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WHY TIME FLIES

Boredom makes time “drag,” but time “flies by” when we having fun. Time flies only in retrospect when you weren’t consciously “tracking” in the moment. You have a sense of change in your mind or in the objects around you during your “passage through things.” That’s how you can “lose track of time” driving home. Keele University psychologist John Wearden says your time perception is indirect: You perceive light when photons strike your eyes’ retinal cells; your sense of time depends on the light you see.

In experiments with timed rewards, dogs and rats show eerie time-span-learning abilities. “Scalar Timing in Memory,” a seminal 1984 paper, proposed what is known now as a pacemaker-accumulator or information-processing model which effectively a neural “clock with a memory.” Stimulants boost the clock’s speed, causing overestimated duration; depressants do the opposite. Separately, when Wearden primed people’s internal clocks with audio clicks, he found humans could react faster. Emotional state affects time perception; for example, curse words seem to flit by faster than non-expletives.

Arousal is the physiological preparation for action which is connected with strong emotions like anger. It appears to speed up the pacemaker-accelerator model, compressing more ticks into a given moment. Arousal also occurs when you unconsciously mimic someone else’s facial expression. An empathetic time perception connects you, creating a shared social distortion in how you both experience time. Parkinson’s disease causes time-interval misjudgments. Faulty interval timing also may prove to be a factor in autism. The “neuroscience of time” highlights its subjectivity. For example, take the common notion that time seems to pass more quickly for people as they age. Early “ratio theories” suggested this phenomenon relies on subjective judgment of a given duration -say, a year as a percentage of total life lived. Recent studies show this idea is folk wisdom, possibly instilled by the power of suggestion. At any age, time seems to pass more quickly when you’re busy and content.

Being There

Everyone struggles to focus on the present. With his Dasein (German for “one’s being” or “to be there”) concept, Heidegger suggested that you can’t really evaluate a life until it’s over. As in Augustine’s “tension of consciousness,” Heidegger said time is inextricably linked to the pull of the future. Newly aware of time’s passage, children start to ask about death at about the same time their sense of self coheres. In many ways, your attitude toward inevitable decay – like the dissolution of a sand castle – defines your “relationship to time” and to how you live your unique, time-constrained life.

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THE PRESENT?

Greek philosophers including Zeno, Plato and Aristotle always pondered about time. Augustine first expressed an internalized view of time as words and actions, and questioned the existence of “past” and “future.” Radically for his era, he saw time as a purely mental phenomenon. In 1860, zoologist Karl Ernst Von Baer pondered the duration of “now” and challenged prevalent notions of persistence. He told the Russian Entomological Society that “nothing lasts” not even mountains.

A massive 1890 treatise, Principles of Psychology, by US philosopher, psychologist and insomniac William James had an influential chapter on time perception. Skeptical of time as something concrete, he perceived only a “series of duration”: Empty moments don’t exist; your thoughts fill them. He quotes E.R. Clay, saying that people live in an illusory “specious present.” Later philosophers such as Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), embraced a similarly subjective view of time.

The microscope and telescope instilled appreciation of the “relativity of scales.” Laser experiments now probe down to the “attosecond” (10-18 of a second); University of Ottawa physicist Paul Corkum calls this “newfound slice of time…the real timescale of matter.”

Swiss astronomer Adolph Hirsch (1830-1901), founder of the Neuchâtel Observatory, noted errors in observations of star transit times and discussed what he called “physiological time.”

Brain-related terminology like “signals” and “transmit” hail the invention of the telegraph. To mitigate railroad chaos, the United States reduced its dozens of time zones from somewhere between 60 and 100 to only four on “the Day of Two Noons” at precisely noon on November 18, 1883. The world followed, establishing 24 global times zones. This cemented the idea of time as a social “convention”, one that furthered industrialization overturning Sir Isaac Newton’s view of time as universally “homogeneous.” The brain expects a coherent story of “this moment,” but “neural latency”, asynchronous delays in sensory signals which precludes “real time” perception. Your brain buffers these signals, always building a patchwork at least 80 milliseconds out of date. Blinking your eyes may act as a regular reset of the brain’s sense of now.

