Co-authored by Shani Harmon
Lost time is never found again
By the end of February, we've all pretty much given up on our new year's resolutions. Our commitment to "work out every day" or "give up bread, sugar and alcohol" starts to crumble. New Year's resolutions tend to have a life expectancy of three to four weeks -- let alone three or four months -- before the realities of life start to crowd them out. But if one of your resolutions this year was to hold a higher standard for how you use your time or to work smarter rather than harder, we urge you to persist. This resolution is the one that can make all those other aspirations possible because the dividends of using your time well can really add up.
In the average day, employees can spend up to six hours in meetings of dubious value, where the purpose is unclear and the outcomes undocumented. As a consequence, they then work even longer days doing their real work and answering emails into the wee hours or at the crack of dawn.
The problem is only getting worse. Email volume continues to rise as do the number of distractions available to sap productivity and focus. As we fool ourselves into believing that we're "expert multitaskers" we wire our brains to be less effective. In fact, a Stanford University study proved that people who regularly consume multiple streams of electronic information are less effective at paying attention, recalling information, or switching from one task to another than those who complete one task at a time.
What's to be done? We recommend becoming a time hoarder. Guard your time like it's the most precious resource you have. (Hint: it is!) Start each day with clarity about the most important things you need to accomplish and then schedule time in your calendar to do them. A whole host of admired leaders including Intel's Andy Grove use their calendar as their primary productivity tool.
When you're in another one of those meetings where the purpose is vague and your attendance is a "nice to have," speak up and ask the leader to clarify the goal. Once it's been articulated, if you're not a critical contributor to it, excuse yourself. While you might be viewed briefly as being not so collaborative, you can reinvest that saved time in collaboration where it really counts - on your most important projects.
What else can you do with all of that saved time? Here are some activities which will help you even further increase your productivity:
- Sleep an extra half hour. Sleep deprivation is associated with diabetes, obesity and a range of other physical ailments as documented in Arianna Huffington's new book, The Sleep Revolution. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but 1/3rd of Americans report sleeping less than seven hours. Your productivity and brain power will benefit from that extra recovery time.
While it's easy for workers today to operate as a brain on a stick, taking care of the whole system is essential to peak performance. Take control of your calendar so that you can strategically invest your time in the activities that will really create impact versus the infinite number of ways you can waste your own time. Let 2016 be the year you find your new performance platform and inspire those around you to do the same.