all it takes is a new day where you start it with intention.
When you practice intentionality, you are more mindful of everything you are doing.
You make better decisions
You are a better communicator
You are more creative and innovative
You engage more deeply
You have greater resilience
You have positive well-being
Why not try it out? You’ll see the benefits.