All language depends on timing and temporal order. Translators don’t translate simultaneously; they pause long enough to understand incoming phrases, but not so long that they forget them. In his wide-ranging, influential 1963 book, The Psychology of Time, psychologist Paul Fraisse interpreted this inherent past-future tension as a “frustration” in human consciousness. People feel frustrated because something hasn’t happened yet or because they anticipate that something good is going to end. “The feeling of duration thus arises from a comparison of what is and what will be.”

Differences in the “coding efficiencies” of different neuron groups may explain why stronger, emotionally intense stimuli seem to last longer than weak ones. In an experiment, volunteers free-falling on a thrill-ride wore what neuroscientist David Eagleman called a wrist-mounted “perceptual chronometer.” No volunteer could read the dial, showing that time doesn’t really slow down during distortions in duration-perception.

Infant Time

Psychologist Jean Piaget’s 1969 book, A Child’s Conception of Time, reports on studies showing that what he calls an adult’s “sense of time” emerges gradually in a child’s mind. Initially, children conflate time with space. They understand the idea of past tense at about age two, and their sense of the order of time starts to settle in at around three or four.

In eye-tracker studies, developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz found that babies don’t notice asynchrony between lip motion and word sounds nearly as much as adults do. The sense of face/sound synchrony develops via a phenomenon known as “perceptual narrowing” as the child grows. Lacking neural myelin, a baby’s brain transmits signals relatively slowly, so its window of now yawns wider than an adult’s does.

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OUR DAY

Temporal orientation is what psychologists call happens when you wake up during the night and know the time without looking at the clock or when you know “where you are” in the week. Planets tick; atoms tick, your two main “circadian-clock genes” also tick as they switch off and on with the cycle of time.

Time perception

Your inner, complex sense of “duration, temporal order, tense” and “nowness” doesn’t arise from one organ in your body. Instead, adult awareness of the “arrow of time” a constant and subjective perception develops gradually from early childhood. Almost all languages have tenses. People think and speak in terms of time.

“Circadian Clock”

The circadian clock, affects nearly all animals. Human body temperature, resting heartbeat, blood pressure, facial hair growth and hormone levels follow a circadian cycle. Night-shift workers defy these rhythms but suffer low alertness, risking accidents. Shift-workers’ “metabolic disorder” may arise from constantly mistimed meals. By around 20 weeks old, the human fetus shows circadian activity, regulated by chemicals such as melatonin flowing through the placenta. The fetus synchronizes with its mother’s rhythm. Cycled electric lighting in neonatal units helps babies adjust to natural night and day. Babies who drink breast milk, which has melatonin synthesizing tryptophan, appear to adjust more quickly.

Daylight is a zeitgeber (a rhythmically occurring natural phenomenon which acts as a cue in the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythms) which is a biological “time-giver” in many organisms. Constant summer daylight disorientates new residents at the Toolik Field Station on Alaska’s North Slope. Some adopt a by-the-clock sleep pattern; others ignore the sun and follow their own patterns. Polar animals show various circadian adaptations. The non-circadian Arctic reindeer wakes and sleeps in direct response to light. Driven by biology, human light sensitivity peaks in the mornings. “Homeostatic pressure” the accumulation of drowsiness-inducing adenosine in the body builds when you’re awake. When enough builds up, you sleep. You can fight the buildup by napping or drinking caffeine, but you can’t fight the predawn circadian increase in body temperature that wakes you up. Therefore, controlling your waking and sleeping cycle.

Special Relativity & Time

As per Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, the faster you move, the more time slows. Astronauts in orbit and jet plane passengers age fractionally more slowly than people on the ground. The 24 time zones with “time zero” at Greenwich offer a clear definition of noon, the sun in its zenith everywhere on this rotating planet. With jet lag, your body’s internal clocks de-synchronize. Eating in-flight meals on your destination’s timetable may help. Humans who go to Mars will find the days 39 minutes longer than on Earth. One study says human circadian rhythms can’t adapt, but others show acclimatization via gradual exposure to sun-equivalent light on a Mars schedule.

