Friday, May 18, 2020

Keys to saving time

How to lose the useless items that weigh down your day

Many people complain that they never have enough time for all that they need to do. It’s true . . . only a large part of the problem lies with the way that they fill their day with useless and unnecessary activities. Time to go on a “time diet.”

This article is about getting rid of the flab that fills your working days: all those unnecessary activities that clog up your schedules, weigh you down, and make your day feel longer and tougher to get through. Activities that leave you miserable and exhausted, with little or nothing to show for all that extra effort.

We’ve all got them: bloated in-trays, calendars that contain more junk activities than there are calories in a Mega-Mighty-Gigantic Whoppaburger with triple fries, grotesquely obese work schedules, and an e-mail inbox that fills every 15 minutes. Getting rid of them won’t be always a complete answer to stress and burnout. Many people are genuinely overworked. But it’s sure going to help.

If you could drop all this useless flab, wouldn’t you feel better? Imagine what a difference it would make to your day, your life, your enjoyment of your work. There would be more time to spend on important matters. More time to get things done. The chance to end the day knowing you’ve accomplished more than you dreamed you could with far less effort than you might have imagined.

You can do this. It takes a little time, some initial effort, and a small amount of self-discipline, but anyone can at least stop wasting a significant part of every working day on actions that gobble time and give nothing useful back.

One of the primary areas for saving time is cutting back on pointless communication. E-mails, instant messaging, BlackBerrys, cellphones. All are useful in their place. All are major consumers of time and providers of pointless distraction anywhere else. How many of the messages you get through these means really matter? How many matter enough to interrupt whatever else you are doing?

Very, very few—especially compared with the time and energy they take up. It’s time to get tough with these thieves of time . What about blowing away those irritating Instant Messages for good? Putting yourself on a strict e-mail diet? Turning off the BlackBerry and the cellphone whenever you can? We give these nasty little beasts altogether too much importance in our lives. Even in the supermarket, you see people walking around with cellphones to their ears, telling some poor soul that they’re in the supermarket and picking up a packet of Cheerios. Who cares? And what about all those morons driving and yakking on their phones at the same time/ Aside from being a major cause of traffic accidents, what are they talking about? The traffic. The weather. Some inconsequential element of their day. I want to yell: “Shut the *@!*&$ up! and concentrate on your driving.” Maybe if they did we’d all be safer and get home sooner.

  • If you have Instant Messaging on your computer, turn it off. Now! Better still, remove the hideous abomination altogether. Do not use IM. You don’t need it, unless you’re a pre-teen geek without a life.

  • Never keep your e-mail software open all the time. Open it to check for e-mails only when you choose.

  • Set fixed times to check for new e-mails and let everyone know when they are. At other times, ignore it.

  • Filter everything coming in, so you can sort out what matters from what doesn’t. For e-mails, use the filtering facility in your software.

  • Give each one a priority and deal with it when you choose. Only respond immediately to genuine emergencies. Make everyone else wait (and I mean everyone).

  • When you send someone an e-mail, make a practice of telling them when you need a response (be specific; say “by Monday at 3.00 p.m.” not “a.s.a.p.”). Ask them to do the same when they e-mail you.

  • When you receive e-mail copies that you don’t want, send a polite note to the sender asking them to take you off the circulation list. Don’t stay on the list from inertia, or “just in case” something important comes along. It won’t. Be ruthless. If they don’t take you off the list, use your filtering software to classify that e-mail as “junk” and ignore it.

  • Only use BlackBerrys and cellphones when you must. Turn them off the rest of the time.

  • Discourage people from calling you on your cellphone, save on matters of genuine urgency. Don’t use it for gossip.

  • Keep cellphone calls short and to the point. Leave anything else for when you have more time.

The worst complaints about your new-found discipline will come from yourself. People get addicted to e-mails because of fear: the fear of missing something, being “out of the loop,” or not knowing what’s going on.

