Have you ever played the game, “I am busier than you are”? In this game each player lists out their very extensive to-do list and then adds in that they will not have time to eat and will only get about 3 hours of sleep which is the reason they are in the physical condition they are in (i.e. hair is a mess, haven’t showered, hacking cough, puffy eyes, no makeup, pants inside out, different color socks, etc.). The object of the game is to be the busiest person. From the college student to the school teacher, to the engineer, to the marketer, all walks of life play this game. Are we easily distracted? Are we poor time managers? Do we have too much on our plate? I know I can attribute my participation in this game at one time or another to all three reasons.
Distractions come at us all day long through many avenues: email, text messages, tweets, wall posts, instant messenger, the phone and on rare occasion, a real, live person. Yet, what I have noticed is that we tend to be most easily distracted when we really don’t want to tackle the task at hand. The other day, in the middle of editing a proposal for a wastewater treatment plant (riveting, I know), I found my eyes drifting from the paper down to my wrist where my colorful bracelet lie, begging for my attention. I suddenly had 5 urgent emails to check and a couple of events to register for ASAP! I certainly let myself be distracted. I would go as far as to say I welcomed distraction like an old friend.
Managing distractions and staying on task is hard, nearly impossible, to do while working in an uncontrolled environment (let’s not even discuss the fact that my office doesn’t have a door, isn’t really an office at all, and is located right by the front door). It seems that everybody has an “emergency” that they suddenly need help with or there is always the old “can you do me a huge favor?” Of course, if you are like me, you agree to do the HUGE favor or to help with the emergency. Inevitably, afterwards, I regret the agreement because I suddenly realize that I did not get to cross off a single item on my checklist and it is now the end of the day. So come 5pm, I sit at my desk and ask myself what I did all day, a little upset and disappointed because I can’t really pinpoint one important task I finished. This of course will eventually lead to the “too much on my plate breakdown.”
My personal favorite is the “too much on my plate breakdown”. This breakdown is handled very differently by each individual. For some, it is tears over the silliest things. Some turn to bouts of violence on inanimate objects (throwing the phone or everything off of your desk, which also can end in crying). Some, experiencing this particular breakdown, turn to the closest bar. This involves sitting alone, drinking at the stool next to the scary regular, and if it is in our neighborhood it is either at the HiLiter or Cherries. Due to the local bar choices, we here at Small Giants, try to only partake in the first two options.). Watching people go through this breakdown at work, as entertaining as it may be, can also be very distracting, adding to the aforementioned affliction. So let’s all work together. Reign your coworkers back in when you see them getting distracted. Respect their time. And remember that no one person’s time is more important than another’s.
Below are three time-management tips from Harvard Business Blogger, Steven Demaio that can help us break the cycle and make that breakdown not so inevitable:
1. Start your day as early as possible. Even if you’re not a morning person, there’s something intoxicating about planning to do A and B, and then discovering you’ve done A, B, and C by noon.
2. When it comes to small tasks, tackle similar ones back to back. That’s what gets you on a roll. The mind thrives on repetition, at least to a point.
3. Avoid the curse of the “final push.” Scope and sequence a project so that each part is shorter than the one that precedes it. Feeling the work units shrink as you go gives you a tangible sense of progress and speeds you toward the end. When you leave the long parts for last, you’re more likely to get worn out before you finish.
Make it a personal goal to stop playing “I am busier than you are.” It is not healthy. Finish your work, spend time with your loved ones, sleep, eat, and exercise. It is possible and all it takes is a little bit of planning and managing.