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TIME MEASUREMENT HISTORY

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (the Bureau), near Paris, is headquarters to global scientists who calibrate the world’s units of measure that includes meter, kilogram and second. World’s timepieces including those on GPS satellites keep in step by syncing with the Bureau’s Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Historically, people used Earth’s rotation as their master clock, tracked with sundials and early water clocks. In 1656, Christiaan Huygens invented the gravity-driven pendulum clock. In 1670, William Clement’s clock was the first to tick-tock the seconds – like hours and minutes, a human-devised division of the day. Up to the early 20th century, Britain led the way in time standardization with “Greenwich Mean Time” set by the clock of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The quartz clock, measuring the second as a set number of times a quartz crystal vibrates “in an oscillating electric field” (in most applications 215 Hz which is 32,768 cycles per second), arrived in the 20th century. Using an electric field instead of gravity can make time-keeping more precise.

In the 1960s, atomic clocks redefined the second “based on the cesium atom” which undergoes 9,192,631,770 quantum vibrations each second and revealed the gradual slowing of Earth’s spin, necessitating the addition of nearly half a minute’s worth of “leap seconds” since 1972 to keep atomic time in sync with rotation-based time. America’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides the official time through servers synced to computers and GPS devices. Gathering readings from NIST’s atomic clock and others worldwide, the Bureau averages the differences.

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About Time ?

Time, matter, energy, change and gravity came into existence with the Big Bang.

Whether using sundials, water clocks, pendulums, quartz crystals or atomic clocks, people strive to mark the passage of time with ever-greater accuracy.

The Coordinated Universal Time provides the standard for setting all timepieces.

Historically, people used Earth’s rotation as their master clock; they tracked it via sundials and early water clocks.

Scientists agree time doesn’t exist beyond the subjective experience of its passage.

With his theory of special relativity, Albert Einstein overturned the established Newtonian view of time as a “homogenous” entity independent of mind and locality.

Because of “neural latency,” the brain retrospectively conflates its story of “now.”

Children develop a sense of time gradually, grasping the idea of past tense at age two.

Strong emotions, socializing, drugs and even implied motion in a still image can “bend” your perception of time.

The idea that time passes more quickly as you age is just folk wisdom. At any age, time seems to pass more quickly when you’re busy and content.

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How do you know its time for a change?

Do you recognize when it’s time to redefine your job or explore new work opportunities?

Watch for these signs that you’ve outgrown your current role and are ready for a change:

  • Restlessness or boredom
  • Envy of what others do for work
  • Inability to imagine a future you want to move toward
  • Tendency to overreact to small problems
  • Need for more intellectual challenge, financial compensation, flexibility, or autonomy
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How to make the most of your travel time

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For most business executive, travel is essential, to make the most of it:

  • Take paperwork and work-related reading. You can be productive while you are waiting in terminals or in transit.
  • Use the interruption-free travel time to your advantage. Spend time thinking about your strategic challenges or planning new initiatives. I usually spend more time to actually plan my career growth based on current set of circumstances and progress/
  • Make the most of your travel days. If you are flying to a city for a morning meeting, schedule afternoon meetings with customers, vendors, or other organizations you do business with. It will reduce the cost to operate (OPEX) for your company as well as give you more fulfillment.
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How to free up of your workday time?

Majority of our workday time is consumed on discretionary tasks that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handed competently by others. This would include things like administrative works and pointless meetings.

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Among common quotes I heard is “Why do it yourself, if other can do it better & faster‘. Although logically it would make sense and easy to off-load or delegate some of this works, or at least to me, it sometime hard to do. Among the reason I believe include

  • Typically, most of us feel bad off-loading work.
  • We don’t want to let our colleague / employers down.
  • we worried our support staff won’t be able to do it as well as we can.
  • Frankly, we want  to feel & look busy even if its with mundane tasks.

But to be truly and fully productive & successful at work, you have to focus on your most important task, to re-think and prioritize your activities, delegating or outsourcing anything that fall below the bar (I referring to your own standard of critical tasks).

