06 Sep Time Management Tips – Two Tips to Focus Your Mind
How often to you get to the end of the day and ask yourself “where’s the day gone?”, “how did I achieve so little?”, “how did I manage to waste so much time?” Let’s be honest – we all have days where we’re not as productive as we could be and wish we’d achieved more or managed our time better.
There are countless tips and techniques for how to manage your time more effectively – most of them are common sense and focus on ideas for planning your day, prioritising your tasks and organising your environment. Unfortunately common sense isn’t always common practice – even though we know it makes sense to do these things, we get distracted, we procrastinate or we end up spending so much time planning and organising ourselves that actually doing the work becomes a secondary factor!
So, in this blog I’m going to share two of my favourite time management techniques – tackling the work and staying focussed.
Eat the Frog
When we have a piece of work to do that seems like a mammoth task – either because it’s big, time consuming, difficult, or all three, we can fall into the trap of doing other, smaller tasks first – getting them out of the way so that we can then focus on the bigger task without distraction. In reality, this rarely works. We spend more time than we should on those smaller tasks and often what we’re actually doing is procrastinating.
But it feels so satisfying to cross off all those little things from our to-do list doesn’t it? But in reality, what have we actually achieved? It’s likely that the bigger task is the higher value task and it’s still waiting to be done.
In his book ‘Eat That Frog’ Brian Tracy suggests that ‘there will never be enough time to do everything we have to do and that we are more productive if we get the biggest, ugliest task out of the way first. This requires us to spend some time at the start of each day considering what’s on our to-do list. Which tasks are the tadpoles, which tasks are the frogs? Once we’ve worked that out, it doesn’t pay for us to sit and look at the frog for very long when we know that ultimately we are going to have to eat it!
So, discipline yourself to begin the task immediately and then persist with it until the job is done. If you’ve got two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first!
Use a Pomodoro
When I have a training programme to design or some other task that requires time, thought and concentration I know I can get easily distracted. An email pings up which isn’t urgent but I read it anyway and might even reply when I really don’t need to at that point. My mind wanders and I start thinking about what new and interesting posts are on LinkedIn (or Facebook if I’m really struggling to remain work focussed!) Before I know it twenty minutes have passed and I seem to have replied to ten emails, read three interesting articles and found out what various people had for breakfast. So now I need to get back to the work I was meant to be doing, get my brain back in gear and spend five minutes reminding myself where I got to before I allowed myself to get distracted. If this sounds like you, then the Pomodoro technique will help you.
Staffan Noteberg’s book of the same name is an interesting read about how the brain works and therefore, how we should tackle our work tasks. The premise is simple – our mind won’t wander when it is fully engaged in short bursts of focussed activity.
The Pomodoro technique has six steps:
- Decide on the task you’re going to tackle
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
- After the timer rings, put a tick on a piece of paper, set a timer for 5 minutes and take a break (during this 5 minutes you could make a cup of tea, check your emails or even check on Facebook what your best friend’s dog got up to in the night)
- When the 5 minutes is up, go back to Step 1 and repeat the process
- Once you’ve got four ticks on your page, you’ve completed four “Pomodoro sessions”. This means you can take a longer break (25 minutes), during which time you can work on something else (for example, answering some of the emails you’ve read during your five minute breaks) or take a well-earned rest.
I’m a recent convert to this technique – I love its simplicity and I know I am much more effective when I use it. But it does require discipline during the 25 minute Pomodoro sessions – which means switching off your emails, putting phones on silent and removing any other distractions. Unless your job requires you to be on-call at all times, being unavailable for 25 minutes at a time is unlikely to result in dire consequences.
There are plenty of Pomodoro tools and apps that you can use. I’ve downloaded a simple Pomodoro timer to my browser which allows me to easily set a 25 and 5 minute timer. Some of the more sophisticated apps can even be set up to deny you access to your favourite time wasting websites during your Pomodoro session!
So if you get to the end of today and wonder where the time has gone and you give yourself a talking to for not getting done what you really needed to get done, make sure you plan tomorrow’s day by Eating the Frog and accompanying it with a Pomodoro.
Posted by Gill Bonello