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« Problem 3 - Resistance | Main | Top 10 Reasons Simple Scanning is the Best of All Possible Systems »

Problem 2 - Too Little Time

Having too little time is the mirror image of over-commitment. If you are over-committed, you have too little time to fulfil your commitments. If you have only a small amount of time available then it makes no sense to take on more commitments.

In the previous blog post I recommended making sure that your commitments do not exceed the time that you need for them. But as well as keeping your commitments well pruned, you can also tackle the problem by ensuring that your time is well used. Time is the most valuable resource you have, and you need to protect it.

It’s stating the obvious to say that everyone has 24 hours worth of time every day. It’s what is done with it that counts. Some people achieve very little with those 24 hours and some people achieve an enormous amount. What makes the difference?

The first factor is that some people have much more freedom of action than others. There are many circumstances which are difficult or impossible to change. If you own health is bad or you are caring for a disabled or sick relative you are inevitably restricted in what you can do. That’s just a couple of examples out of many.

But for those of you who have freedom of action, how can you ensure that you make the most of it?

First, you need a fast and reliable system which suits your own style of working. System is the key to good use of time (and can make a lot of difference to your freedom of action too).

Second, you need to extirpate or minimise the enemies of time. Here is a short list of the main offenders in a work context.

1. Meetings. Meetings in themselves are not a bad thing. But badly run meetings which meet only for the sake of meeting are an extremely bad thing. Meeting in person takes up an inordinate amount of time, to which must be added journey time. They also tend to generate meeting-related work, which would be unnecessary if it were not for the meeting. Meetings must justify the time spent on them.

2. Idleness. One of the advantages of having a good time management system is that it minimises idleness. If you are trying to avoid having to work on a challenging task, then there is a tendency to take refuge in idleness. But a Long List of tasks always contains worthwhile things you can do even while trying to avoid something. This keeps you focused on your work and also helps you to “work up” to the task you are resisting.

3. Interruptions. Interruptions are as disruptive as meetings, or even more so, and need to be addressed directly. You must not just accept them as part of the job. If you spend time thinking about how you could minimize the disruption caused by interruptions, you could almost certainly come up with ideas which would make a real difference.

4. Lack of breaks. Working for too long without a break causes boredom, tiredness, lack of focus and even adverse health effects. The remedy is to build breaks into your day. The two most important rules to follow for office workers are: 1) never work through your lunch break; 2) have a definite stopping time. Home workers can alternatively build recreational tasks into their list.

5. Too short hours. Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one. If you don’t have enough time to do your work, it may be because you are working too short hours. This is often a problem for part-time workers. Their job description is frequently too big for the hours they are being paid for. And the result is either that they can’t keep up with the work, or that in order to keep up they have to work unpaid hours. The remedy is either to negotiate a revised job description or to negotiate longer paid hours.

6. Too long hours. Paradoxically the problem may be the exact opposite of too short hours. You may be working too long hours. I have written often in the past about what I call the “end effect”. If you work for a precise period of time, say fifteen minutes, on a task, the knowledge that you’ve only got fifteen minutes focuses your mind. You will almost certainly do more work on that task than you would if you worked for the same amount of time on it without a definite stop time. The same applies to a day’s work. Without a definite stop time (preferably several throughout the day) you will tend to be unfocused and lack concentration.

Reader Comments (4)

Thanks for this series Mark - been looking forward to it since you first mentioned it on you blog.

Idleness is a definite problem for me, and just as you say, if I'm avoiding an 'elephant-in-the-room' task, I tend to sink into idleness and give myself permission to bunk off for the rest of the day, assuring myself that tomorrow I'll suddenly be imbued with all the motivation I need to power through my tasks - sometimes I'm right but more often I'm wrong.

Too short hours - also a problem for me. I don't work so I'm my own 'employer' and in theory I have total control over my 24 hours a day so I could choose to do as many or as few tasks as I wish, fitting them around commitments/appointments/socialising. But I seem to have a mental block against doing 'work' in the evenings. Saturdays and Sundays also have a different 'feel' to the rest of the week, so I tend to feel I should spend them relaxing and doing fun stuff, rather than doing necessary tasks from my list. It's as if my mind and body are stuck in the typical working week of 9-5, Monday to Friday - and that would be fine if I actually did work from my list during those times, but I don't.

Looking forward to the next installments.
October 14, 2018 at 9:47 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret1

Personally I find that having one list for work and play with plenty of fun stuff on it solves both of these problems for me.
October 14, 2018 at 10:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I find the biggest time waster is Internet. To try to solve it, I'm doing the thorougjly unnatural thing of forcing myself to only one website or one video at a rime and then disconnecting and moving on.
October 14, 2018 at 15:47 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

I find I can control the internet simply by putting what I want to watch/read on my list as a task.

So someone who wastes hours watching funny cat videos, the solution is to put "Funny Cat Videos" as a task. That takes away the compulsive element.
October 14, 2018 at 18:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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