In order to help me maximize my time usage, I just remember this 5-steps process (Identify > Decide > Off-load > Allocate > Commit).

  1. IDENTIFY – Some might resort to time diary to clearly identify their daily time consumption rate ( i don’t have the time luxury to actually do this). However, it can easily done by identifying low value added task in your daily routine. For example, ask yourself, it is really necessary to spend so much time beautifying that presentation? Isn’t there anyone else whom can do that for you?
  2. DECIDE – Once your identified your tasks, decide whether to drop, delegate, our-source or redesign your tasks.
  3. OFF-LOAD – Pass or delegate 20% of your work to colleague / employee / support staff with no decline in productivity / quality. This would not only free-up your valuable time but also would be seen as empowering your colleague / employee / support staff.
  4. ALLOCATE – Allocate your free-up time carefully. Fill your free-up time with business critical work. Also you might consider to list your business critical work based on priorities and urgency.
  5. COMMIT – Commit to your plan by sharing it with your boss / employer/colleague.

One additional note, in order to guide you through your 5-step process, you might consider using YOUR GOAL as a guide.

WHY?

  1. It helps you to gain a sense of direction for you & your team.
  2. Devote less energy and valuable time to non-critical tasks.
  3. Increase your job motivation & satisfaction.
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Sustain Your Productivity Gains

It takes practice, persistence, and self-awareness to effectively manage your time. Learn how to overcome obstacles to good time management and develop new habits.

Control time-wasters

As you begin working toward your goals and adjusting your schedule, you’ll encounter obstacles that prevent you from using your time effectively. An important part of developing your time management skills is to recognize these obstacles and to work to overcome them.

Procrastination

Procrastination is the habit of delaying or putting off doing something that should be done right away. Everyone procrastinates sometimes. But when people procrastinate, they run the risk of jeopardizing their projects—and their reputations.

Procrastination also adds stress. Putting off tasks doesn’t mean they disappear—those unfinished jobs often weigh on people’s minds. The last-minute scramble to complete high-priority items creates chaos and increases the likelihood of errors.

Because people procrastinate for different reasons, different strategies are useful for overcoming the problem & Strategy to overcome it:

Unpleasant or uninteresting task

  • Delegate the task to someone who doesn’t find it unpleasant.
  • Admit you’re procrastinating—and then get the job done.
  • Envision how good you’ll feel once you’ve completed the task.
  • Schedule the task in a way that makes turning back impossible or costly. For example, commit to paying a contract worker for a job, starting on a specific date.
  • Consider the impact of not completing the task on your coworkers or on your other projects.

Fear of failure

  • If you lack the training or resources needed to complete an assignment, get the help you need.
  • If your fear stems from lack of self-confidence, defuse it by listing all the tasks you have to do to complete the job. You’ll likely find that you know how to do most of them.
  • Start with something you know. Any kind of movement on the task can help dispel fear.

Unclear starting point

  • Jump in anywhere. You’ll likely find a productive way forward.
  • Break a difficult or overwhelming task into smaller, manageable ones.
  • At the end of the day, spend a few minutes on a task you want to work on the next morning. For example, you may jot down some notes about a report you need to write. The next day, you’ll probably find it easier to continue working on the project than if you hadn’t already started it.

Schedule overload

Many managers take on more commitments and responsibilities than they can handle. They then find themselves working nights and weekends to hit their deadlines. In some cases, people feel that, no matter what they do, they will never catch up.

Avoid schedule overload

To avoid schedule overload:

  • Know your key responsibilities and goals. Avoid taking on activities that don’t align with these objectives.
  • Help others improve their performance. If others aren’t doing their jobs or aren’t performing to your standards, support them in improving their performance rather than taking over their tasks.
  • Don’t assume everything has to be done. Concentrate your energy on tasks that truly matter.
  • Learn to turn down assignments. Explain your current responsibilities, point out how taking on an unrelated task will jeopardize your shared goals, and offer a reasonable alternative.

Unmanaged email and paperwork

Most managers are bombarded with email. Sorting through and responding to email can eat up a good part of your time.

