Time is finite and is arguably our most precious commodity, but it’s all too easy to let it trickle through our fingers, forgetting that we can’t stash even a second of it away for later use. Every day has just 1440 minutes in it. We spend a considerable number of those minutes asleep and in doing the things we must do: eating, showering, caring for others and so on. For most of us, the rest is spent in travelling, ferrying children to and from their activities, working, and, heavens help us, in meetings. Then there is ‘spare’ time, which is usually spent in leisure activities, hobbies, exercise and so on. And of course there is the time that just ‘disappears’ , very often online and on social media.
I’m not suggesting that every minute of every day should be scheduled, but it really is easy to let precious time go to waste. To use it more wisely and productively, how about thinking of time in investment terms?
As an example, when you travel, do you consciously invest your time wisely? It doesn’t really matter what you choose to occupy your mind during the journey – it could be listening to music, thinking about your new book or paper, discussing things with your travelling companions, learning a new language or planning anything from a lecture to project – all these things are productive and show a measurable return on investment. So can (as long as it’s not you driving!) staring out of the window, enjoying the view and being grateful for the time to do so. The ROI there is in the refreshment of your mind and ideas.
Time spent with friends and other loved ones can also be considered a great investment. I’ve recently been moving books and amongst them were the works of Khalil Gibran, whose most well known work is ‘The Prophet’. In that, on the subject of friendship, he says “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.” Worth considering I think.
So, how could you use your ‘spare’ time more productively this week?
I’m sure many of you will have come across the Pomodoro Technique (™) as a means of maintaining focus and getting stuff done, but if not, here’s how to get started.
The technique was, I discover from this Wikipedia article, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and it involves working in a very focussed way with a timer running for a period of time – in this case, twenty five minutes – then taking a short break to rest the eyes and the brain – in this case five minutes. After a number of work sessions, you take a slightly longer break.
I first discovered it when I was tasked with a horrible job (which shouldn’t have been mine anyway!) and wanted to get it done as fast and painlessly as possible. I originally set out to bash away at it until it was done, but I found I was losing the will to live and making stupid mistakes after about forty minutes. That was when I remembered Pomodoro. I had a tomato shaped kitchen timer which I used daily to control the length of briefings (I’ll describe that in a different post) and since ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato (and, I now discover, was what Cirillo used), I used that. It worked well for me and I hope it may do so for you too.
If you don’t have a mechanical timer, your search engine of choice will provide you with lots of links to places where you can download Pomodoro timer apps for your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. There is of course the danger that you will spend so much time on productivity techniques that you are still no more productive, but I’m sure that couldn’t happen to you… could it!
Disconnect with a Mental Vacation Before Taking the Real Thing
Do you find it takes you a week to wind down when you finally get a break?
Well, with the time for taking holidays coming up, this seems like a good time to re-post a link to this Harvard Business Review article by Carolyn O’Hara, which suggests mentally preparing yourself before you leave.
It’s all too easy to take work on holiday with you, whether it’s physically (I’ll just read through this stuff in the evenings and catch up a bit) or mentally – waking at 3a.m. wondering what to do about x or y or z. But if you do so, you’re simply transferring work to another location and losing the wonderful opportunity a holiday gives you to return refreshed and with as clear mind and a restored sense of perspective – Recreation is just that: re-creation!
I’m a great believer in practising new things mentally before actually undertaking them, so I see no reason why this wouldn’t work. I know there’s always a huge amount to be done before you can leave for a vacation but building in some ‘winding down’ time into your task list could pay dividends. She also has useful tips for really enjoying your holiday once you leave the office – and for easing yourself back into the flow.
Here are her headlines:
Practice with a mental “vacation” everyday
Plan ahead and define “emergency”
Empower your team
Give yourself permission to check in
Leave projects behind
Manage your re-entry
Savor your memories
Disconnect with a Mental Vacation Before Taking the Real Thing – https://hbr.org/2014/08/the-professionals-guide-to-a-stress-free-vacation/
And when your team members take a holiday, help them prepare and then ease them back in kindly and thoughtfully!
