The Invasion of the Time Stealers

Six months ago, I was sitting on my couch at home, when something unexpected suddenly happened. A break-in! Some burglars who kept calling themselves the time stealers had invaded my home. Each of them had a name, and, as I hid in my closet, I could hear them:

  • Not knowing what to do
  • Procrastination
  • ™Interruptions and distractions
  • Setting targets and aims too high
  • Lack of prioritizing
  • No motivation
  • Task overload

They were looking for the most precious thing that I have, which is MY TIME…And they stole it. Consequently, I was unable to meet my deadlines. I was stressed, I was achieving less than I wanted to, and I was spending more time than expected on a task. 

I started to search for ways to track down these burglars and prevent them from stealing my time again. Here are some of the techniques that I’ve found most helpful when it comes to improving your time management.

Catching the robbers

Mindset shift

The most important technique is shifting your mindset! Brian Tracy, an expert in time management, argues that all the techniques on time management in the world won’t help you if you still hold the belief that you are bad at it. Believe that you’re great at time management, so that you don’t hold yourself back. Let your subconscious move you towards new results. 

Know your goals

It’s also crucial to  ™”Know your goals,”, so you can work towards something specific. Once you know what your goals are and have identified the tasks you need to complete to achieve those goals, you can work out where to start.. The next technique can help you with that.

To-do list

A to-do list gives you a clear view of the tasks you need to complete. Then decide how important each task is: A, B, or C. Creating the list is one thing, but using it is a whole other thing. To use your list, simply work your way through it, from most important to less important tasks. This is the ABC system. As you complete tasks, tick them off or cross them out. 

™“If you have two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” – Brian Tracy

Just begin

Having trouble beginning? You are not alone.. You will recognize the familiar question that we often ask ourselves: “Where/How do I even begin?” Well, the best way to be productive is to begin immediately, so you can avoid procrastination. In other words, just do it. Begin either at the start, or in the middle, or at the end. What’s important is that you start right away.

Control interruptions

Control interruptions by turning off the notifications in your email inbox. Check your email at a specific time in your schedule. You can (and must) say no to interruptions. Turn on the music when you need to isolate yourself from the workplace. 
Physically isolate yourself. If you feel that you can’t get work done at your desk, then find another location. Work remotely if possible, or find a conference room. Isolate yourself when you really need to get work done. 

Effective meetings

Another time-saving technique is to conduct meetings effectively. How do you assess if your meeting was effective? 
If, for example, you’re paying each employee $50 an hour and you have 10 people at a meeting that lasts an hour, that meeting just cost $500. Is the time spent at the meeting worth the investment?

Eliminate unnecessary meetings, invite only the people necessary, and make the purpose of the meeting clear from the start.
Meetings are a great way for employees to goof off or waste time. They often go longer than they should. Be aware of this. Always start on time, even if some people haven’t shown up.You don’t want to build a culture of holding up everyone who showed up on time for the one person who’s late. That will just encourage more people to show up later and later.

Still trying to catch the robbers

The techniques above are some of the best for saving time. Here are a few more that will improve your time management and boost your productivity. All of these techniques can be used in your daily life, at home and even when working out.

Time Blocking

Time blocking can help keep you on track by keeping distractions, procrastination, and unproductive multitasking away. It’s important to know where and when is the best time to block yourself. Let other people access your calendar so they know when you’re focusing and shouldn’t be interrupted. To make the time period even more effective, use a timer when you work (such as the Pomodoro technique by Francesco Cirillo). Parkinson’s Law is defined as follows: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

To avoid this, reserve the time block as quickly as possible and get the task done right away (if possible!) Use the Pareto principle for defining the right tasks for time blocks. The Pareto principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. A classic example is that 20% of your clients bring you 80% of sales. Your 20% tasks are the most important ones, so try to identify time blocks at least for those tasks. That way, you can make sure that they get completed and you are able to reach your goals faster.

Avoid distractions, such as social media. 

Delegate

Delegate when possible. Brian Tracy recommends the rule of 70%: if someone else can do the job at least 70% as well as you can, give them the responsibility. This frees up your time to focus on more important tasks.
And last, but not least: the one thing that we all love to do in our daily lives is multitasking.

Avoid multitasking

The American Psychological Association found that task switching can lead to a 40% decrease in productivity. Multitasking overloads the brain. Constantly stopping and restarting an activity requires more energy than focusing on a single task for a longer period. Because you were interrupted, you get disoriented. You have to readjust, you have to re-orient, and you have to prepare to begin again.

Finally caught the robbers

The 4 D’s of time management are key to improving your time management: Desire, Decision, Discipline, and Determination.

Before starting the search for techniques to track down these robbers, I was feeling an intense Desire to reclaim my time. So, I made a Decision to start searching for techniques to practice until they became a habit. I was Determined and willing to persist until I reclaimed my time and became an effective time manager. 

I was so happy, but I know that I have to Discipline myself to prevent these time robbers breaking into my house again to steal my precious time. I have to make this a lifelong practice.

Time is one of the most precious things that you have and you have to manage it properly. Remember the quote of Michael Altshuler:™

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

So, let’s start being the pilot of our time. 

Determine how effective your time management is by completing this test:   
How Good Is Your Time Management?

Lis-Marina Felix Pita