To avoid losing valuable time to email:

  • Check email only at assigned times. Turn off the email alert so you won’t be tempted to look at messages as they come in.
  • Ask personal correspondents to use your home email address. It may seem more efficient to use one address for all email, but doing so increases the chances that you will be distracted.
  • “Triage” your messages. Move urgent messages to a folder labeled “Urgent.” Deal with these at a specified time. Move other messages to a “Later” folder and respond to them after handling the high-priority tasks on your schedule.
  • Ask people to create detailed subject lines for their messages. This will help you decide whether to delete a message, act on it immediately, or deal with it later.
  • Let people know the kinds of conversations you want to have—and don’t want to have—by email. If a topic requires more than one or two email exchanges, you’re probably better off handling the issue by phone or in person.

Paperwork can also impede good time management. When people have to sort through piles and folders to find documents they need, they waste valuable time.

To manage paperwork efficiently:

  • If a paper communication doesn’t require a response from you, skim it, and then toss or file it.
  • If a paper communication does require a response from you, respond immediately, then toss or file it.
  • If you’re too busy to respond right away, put the document in a “Later” file. Be sure to rank the items by priority.

Manage your attention *

In today’s business environment, 24/7 connectivity, an endless stream of information, and competing demands make it difficult for managers to focus. You may find yourself in a perpetual state of distraction as you try to juggle multiple tasks at once. But to be productive, you need to be able to focus your attention on just one thing and keep it there for an extended period of time.

Overcome distraction

Fortunately, you can develop and strengthen your ability to control your attention. Begin by simply being aware of the four stages of distraction you go through every time you try to focus:

  1. You choose something to focus on, such as an action item on your to-do list.
  2. Eventually, your mind wanders. This is something that inevitably happens, no matter how important a task is or how involved you are.
  3. You realize that you have become distracted.
  4. At that point, you either choose to return to your original focus or decide to do something else.

Repeat the process for the same and different areas of focus. At first, you will likely only notice how your thoughts pass through these four stages. Eventually, you will find that the pattern starts to change, and you tend to stay with the original focus (step 1) longer. You will soon realize that it takes diligence, not innate capabilities, to strengthen your ability to focus your attention.

Avoid multitasking

People often boast about how good they are at multitasking. They think they are getting more done by juggling multiple tasks at once, but studies show that they really aren’t. When people multitask, their productivity actually decreases by as much as 40%. * This is because instead of working on two or more things simultaneously, they are actually shifting rapidly from one task to another. The shift interrupts their concentration and ultimately results in lost time.

To resist the temptation to multitask:

  • Bring your full attention to each task. Concentrate on a single task until it is finished. Then consciously shift to the next item on your list.
  • Work sequentially. If you are facing two important tasks, decide which one requires your focus first. Once you finish it, you can turn to the second one.
  • Keep your desk clear. Remove items related to tasks you aren’t working on at the moment. This will help you stay focused on the job at hand, rather than allowing your mind to drift to another task. For example, put a new client’s folder into a drawer until you can devote your full attention to it.

Limit interruptions

Many companies have a culture built on open communication and teamwork. In this type of workplace, managers are often expected to be available to their employees and coworkers at all times. These environments can be exciting, but they can also be prone to constant interruptions.

To avoid being pulled off task by interruptions:

  • Evaluate the situation. Determine if an unexpected visitor has an issue that has to be dealt with immediately or if it can wait.
  • Schedule the conversation. If possible, schedule another time to meet with the person. For example, say, “I think I can help you, but right now I’m in the middle of something. Can we meet about this after lunch?”
  • Refer the visitor to another appropriate person. You might say, “I can’t pull away right now, but check with Carlos and see if he can help. Let me know what the two of you work out.”
  • Use reminders. Before you break away from your work, make a note of where you are so you can return to that task after the interruption.
  • Establish regular “office hours.” If people frequently need your input, set up times when you’re available to answer questions or help solve problems; for example, every afternoon from 3 to 4 p.m.

Manage your energy *

As a manager, your work is likely demanding. Time is a limited resource, but fortunately your personal energy is renewable. Create simple rituals to help you strengthen and replenish your resilience in four areas: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

To replenish your energy in each of these areas:

Physical energy (Take care of your physical self.)

