Conquer Your Time Management Giants at Last
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
We all struggle with time management, but as social media steals away more and more of our minutes, our angst over lost time grows. Here at Books & Such, we’re always brainstorming how to get to the “real” work. Our days are frittered away reacting (to emails, phone calls, social media) rather than initiating action.
When we’re merely reacting, we’re not engaged in the most productive work we should be doing. For example, it can feel good to clean out your inbox by the end of the day, but in actuality, did you engage in your highest priorities? Probably not.
About a month ago, Rachelle set me back on my heels when she explained to me that studies show we’re–wait for it–addicted to being online. I didn’t appreciate the use of that negative word, but after giving it some thought, I have to say, “Hello, my name is Janet, and I’m an addict.” Like all addicts, I need a regular fix, and my addiction demands more and more of each day.
For each of us addicts, this translates to us interrupting ourselves during a productive part of the day by “just checking” something online. We can’t resist. We grow restless when we try to concentrate on a task and keep thinking about going online. That’s an urge we generally give in to. Once diverted from our task, it can take a long time before we’re refocused meaningfully on the job at hand.
So the cycle goes day after day.
That’s one of the time management giants we need to slay.
The other is how we think about work. Credit goes to Rachelle once again, who told me about an article she had read that helped her with her time management. When I checked it out–be still, my heart–I discovered that the author had articulated our 21st-century time dilemmas better than I had ever encountered. I was loving the article on that score alone. It helped me to realize I’m not unique in my struggles and helped me to understand them so I know how to deal with them.
“5 Secrets to Managing Your Time, Backed by Research” explores a significant part of our problem. The article summarizes from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World that we define everything that keeps us busy when we’re on the job as work. But in reality, two types of work exist: shallow work and deep work. Once we divide our day between these two types of work, we can break our productivity-busting cycle.
- “Deep work” is using your skills to create something of value. It takes thought, energy, time and concentration.
- “Shallow work” is all the little fussy, logistical stuff: email, calls, social media, marketing details, etc.
Deep work is to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, and shallow work describes activities that are more logistical in nature, that don’t require intense concentration.
We’re “drowning in the shallows” rather than doing the kind of work that brings real value. Email and internet searches alone take up 60% of the average worker’s hours. For most of us, our real work begins when we finish our emails and social media. Some days, for me, I never complete my emails in a given day and end up finishing my shallow work at night. My entire week can be subsumed by shallow work.
Concentrating on deep work not only provides the benefit of making us productive in the most important work, but it also makes us happier while shallow work feels less meaningful.
Newport points out:
We know it’s satisfying to enter a state where you’re giving full, rapt attention to something that you’re good at. Shallow work, on the other hand, fragments your attention and exposes you to a lot of things that aren’t that nice. You’re going to see the Facebook post that makes you jealous and the email that stresses you out. Someone who’s based mainly in shallow work, neurologically speaking, is going to eventually construct an understanding of their world that is stressful and fractured.
So how do we get to our deep work?
Newport tells us that we use our calendars all wrong. We schedule phone calls, webinars, emails and social media. We add in doctor and dental appointments, haircuts, even mani-pedis. The shallow stuff. It’s actually often other people’s work rather than yours. We (well, I, anyway) fill in the nooks and crannies with deep work.
We should function just the opposite. Commit yourself to your deep work first, then fill in the remaining time for shallow work.
Another way to tackle your time management giants is to measure how much of your time is spent on deep work. It’s one thing to put deep work on your calendar; it’s another not to let interruptions (or time temptations) to keep you from doing the real work. Keeping score of just how many hours you spend on deep work is shown to help you discipline how your spending your time.
Newport also suggests creating deep work rituals that tell your subconscious it’s time to settle into the most satisfying, productive part of your schedule. Rituals can include having a different place to do deep work or creating steps you take to prepare to do deep work such as making yourself a cup of coffee, putting your chocolate by your chair, shutting down your text and Twitter ping notifications.
I’m committed to entering 2016 focused on deep work. This week, I’ve scheduled significant time to do the concentrated work. I’ve decided I need to also acknowledge my online addiction; so I’ll be setting my timer to tell me when I need to step away from my shallow work. Emails can be dealt with by starting the day opening only those from fellow agents, publishing personnel, and clients.
I can’t stay in deep work hour after hour but need to take breaks. During those times, I’ll return to my shallow work.
I aspire to experience a productive day, week and year with these changes. And to find myself more satisfied, less frustrated and mentally less fractured. As Cal Newport says:
If you can train your ability to focus and then fight to make time for real intense focused work in your schedule, you are absolutely going to thrive in this economy while the people sitting next to you are going to look up one day from their Facebook feed and realize they’ve been left behind.
What constitutes deep work for you? What diverts you into shallow work? What can you do to spend more time doing deep work?
Conquer your time management giants at last. Click to tweet.
Spend too much time online? Here’s a solution. Click to tweet.
How to prioritize your work so you get to the most important. Click to tweet.
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