Recently, I’ve come to realize that I’m basically a pro at being ineffective with my time. I’m not the type of person to waste time deliberately. I could never sit in front of a television or surf YouTube videos for hours on end. If I ever do play video games, after a little while I realize how much else I could be doing with my time and turn it off. I always have a mental to-do list going on, not to mention the ones I have on my phone, in my pocket and on my nightstand.
So it’s not that I spend large blocks of time that kill my productivity. And to be completely honest, I don’t think I’m really all that bad. There are just two main things that distract me from the task at hand or keep my mind so jumbled that it feels like a 7-lane highway, making it almost impossible to keep the connection between what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. So, if you want to be like me (and I’m sure you all do :)), here’s how to do it.
This a little ironic, actually. A few years back, I had a friend who always joked with me about how much I loved to “plan to plan to plan”. I knew how important it was and I always had a back-up plan for everything. When you work full-time and go to school full-time, you really have to live that way if you want any semblance of a social life. Through all that, I was able to meet, date and marry my wife, so it all worked out somehow. But since then, life has become more complex and there’s so much to do that any time spent planning takes away from the things I actually have to do.
In the short term, it helps to make sure I get things done, but over the long term, it makes it harder to actually move in the direction I want to. Take my blog, for example. Who knew how complicated running a blog would be? At first, it seemed like it was just about coming up with things to write about and getting them onto the site. But along with that, there’s SEO, advertising, guest posts, marketing, improving site design and security, networking, creating a newsletter and so much more. Lately I haven’t gotten much of this done, and that’s because without a plan, we’re like water. We follow the path of least resistance. Without a plan, I gravitate to doing the things that are easiest and end up pushing off the more important things.
The same thing goes for exercising. Without a plan, you better believe I’m not going to exercise. But if I have a plan and I have ways to keep myself accountable in place, I’m much more likely to succeed and reach my goals. Sometimes it’s hard to think about creating huge goals, but what I find best is to have a big goal and then a lot of little goals that act as breadcrumbs (or gummy bears!) along the way.
Twatching is a term created for those people who are constantly watching their Twitter feed for updates. For me, it goes a little like this: I sit down to write a blog post. Along with the browser tab for my new post, though, are tabs for my email, Twitter and Facebook. Every so often (it may or may not average once every ten or so seconds) my eyes flick to the top of the screen to see if there is a new notification or email. Most of the time there’s nothing, but if there is something new, that’s what I’ll be doing for the next minute or so.
The problem is that we think to ourselves, it only takes a second to check an email or a notification, but what happens is that it breaks your train of thought, and it can take up to 18 minutes to get your brain back to focusing on what you are trying to do. It’s even worse when you check that notification and you end up seeing another link or update that starts you on an hour-long adventure across the Internet reading funny memes or arguing with people about politics. (I’d like to think I’m not the only person who does this. Please tell me you do. It would make me feel a lot better.)
So the best course of action, something I’ll be working on ASAP, is to stop trying to multitask. Doing one thing at a time may seem like the slower way to go when you can do a lot of little things at a time, but breaking your focus can make it harder to get it all done or it may kill the quality of what you’re trying to do because your focus is everywhere else. New goal for me: One browser tab at a time.
Time is of the essence
Every single person in this world has 168 hours in a week. It’s interesting to note that people like Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa and Leonardo da Vinci had the same amount of time in their weeks. Sometimes I wonder how I can make as big of an impact as I want to in the world with the little amount of time I have. But lately I’ve realized that the impact will come when I start using my time more wisely, no matter what it is I want to do.
Putting together a plan and working to focus better on the task at hand are things I’m going to be working on. What are some things that have helped you be more effective with your time?
Hooray for the First Friday Link Party!