Time Management


Shortly after we wake up early in the morning, our brain is unwound, disorganized, and we're more open to understanding a wide variety of unconventional ideas. We actually do some of our best thinking when we're half asleep.

It is also important to know the groove of our circadian rhythm in order for us to deliver the best output possible without overexhausting our bodies.

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Time Management

The feeling of time constraint is not from the idea that you are losing time, but instead, it is due to how you perceive it. Ironically, researchers claim that the best way to feel less busy is to give away some of our time to others in order to feel less time-constrained.

Moreover, people who perceive time with equivalence to money are more likely to feel impatient when they're not using it to earn money and that hurts their ability to derive happiness during leisure activities.

Schedule things that make you happy

The activities that we have on our calendar are most likely the things that we're supposed to do but in order to not tire ourselves out, we must also make time for the things that make us happy.

The people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who bring the same energizing energy tend to be happier.

The best piece of advice in order to make sure that your life is on the right track is by remembering that we were born with a limited number of days, and with each passing day, the memories we carry will not be perfect.

The two things our brains remember about an event are:

  1. The emotional peak

  2. The end

With this in mind, we'll be able to structure events where both the peak and the ending are great. When we make sure that tomorrow has something amazing for us, we can end the day on a positive note.

If you're the type of person who spends more time in front of the computer instead of socializing, research shows that digital natives are not really suited for jobs that involve diplomacy and sales. There are high-trust fields and having prolonged exposure to computers reconfigure a person's natural networks and are likely to have low levels of empathy and social skills.

Moreover, how we communicate towards people includes things we don't notice as much like their tone of voice or inflections.

Your working space can have an impact on your productivity. When working from home, are you crouching on the kitchen table or working from your sofa?

Ask yourself:
Is my chair is comfortable?
What is my posture when I am sitting?
Is the screen at eye level?
Do I get enough light?
Do I have access to liquids to stay hydrated throughout the day?
Do I enjoy my workspace?

When we have lots of work, we can fall into the trap of neglecting to nourish our mind with enough high-quality input. Ways to cultivate curiosity include reading books, blogs, newsletters, taking online courses, joining learning communities, and more.

  • Do you make space for cultivating your curiosity, exploring new ideas, and expanding your knowledge?
  • Make a list of all the ways you cultivate your curiosity. Consider if these opportunities are aligned with your goals.

It is easy for knowledge workers to accumulate screenshots and random files on their computer "just in case". Performing an audit of your digital workspace can reduce your cognitive load.

  • What does your desktop currently look like?
  • What apps are installed? Which ones do you regularly use?
  • What tools do you use to manage your knowledge?
  • Take some time to consolidate, declutter and clean up the files on your computer. Explore potential tools for thought, such as a note-taking app.

Research suggests a knowledge worker should spend four hours of deep creative, highly productive work per day.

How many hours do you currently dedicate to deep work? Look at your calendar and count the hours spent in deep work.

If you have too many hours, try to unblock some time for lighter work or recharging your mental energy. If you have too few, try and rearrange your time commitments to make space for up to four hours of deep work per day.

Instead of mindlessly repeating the same action with little regard for how they impact your performance, ensure you have time and space to reflect and incrementally improve the way you work.

A weekly review is a powerful way to direct your life with intention. It may be in the form of journaling. Include questions to assess what is going well, what is difficult, and what your focus should be during the following week.

Assessing your productivity

A huge number of productivity books have been published but very few of these books combine productivity, creativity, and mental health. How do you achieve more without burning out in the process?

Using a mindful productivity audit is one way to assess your current systems and evaluate if you can perform better while taking care of your mind.

A calendar is a helpful tool to manage your time. It is there to guide you, not to rule you.

Review a typical week in your calendar.

  • How many events are there?
  • How many events did you create, and how many invitations did you receive?
  • Could any of these meetings have been replaced by email or a shared document?

Start exploring ways to improve your time management systems. It might be useful to block some time at the start of the day to adjust your calendar.

People working from home can be tempted to keep working until they feel too tired to keep going.

Creating habits, routines and rituals to frame your workday is essential for sustainable performance.

  • Create a hard stop at a specific time.
  • Another approach is to give yourself a specific number of work hours per day, which is more flexible as you can start and stop earlier or later.
  • Shift your focus from time to actual productivity by creating an adequate list of tasks for the day. Once the tasks are done, you are done.

The first hour is the most important part of your day. It impacts your mindset by setting the tone for the rest of the day. A routine designed around your goals will always trump one that is based on habits you haven't thought about.

  • What is the first thing you do in the morning? Write it down. Be as detailed as possible: getting up, brushing your teeth... until you sit down at your desk.
  • What could be improved?
  • Do you have any bad habits you want to better manage?

Taking breaks restore your motivation, consolidate your memory, increase your creativity, and prevent decision fatigue. Research suggests we need to take a break for 5 to 10 minutes every hour or so and a longer break (more than 30 minutes) every two to four hours.

Look at your calendar, and ensure you have a combination of short and long breaks during the day. During a break, move your body, do some deep breathing, chat with your peers, or go for a walk outside.

Winding down before you go to bed will help you sleep better and prepare your mind for the next day.

Write down everything you usually do in the last hour of a typical day. How many activities involve a screen? Do you spend time with your family? Do you read a book? Do you think you have bad habits in the evening?

Consider what you want to change and implement it in your evening routine.

Ongoing cognitive fatigue results in burnout at work, lower motivation, distractibility, and poor information processing. It also lowers the quality of judgment and decisions, including those of experts.

For instance, scientists found judges were more likely to pass favourable rulings when they felt refreshed, but by lunchtime, the proportion of favourable rulings was close to zero. When the court was back in session, the pattern repeated itself, starting high and ending low.

