mindful time management

One month down in 2015 | Are we being mindful of our time?

It’s almost February already. It feels like only yesterday that we were celebrating New Year’s Eve. Time seems to fly faster with each passing year. If you think about it in relative terms, it is, in fact, moving faster.

When you are 5 years old, the total amount of time you have experienced is 5 years. The time from one Christmas to the next feels like an eternity. That’s because one year is 20% of the total amount of time you have experienced.

When you’re 32, one year is 3.1% of the total amount of time you have experienced. At 43 (cough) it’s 2.3%. The longer we’re around, the shorter a year feels to us.

How we feel about the relative speed at which time moves for each of us is important – primarily because we don’t do our best creative thinking or problem-solving when we’re under time pressure. Even if we’re putting that pressure on ourselves.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness at its core is about paying attention to how we are paying attention. What are we focused on right now. Is our mind actively and fully engaged in the task at hand? Or, as is often the case for my clients, are we really thinking about the past or the future. Sometimes, lack of clarity around our goals – the objectives that guide our efforts – means we are often focused on relatively unimportant things.

Daniel Goleman – the world-renowned psychologist, science writer and author Emotional Intelligence – is a leading light in how mindfulness applies to each of us, and how it can benefit us in our working life. At the core of Goleman’s approach is taking time out, in a structured and conscious way. That is, through meditation.

For some people, the idea of meditation feels a bit new-age and fruity. The reality is that organisations like Google, 3M, Salesforce.com and Oracle train their people in the practice of meditation. A recent article from strategy+business magazine (a booz&co company) talks about how important meditation is for enhanced focus, attention and self-awareness – the keys to truly innovative thinking.

Applying mindfulness to managing your time

There are a few techniques we share with our Make Time Work course participants, to help them become more mindful in how they use their time, and how to increase their levels of focus:

Get brutally clear on your goals

Most people we train have a pretty good handle on the goals they need to achieve in their work, and they are normally written goals. But, when we ask people whether they have written goals for their personal lives, less than 5% do. If we do not write down and regularly revisit our personal goals, we can’t easily and quickly prioritise how we use our time. Spend an hour soon, away from everything, thinking about what you would like to achieve a year from now. Write it down. Revisit regularly to implant your goals in your subconscious. That way, you will naturally bring your focus back to what’s truly important to you.

Be aware of your most effective times of day

Some people are late risers. Given the chance, they would get going about 10am each day, slowly emerging from the cave. These people are usually at their most effective in the afternoon and evening. The vast majority of us are early-risers, hitting our straps about 8am and doing our most creative, insightful and intuitive thinking until about 11am. Given this, why do so many of us spend the most energetic, productive part of our day READING EMAILS??? Emails in our inbox are not ‘to-do’ lists that have been hand-crafted by us to reflect our priorities. Don’t waste the best part of your day on email. Devote yourself to the biggest, hardest, most challenging task on your list. Ticking it off your to-do list gives you an instant motivation and momentum boost.

Take some time out for yourself

Our willpower is a muscle – it gets fatigued with over-use. It needs some time to recover from exertion, in the same way that our arm muscles need a break from bicep curls once we hit our limit. Forcing our minds to undertake complex tasks for extended periods of time is one the key reasons for the mental fatigue that builds up during the course of our work day. Take a short break and use it to clear your mind. Meditate for 15 minutes around lunch and you will be amazed at how much more energy and clarity you have for the afternoon.

So, heading in to next week, think about taking some conscious time-out to refresh your mind, plan a structure for your day and remind yourself of your goals.

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