Get used to it. Like most fear, it’s irrational. You can either have a sensible work schedule, or give in to your inner demon and waste your time “just in case” you might miss something. Are you too weak to cope with this stupid obsession? Of course not. Kick it out. Bad news travels very quickly and will be sure to reach you. Good news will be a nice surprise when you next check your e-mail. In the meantime, you’ll have a calmer, more productive day.

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marti said...

Great post :-) Finally, someone who realises what a waste of time IM is unless you're networking. Many of my friends and my hamburger manager enjoy spoiling otherwise productive work with needless interruptions of IM. I keep it in the "appear offline" mode unless I'm trying to network with others to solve a specific problem.
As for email, unfortunately I'm in an IT support role which requires keeping email running to provide good service to my customers. If I don't respond to an email, I'll get paged to take care of the same problem.

8:56 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Marti.

Good points about IM. Mostly it's used for gossip.

E-mail can be a problem in certain jobs, but I guess it can be minimized some of the time, if not reduced to a really low level.

Still, most people aren't in your position and don't have to respond to e-mails as quickly — or as often — as they do. It's just habit.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous said...

Actually, I really like my IM. I use it mainly to talk to my husband during the work-day and it is 'my way of taking a break.'

I also like email because I can get to it when I want to. Again, usually if I need to give my brain a break for a minute, I'll check my email.

I have my email open all the time, but I don't feel like it is interruptive. Same with IM. I check them when I need a break. If something has just arrived I can let it sit until later.

What is more interruptive and stressful to me are phone calls and people dropping by my (doorless) cube. I feel I have to stop whatever I am doing and deal with it right now - and usually for something not that important. When a focussed task is interrupted, it takes awhile to get reoriented and started back up again.

Also, meetings are interruptive and usually impart information that could be posted on a wiki or emailed out - and then I could get to it at a good breakpoint for me The meeting is an hour whereas reading an email would only be a few minutes.

Finally, tasks like weekly status reports eat up my time much more than email or IM. I have to fill out a detailed weekly status report. It probably takes an hour a week and it goes into a black hole. I don't even know what my boss does with it!

Sadly, I'm not sure I can cut out the fat in my schedule, because it is all dictated by managers who will not be happy with me if I try to duck out of these things or if I post a note on my cube saying - really focussed right now - please come back at 1:00 or something to that effect.

9:54 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon.

I'm going to get to useless meetings and reports very soon!

I think that what makes the most difference in the "interruprtive power" of e-mails and the like is choice. If you can choose what to pay attention to — and when to do it — focusing when you need to and taking a break at other times, they aren't much of a problem. Unless, of course, you're totally bored with your work and spend all your time being "interrupted!"

It's the demands from others to meet their schedules that really messes up your day. And yes, sometimes you have no choice about that.

My plea is that people think about all the interruptions and remove those that they can remove. Not get into the habit of jumping to deal with every single interruption, whether it's important or not.

10:05 AM  
Eric said...

"What is more interruptive and stressful to me are phone calls and people dropping by my (doorless) cube."

Ugh... especially when I'm in the zone with some chill on the iTunes and typing away on several terminal sessions. First they scare the crap out of me trying to get my attention and then they take up the next 15 minutes with useless banter. By the time I'm back up to speed it's a half an hour wasted.

Speaking of which... I personally feel that the specter of someone walking up behind me is a CONSTANT distraction in the back of my mind. Give me a door and let me shut it some of the time to take care of business already.

I just find the constant noise, even in our quiet office, to be quite draining and distracting. I can put on music and zone, but then I get snuck up on because they have to face the monitors away from the opening ( god forbid you might be doing something naughty ). So I'm forced to choose between noise and exhaustion or zone and having the crap scared out of me at least once a day.

12:42 PM  
Toby Getsch said...

I like your perspective, but I disagree in many situations - mine for example.

I work in a a fairly normal office. However, only 3 or 4 of my co-workers use IM. I almost never use it with them because the culture just isn't good for it.

