Almost everyone in a competitive job stresses about not being able to complete work on time, or laments about the lack of time to pursue a life beyond the office. Sometimes, it becomes arduous even to stick to a particular work schedule, eventually overstepping the deadline. If you experience the same too, it’s time to change the way you manage time!
According to Daniel Levitin, multitasking does not work. It is up to 40% less productive than single tasking. Switching between several activities, or sharing your time trying to complete multiple tasks simultaneously takes up much more energy. In contrast, focusing on one task at the time is much more convenient and allows you to converge all your mental energy on a single activity, which will help you do it in the best way possible. Levitin advocates that multitasking is not really as extraordinary as it seems, but is in fact a waste of precious time which can be used to achieve success, one task at a time. This is why it is so important to manage your time effectively, ensuring that you set aside time for all the tasks on your to-do list.
Four ways to use time effectively for work
#1) Take on the most unpleasant tasks the first thing in the morning: The most practical strategy is to tackle the most intimidating, unpleasant or stressful task first. This is because the human mind and personality tends to avoid the possibility of failure, which means that your mind will keep telling you to procrastinate the difficult job for a later time, which eventually will lead to all the difficult work getting piled up. Besides jeopardizing your planned time schedule, it will push you into a vicious cycle of fear-procrastination-failure, which will greatly affect your confidence at the workplace.
#2) Resist the temptation to procrastinate challenging activities: As explained earlier, your natural reaction to a challenging activity would be to procrastinate it to a later time, somehow hoping you’ll be better prepared or equipped then. Resist this tendency to bypass challenging work and make it a habit to do the simpler tasks only when the difficult work has been done. This will allow you to focus your best mental energy on the difficult task, which will greatly increase your chances of success, diffuse fear and build your confidence. The next time you’re faced with the same task – you’ll be wondering why you were so intimidated by it earlier.
#3) Accept that it’s fine not to succeed every time: Don’t stress if you’re time schedule isn’t going as per plan, and certain tasks are taking up more time, while you’re hopelessly failing at some others. Accept that it’s impossible for a person to succeed at absolutely everything, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. While this may seem unrelated to time management, it actually is – when you have unrealistic performance expectations from yourself, and are mortified by failure, you slip into the procrastination cycle. Additionally, low self-esteem and negative emotions can hamper creative and productive thinking, which makes it worse.
#4) Leave space for spending ‘unstructured’ time for creative problem-solving: Daniel Levitin makes a very important point about how we tend to manage our time for work. He points out that we usually tend to compartmentalize sections of our time for focused thinking and work, using our conscious mind with as much precision possible. However, we fail to recognise the power of the subconscious mind, which often helps us find solutions to the most complicated problems. Levitin illustrated this with using a Rubik’s Cube – when you try to catch some sleep after trying extensively to crack the solution to a Rubik’s Cube, your mind still flashes images of the coloured squares moving. The next time you work on it, you’d suddenly have a flash of ‘inspiration’ and know a better strategy to align the same-coloured squares together. This is why it’s important to earmark unstructured time to think freely about a particular problem, maybe even when you’re resting after dinner – without the stress and pressure of ‘completing’ a task within a set time frame. This approach will help boost creative thinking to find innovative solutions.
Key takeaways: Don’t try to work on several tasks simultaneously, multi-tasking doesn’t work. Improve the way you manage time: get the difficult work done first, resist the natural temptation to procrastinate, stop beating yourself for making mistakes, and acknowledge that time spent outside of a rigid timetable can also help you in creative problem-solving.