Most of you will be familiar with this construct, also known as the Urgent/Important matrix, used by Stephen Covey and a myriad other management gurus. This week I’ve had the privilege of facilitating parts of an HE management ‘Awayday’ and the matrix was useful in illustrating the importance for leaders of remaining as much as possible in the upper right hand quadrant – Q2 – which is where they make for themselves ‘headspace’ to work on strategy, develop people, strengthen systems, solve problems, set clear outcomes and develop themselves.
I’ve often used it both as a tool to manage my own tasks and priorities and as a way to help teams make informed choices about how they work, but I’ve rarely seen it so well illustrated as it is here, on Dr. Kristian Rother’s Academis blog, http://academis.sites.djangoeurope.com/blog/posts/prioritizing-covey-matrix/.
The icons really say it all!
Confucius said: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”.
I’ve been reading a number of books recently which make use of quotations to set context at the beginning of chapters and since I’m writing a time management course at the moment, the appearance of this quotation as I turned a page this morning seemed quite apposite.
It occurred to me that one could actually choose a quotation to set the context for each day.
What quotation would you use to set the context for, say, a particularly productive day?
Lingualy Turns Your Web Browsing Into a Chance to Learn a New Language – <a href="http://lingua.ly/ Now here’s a clever idea. It’s an extension for the Chrome browser which helps you learn a new language by providing translations based on the web pages you’re browsing, thus ensuring you’re learning language around your interests rather than explaining that your postilion has been struck by lightning and you need to catch a tram.
Only a few languages available thus far, but I suspect more will be added.
Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple – http://pulse.me/s/oTbdX
Research from the British Psychological Society suggests strongly that trying to change too many habits at once doesn’t work, whereas focusing on one at a time does. This should be no surprise to anyone who’s ever over-committed themselves, but it’s still tempting when you’re in ‘let’s make changes’ mode to attempt too much all at once.
Here’s one habit I’m breaking – a bit at a time. I have decided to avoid ‘trying’ at all costs. This may seem an odd thing to say, but I know from experience that you can waste all your effort in ‘trying’ without ever actually doing whatever it is that needs to be done. So here’s the challenge: expunge ‘trying’ from your vocabulary.
George Washington was known as a very methodical man who lived his life in an orderly fashion and apparently, as a schoolboy, copied out The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (recently re-published) by which to live his own life.
Some of these may be outdated now, but a few, especially when you read them with 2013’s technology and the way we live our lives today in mind, still seem very relevant!
4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet. (Please can we add “nor click your biro”?)
14. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.
18. Read no letter, books, or papers (I would add in “or electronic device”!) in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.
20. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.
35. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.
73. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
How many times this week have you behaved in a way Washington wouldn’t have?
You can read a lot more about Washington and the way re lived and regulated his days productively in this article: Productivity Tricks from George Washington – http://pulse.me/s/l7yNW
An article I read recently got me thinking more about deconstruction and it’s come up again in an interesting context.
Chefs frequently deconstruct familiar or classic dishes to find a new perspective and, in conversation with a colleague from the public library service the other day, she mentioned that she had been encouraged to ‘deconstruct’ the services they offer to see if she could discover new approaches to what they do and how they do it.
It struck me as an innovative (and timely) approach we could take to the problem endemic in many institutions – dare I say especially universities – in that we have a tendency to build up our offerings by constant incremental addition rather than by stopping and standing back occasionally and questioning exactly *why* we do things in a particular way.
Following on from the previous post, I came across this interesting study conducted in 2009 at Oxford, which concluded that learning to juggle leads to changes in the white matter of the brain. Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg of the Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford, who led the work said: ‘We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood,’ says ‘In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We’ve shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently.’
Which proves there’s hope for us all and shows that the students we frequently see juggling on campus probably aren’t wasting their time. Pass me those three oranges will you?