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise several times a week.
  • Eat nutritious food and drink lots of water.

Emotional energy (Cultivate positive emotions.)

  • Use deep breathing to defuse negative emotions—irritability, impatience, anxiety, and insecurity.
  • Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation to people.
  • Look at upsetting situationsthrough new lenses:
    • Use a reverse lens to ask, “What would the other people in this conflict say, and how might they be right?”
    • Use a long lens to ask, “How will I likely view this situation in six months?”
    • Use a wide lens to ask, “How can I grow and learn from this situation?”

Mental energy (Gain control of your attention so you can focus.)

  • Take short breaks throughout the day. Breaks allow your mind to rejuvenate so you can continue to concentrate.
  • Set aside time for thinking, planning, and worrying.
  • Switch between high- and low-attention tasks. For example, if you spent hours on a detailed budget, make your next task something that requires less concentration.

Spiritual energy (Define purpose in what you do.)

  • Do more of the activities that fulfill you. If you enjoy writing but dislike creating budgets, partner with someone who has the opposite preference.
  • Allocate time and energy to what you consider most important. For example, spend the last 20 minutes of your evening commute relaxing, so you can connect with your family once you’re home.
  • Live your core values. For instance, if being considerate is important to you but you’re usually late for meetings, practice showing up five minutes early.

Balance work and personal time

If your work life infringes on your personal life, you’re not alone. Demanding and engaging jobs consume time and energy. Mobile communication devices make it easy to return work-related messages during off hours. Many managers feel they have little time to get together with friends and family, fulfill community commitments, and explore personal interests.

To keep your work and personal goals in balance, follow a process similar to the one you use to manage your time at work:

  1. Clarify your personal goals. Do you want to learn to play the violin? Or master Italian cooking? Identify the goals that would be most fulfilling for you and then make them a priority.
  2. Identify the tasks you must complete. If your goal is to master Italian cooking, research and sign up for a class. Or if your goal is to get to three of your child’s soccer games, figure out what you need to do to leave the office early on those days.
  3. Schedule your tasks and goals. Add the Italian cooking class to your schedule so nothing else can get booked in that slot. If you don’t have enough open space on your calendar, create an activity log for your personal time. Analyze your log to see if you’re wasting time on activities that don’t support your highest personal goals.

Develop new habits

Simply recognizing that you struggle with time management isn’t a solution. To correct the problem, you’ll need to develop new habits. You form these by repeatedly practicing a new, more effective behavior.

Start by changing one thing. For example, at the end of the workday, you might make a point of spending 15 minutes organizing your desk. Or at the end of the week, you might regularly schedule two hours to take care of tasks you didn’t get to during the week. By committing to these kinds of actions, you begin to develop new routines and habits.

If the change doesn’t seem to be working, keep trying new things until you find something that does. When you do succeed in making a change, acknowledge your success—and then work on changing something else. It’s a slow—but ultimately rewarding—process that requires persistence and patience.

EXAMPLE

To improve her time management, Sabrina decided to respond to emails right after lunch each day. But she was never sure how much time she would need, because the volume of email varied. Sabrina eventually decided that she would schedule 15 minutes for answering email midmorning and 15 minutes in the late afternoon. She would respond to the most important emails first and, if necessary, address less important ones at another time.

Create rituals

The key to making lasting change is to make your new habit a ritual—something you automatically do at a specific time. Eventually, these behaviors will require less energy and thought than they previously did. An example of a ritual is brushing your teeth before going to bed. You probably don’t even think about it—you just do it.Examples of good time management rituals include:

  • Accomplishing one key task first thing in the morning
  • Turning off your cell phone before you go into a meeting
  • Choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator

Decide what behavior you want to change, design a ritual that will support the new behavior, and then discipline yourself to do it. Eventually, the behavior will become automatic.

Use “if-then” planning

Sometimes you may have difficulty changing your behavior. One way to make your actions more predictable is through “if-then” planning.