I think that's all backwards. I could handle 85% of my email via simple IM chats. Then I'd be done with it. As it is, email threads turn into more work and committees and really take most processes and structure a bit to the overkill side.

So, I think there is an age and culture thing happening. More people will use IM going forward. Email is huge, but we don't use it well. We hide behind it and let it consume us... That's all a matter of personal responsibility. None of us have to be that way, but we're probably not so good at boundaries.

Case and point... I leave my email open all day long. I also let emails sit until I'm ready to respond... and it doesn't bug me. If that's not "normal" then "normal" has a problem... which I'm not going to waste my time on fixing or fighting with reality... I'm going to find others who are capable of working healthy, and then I'm going to build on those relationships.

3:50 PM  
Toby Getsch said...

One more thing... I (and many others, including most of my friends) only have a cell phone, with no home phone. So, all our calls are on cell phones, most of the time.

Similar to email, I ignore it or wait to respond to voice mail until I'm ready. That's a boundaries thing...

I just don't want to spread the word about technology being a scapegoat. We are responsible for how we use all of that stuff. The technology and the reminders and the 24/7 access to internet... in reality is all AWESOME. And, we can turn it all off whenever we want.

If we're healthy, we'll turn it off. On those points of yours, I am so in agreement.

3:55 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Good comment, Eric!

The gurus of open-plan offices never consider that you might need to concentrate on your work. They're so obsessed with being able to keep an eye on people — and save money on the space needed for internal walls and corridors.

I think one of the reasons some people are more productive working at home is simply that they can manage to be free from so many distractions.

Keep reading, my friend.

5:36 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Hey, Toby. Who said anything about "normal?"

If the way that you work is good for you, that's fine. No problems.

My point is simply that too many distractions — especially those that come without choice — are usually bad for concentration and increase stress. Also many folk don't have the willpower you show to ignore e-mails until you're ready to pick them up and read them; at least, not if the e-mail software is open and making little pings every few moments.

You know that the thing I hate even more than macho management and the like is dogma of any kind!

Keep reading, my friend.

5:42 PM  
Shannon said...

These are all tools that can either be used effectively or ineffectively. For example, IM is a very effective tool when used to solve problems among a geographically dispersed team. That's what we use it for and it works well. We didn't have to institute a "no gossip" rule but I would if it looked like things were heading that way.

I agree that the biggest source of interruptions for me are people coming into my office and the phone. I've almost gotten to the point where I can ignore the phone ringing. But when people just come into my office and start talking to me about nothing important while I'm in the middle of a high focus task -- I don't know what to do without being rude. I could close my door more often, but it's not something I usually think about until after I've been interrupted.

4:19 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Shannon.

Yes, almost every communications tool has positive and negative aspects. Most people believe they can have the good parts without the bad, but experience suggests that the bad parts keep creeping in and spoiling the show.

When people interrupt, sometimes I think there is no alternative to asking them — politely — if you can postpone the conversation to another time, when you can give them your full attention.

Since many interruptions are not really so important, this usually ends them for good. And once you have made the request one or two times people get the message that if you're head-down concentrating on something it's better to come back another time. (Or you could develop some "busy" sign other than closing a door. Maybe you could sit sideways on to the entry if you're willing to be disturbed, and have your back to people if you're not.)

However, the whole "my door is always open" business had gotten to be far too literal. It seems to me that a door is a great signal device. Close it and you're only to be disturbed in an emergency.

The phrase really means that you are always willing to listen to people's concerns (at an appropriate time), not that you're always eager to be interrupted for anything. Making people wait to the right time encourages them to take responsibility for themselves on minor matters.

Keep reading, my friend.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous said...

Wow I love your blog! Right on about "Keys to saving time." I am an internet addict and it does not help that my job is in computers. I always had a hard time with the distractions. Thanks for the great post=)

11:43 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, C. I'm glad you find these articles useful.

Keep reading, my friend.

6:17 AM  

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