Fatigue influences performance

Research suggests that we need to think strategically about how the time of day will affect our decisions and performance.

As a day passes, we become increasingly tired and more likely to underperform on work tasks. This suggests that we should tackle tasks that require a great deal of attention and mental energy first and that we should take regular breaks.

Research found that the time of day affects students' performance in schools. The effect of both time of day and breaks on students' performance on standardized tests were measured. The findings were:

  • The later in the day the test was, the lower student's performance on the test.
  • A 20- to 30-minute break caused an improvement in test scores.
  • Low-performing students were more affected by breaks than high-performing students.

Recent studies on procrastination seems to suggest that the fear of failure could be a core reason for postponing tasks, as it is hard to:

  1. Amend mistakes.
  2. Lack of expected progress even with the effort being put.
  3. A wasted day having a spillover effect on the next day.
  4. Lack of practice.
  5. Lack of trying again.

We need to detect patterns in our behaviour and recognize the cause of any hidden or camouflaged fear.

One can diminish the value of an achievement so that non-accomplishment isn’t a big issue.

One also falls into a self-fulfilling prophecy, that if one isn’t interested in doing a task, that task must not be interesting or important enough in the first place. This leads us to switch our goals, leading to excuses and missed opportunities.

We usually want to take action as fast as we can, but with important decisions, we tend to wait and research more so that we can check the options and not make any mistakes.

The preparation time we need is often fear-based because we don’t want to mess up and it can look like procrastination.

People can lose time, money, respect, resources among other things when faced with failure, and that leads to fear-based procrastination. We need to keep in mind that mistakes happen, and only with action and errors does one learn something and moves towards growth.

Focus on action and learn to stop worrying about failure, taking it as a learning tool.

Life isn’t black and white, but in a shade of grey. Our expectations about doing things perfectly and wanting the results in absolute terms is often unrealistic and hinders our progress.

We need to take the first step and get used to action, without being stressed up about the results. We can improvise and optimize as we go.

  • We mistakenly think that if something feels difficult and out of our comfort zone, then it is not ‘us’, paving the way for resistance.
  • The task is difficult because we haven’t done it before, and avoiding it only hinders our growth.
  • Inversely, anything looks easy when you know exactly how it’s done.
  • Great achievers fall prey to this line of thinking when they are termed overly ambitious.
  • Fear is a natural and common emotion even with full-preparedness.
  • Whenever we do something that leads us towards growth, there is a certain kind of resistance and discomfort known as ‘flinch’.
  • This kind of fear happens to us when we are about to give a live public appearance or a live video, or when we approach someone for the first time, starting an uncomfortable conversation.

Loss aversion is a big reason for fearing to do a project. Making progress sounds great, but correcting mistakes and counting your losses seems like an avoidable activity.

We want things to be perfect, and bad days are not really motivating for us. We need to embrace the imperfections, uncertainty and the so-called bad days and move ahead with our goal.

We think we have worked all these years and achieved a certain level, and attempting something new and outrageously out of our league will make us into a ‘newbie’, something learning the ropes and making mistakes.

Getting out of our comfort zones may not feel ‘comfy’ but is good for our personal growth and eventual success. Reaching the next level is not easy, but pays off big in the long run.

Procrastination: The How And Why

We usually procrastinate instead of being productive due to various reasons like having fun being distracted (like playing video games) or just lounging around as the task is too easy (or too difficult).

We start with a big, audacious goal and quickly realize that it is not feasible. Our lack of expertise is also a perfect excuse to slack around, as we fail to break down the task into smaller ones or take the first step.

There is a denial of procrastination, where we are telling ourselves that we are working as we should and there is no problem at all. The valid justifications we make to cover the problem or delay is essentially an excuse.

We make excuses as it is a valid cover to protect our self interest, and we often blame other people and circumstances to cover our own failure. If we could simply stop making excuses and start calling a spade a spade, we would learn a lot from our own behaviour.

There are real consequences of not reaching office on time, or not meeting a project deadline, and that makes us focus on work, instead of our exercise, nutrition, reading or meditation.

The consequences of missing our beloved activity or hobby or even the relaxing walk in the park are not felt right there. We habitually prioritize work as we try to squeeze stuff we like to do in the small pockets of time we get in between.

We Are Always Paying Others
  • Most of the time, we spend our money, energy and time on obligations and things that benefit others, not us.
  • We exhaust ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally and financially due to our current tasks and to-do lists that consume us.
  • We need to think about our future selves as our biggest obligation and turn our focus outside of the routine work we do all day, and towards ourselves.

We need to list out a set of non-negotiables that we first need to do to pay ourselves**, and then work on paying others.**

It is embarrassing to know that even by browsing Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, we are paying those companies with our time, attention, and cognitive resources. We usually check our social media notifications when we get up. We check email, Slack and random stuff that catches our eye and even do some work that is assigned for early morning.

  1. Prioritize your 2 to 3 non-negotiables in the morning, what you can do on your own.
  2. Do stuff you love doing and what makes you relaxed, and define them clearly.
  3. Write it down on your to-do list as an important item to check off every day.
  4. Don’t mix with any work-related stuff.
  5. Review and improvise on your list.

A few examples: Meditating, exercising, writing a journal, reading, going for a walk.

Each of us has an ideal list of things we would want to do or ourselves, right from the moment we get up. It can be reading for pleasure, enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee, or taking the dog out for a refreshing walk in the park.

One can allot an hour or more to these non-negotiables and make it a true non-negotiable by blocking out everything else, like work commitments, meetings, emails, social media or any official/work-related interaction.

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