In “if-then” planning, you decide in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal. You plan that, if a certain trigger happens, then you will take a predetermined action. For example, “If it is 4 p.m., then I will return phone calls.”

By triggering a new behavior in this way, you can increase your chances of success by roughly 300%. * Because you’ve already decided exactly what you need to do in this situation, you can execute the plan without having to consciously think about it.

EXAMPLE

Some examples of “if-then” planning include:

  • If I run into colleagues at the coffee machine, then I will chat with them for five minutes and head back to work.
  • If it is Friday, then I will finish my expense report before the end of the day.
  • If I haven’t returned important calls before my morning meeting, then I will make it my top priority when I return.

Build in rewards

Sometimes you may need extra motivation to complete items on your to-do list. This is especially true for work that’s tedious—like recording billable hours—or emotionally or mentally taxing—like dealing with angry clients or writing complex reports. In these cases, you may want to create additional incentives to address your to-dos.

To set up a reward system:

  • For complex projects, build in rewards for when you reach certain milestones. For example, if you are working on a long report or calculating a budget for a large project, allow yourself to grab a cup of coffee after you complete the first three sections.
  • For small tasks, build in rewards for finishing several of them. For example, for every six emails you return, reward yourself with a short break.

Because everyone is different, make a list of incentives that you find motivating. You may find enjoyment in reading the latest trade magazine, whereas someone else may be motivated by the promise of a 10-minute walk. You’ll know your reward system is working when your to-do list no longer includes tasks you’ve been avoiding for weeks.

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Create a Realistic Schedule

A well-designed schedule and detailed to-do list can make the difference in how you manage your time. Learn how to schedule your time in ways that work for you.

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Develop your schedule

Now that you know how you spend your time and have identified possible areas of improvement, you’re ready to begin scheduling your time more effectively.

detailed schedule enables you to:

  • Commit to accomplishing certain tasks within a specific time frame.
  • Visualize your available time and your plan for allocating it.
  • Easily see uncommitted blocks of time.
  • Ensure that your A- and B-priority tasks are occupying most of your time.
  • Minimize stress by avoiding committing to too many tasks at the same time.

There are many different types of scheduling tools, including:

  • Phone-based calendar apps
  • Paper-based planners
  • Integrated calendar and task management software
  • Networked scheduling programs
  • Wall or desk calendars

Your organization may provide these tools. If you aren’t comfortable with the tool provided, find one that fits your personal style. You’ll be more likely to use a system that meets your needs.

Start with your priorities

When building your schedule, always begin with your A-priority tasks. Insert them into appropriate time slots over the coming days, weeks, or months. By scheduling these first, you are sure to have time to deal with your most important responsibilities. Then assign your B-priority tasks to specific time slots.

Keep in mind that you have periods of high and low energy each day. For example, right after lunch is a time of low energy for many people. Schedule activities that require concentration and creativity during your peak energy periods. Schedule routine tasks, such as handling email or reviewing reports, during low-energy periods.

Recognize Your Energy-Level Patterns
Energy-level patterns graph.

Build in flexibility

An effective schedule gives you the ability to respond to the unexpected without undermining your priorities or creating stress. As a manager, you’ll likely find that your days are unpredictable. Crises develop, you are pulled into meetings, and unexpected opportunities arise that require attention. To accommodate these situations, build flexibility into your schedule:

  • Don’t book every minute. Leave time to deal with crises and unexpected demands.
  • Avoid back-to-back meetings. You need time after each meeting to process the information and execute action items.
  • Include breaks. By incorporating moments to rest and reflect, you’ll improve your focus.
  • Look ahead. Plan to complete activities ahead of deadlines to give yourself leeway in case something unexpected comes up.

Greater flexibility won’t make your day any less full, but it will ensure that you have time to handle the things that matter most.

Make time for re-planning *

No schedule is perfect. Often, you’ll realize that you aren’t going to accomplish what you planned to do; for example, phone calls and emergencies invaded your time, and the day is slipping away.

When this happens, embrace change as part of your time management process. Course corrections are often necessary. Learn to evaluate your success by how you invested your time based on the circumstances that arose that day, not by whether or not you did everything as originally scheduled.

