Have you ever reached the end of your day and found that your biggest priorities were largely untouched? How can it be that no matter how many lists we make and how many times we review our priorities, time continues to slip through our hands? Often the source of these time sinks is a lack of diligence at a few critical moments throughout the day. These “Time Sinks” can cause us to lose heart, feel lazy and generally lose our productive momentum.
Contrary to popular belief, all time is not created equal. A moment can seem like an hour, and an hour can be fleeting. By turning these Time Sinks into Time Warp moments, we can set ourselves up for greater daily productivity.
The First Fifteen Minutes Of Your Day
What do you do when you get out of bed? Many people jump into their day in a scattered manner. They jump out of bed, turn on the TV, grab some coffee, check e-mail and – for some – spend time getting the family ready for the day.
What if you were to take a bit of time at the beginning of the day to clarify your objectives and set priorities for the day? What if you were to do a last minute assessment of your upcoming day and choose when you were going to do your most important work?
Airplane pilots understand how familiarity can dull the senses. Accordingly, no matter how many times they’ve flown a plane, all pilots go through a final pre-flight checklist to make sure that they’re ready to fly and haven’t missed any crucial steps. In a similar way, taking fifteen quiet minutes at the very beginning of your day to review your schedule and priorities and decide where your focused pockets of productive work are going to happen can make a huge difference in your productive output.
Contrary to popular belief, all time is not created equal. A moment can seem like an hour, and an hour can be fleeting.
The Ten Minutes Before A Meeting
Tell me if this sounds familiar: it’s meeting time and everyone comes rushing in from their previous commitment. A few people are late. The conversation at the beginning feels like a long train struggling to gain forward momentum. Finally, ten minutes in, the real meeting kicks off.
Now, imagine that everyone on your team took ten minutes before the meeting to think through (1) what are we really trying to do in this meeting?, (2) what is my unique contribution to the conversation?, and (3) how will we know the meeting is finished? Not only would everyone arrive at the meeting on time, they would also come ready to contribute to a productive conversation.
Even if you can’t change your team culture, what if you implemented a practice of taking ten minutes before each meeting to answer these questions? It would make you more focused, a better contributor and more aligned throughout your day with what’s expected of you.
The “Space Between”
The most challenging time sinks are when we have ten to fifteen minutes between our major commitments. It’s tempting to cruise through this time in “maintenance mode”, meaning that we respond to e-mail, have spontaneous conversations or generally bounce from urgent task to urgent task, often rushing into our next commitment stressed and unready to engage.
Instead, it can be helpful to take five minutes several times throughout your day to get away, glance again at your priorities, your upcoming commitments, and to ask if anything has changed that causes a need to re-direct or re-prioritize your day. No matter how good our plan for the day, there are always things that come up that cause a need for re-direction. Give yourself permission to change your commitments as needed and to re-negotiate your priorities. Additionally, you may want to build buffers into your day between stressful events to make sure that you’re being mindful of energy.
The Last Fifteen Minutes Of Your Day
It’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted. You have a lot coming up tomorrow, so you want to get a good night’s sleep. But before you fall comatose into your bed, you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time reflecting on your day and preparing for tomorrow.
It’s said that Ben Franklin began each day by asking “What good will I do today”, and ended each day by asking “What good did I do today?” In a similar way, taking a few minutes at the end of your day to review your accomplishments and how they line up with your overall priorities, values and objectives can help you stay on track throughout the week. Additionally, taking just a few minutes to bring to mind one creative problem or objective that you plan to attack the following day can set you up to hit the ground running the following morning. (It’s also been reported by many creatives that they find ideas coalescing overnight because of this kind of pre-sleep prompting.)
Use the last few minutes before sleep to re-claim your focus and ease your mind for a good night’s sleep.
Do The Time Warp
These are just a few methods that I’ve found very effective for leveraging small pockets of time for maximum effect. Remember that time is the currency of productivity, and make sure that you’re not devaluing it.
Are there methods or practices that you’ve found effective for re-claiming your time? Please share them with the rest of us!