When unexpected demands crop up, take a few minutes to reassess your goals and plans for the day. Begin by identifying times to work on uncompleted priority tasks, bumping lower-priority tasks if necessary. Then look at the amount of time you have left and determine what else you can accomplish.

As you think about how to reallocate your time, consider:

  • What is most important now?
  • Can you make any trade-offs? For example, if you attended a daily project meeting yesterday, can you skip it today to take care of something more pressing?
  • What can you delegate?
  • What can you say “no” to?
  • What deadlines and timelines can you change?
  • What can you do less of—and less perfectly—yet still add value?

Spontaneity plays an important part in implementing your plans. You may feel you can’t take the time to re-plan your day—after all, you’re already behind schedule. But by doing so, you’ll find you make better use of the remaining time you do have while reducing your stress.

Create effective to-do lists

to-do list is one of the simplest and most commonly used scheduling tools. It captures all the tasks you need to complete in a certain time frame. Many people use a to-do list in combination with a weekly or monthly schedule, and most day planners and computer- and phone-based calendars have built-in to-do lists.

An effective to-do list includes:

  • Meetings you are scheduled to attend
  • Decisions you must make
  • Calls you must make or be prepared to receive
  • Reports, emails, and other items you must write
  • Unfinished A- and B-priority tasks from the previous day
  • Miscellaneous tasks, as you have time for them

Some people jot down their to-do items or spontaneous ideas on scraps of paper. The problem with this method is that it’s easy to misplace these notes and overlook a priority task.

Instead, create a master to-do list by noting all of your reminders, tasks, and key information in one place. You can do this in a day planner, on your cell phone, or in a small notebook—whatever method is easiest for you. What’s critical is that you capture all of your random thoughts and new action items. Check this master list when you create your schedule and daily to-do list.

Make a daily to-do list

Create your daily to-do list either at the end of the previous day or first thing in the morning. Doing so will ensure that you’ll be able to jump right into your projects, instead of wasting time figuring out what you need to do.

When you are creating your to-do list, break your tasks into specific activities. For example, while your schedule might direct you to return phone calls on Tuesday between 3 and 4 p.m., your daily to-do list would identify each person you need to call. Include phone numbers or other details you need to complete the task, so you don’t need to spend time looking for them.

As you compile your list, be realistic about how many things you can accomplish. If you are new at creating daily to-do lists, include only half the number of items you think you can complete. Also, be diligent about keeping low-priority activities and urgent but unimportant tasks off the list. Otherwise, you may be tempted to take care of these items first and then have no time left for important work.

Use your to-do list

First thing in the morning, use your daily to-do list to identify your key priorities. Ask yourself:

  • What three actions are my top priorities today?
  • What must I accomplish by the end of the day to reach my goals?

When demands start piling up and you feel overwhelmed, tired, or unfocused, refer to your to-do list—especially these priority items.

If you are not prepared to undertake a task at its scheduled time, focus on the next priority. Complete it, then return to the original task. Don’t delay that primary task more than once.

Cross each task off your list as you complete it. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction. You will also clearly see what tasks you have not yet finished. At the end of the day, transfer any remaining high-priority tasks to your to-do list for the next day, and schedule a time to complete them.

Check your progress

At least once a week, take stock of how you’re doing relative to your overall schedule. That way, you can identify problems and find ways to constantly improve how you manage your time. As you review your progress, ask yourself:

  • “Am I completing the tasks I set for this week?” If not, what’s preventing you from doing so? For example, are you underestimating the amount of time needed to complete certain tasks?
  • “Am I making progress toward achieving my goals?” If not, you may be including too many C-priority tasks in your schedule.
  • “Do I feel more focused?” If not, you may be failing to cluster similar tasks together or to take occasional breaks.
  • “Can I sustain this schedule?” If not, restructure your schedule to match your energy level or reassess your priorities.

Use your answers to determine whether you need to make major or minor changes to your time management system.

If you are comfortable doing so, ask your supervisor, peers, and direct reports for observations on how effectively you use your time. Find out what they do to continually improve the way they manage their time.