Posts

Forced smile

In my line of work, people come to me because they are feeling crushed by having so many different projects. In our new modern world we are impacted by so many different kinds of technologies (thank you social media and smartphones!) duplicating the different places where we can focus our attention.

There is an associated stress that comes from switching topics so rapidly throughout the workday.

A recent study found that in a working environment, people switched between simple activities such as phone calls and emails on average of every three minutes and five seconds, although roughly half of them are self-interruptions.

However an interruption can be beneficial if it matches the topic of the current task at hand. But sometimes incubating an idea or task (sleeping on it) allows your brain to rest and to revisit the task with clarity.  I think this is most beneficial when you want to write an angry email.  You write it, re-write it and spend lots of energy and time on it.  Leaving it for a while and coming back to it you will find you have calmed down a little and able to write something professionally and succinct (or can avoid sending it at all!)

Any kind of automatic task that doesn’t require a lot of thinking normally doesn’t have too much of an impact.  Such as “Hey, did you send that letter yesterday?” or “Can you quickly sign this?” The key here is that they are a short impact with little brain power.

Of course, t’s generally going to be counterproductive if you’re working on one task and you’re interrupted on a completely different topic. It’s a major brain shift that requires significant brain power. You have to completely shift your thinking, it takes you a while to get into it and it takes you a while to get back and remember where you were.

However, the happy middle ground is when you can cluster work into similar style events, a phone call, a document on a similar subject is quite normal for people to switch between.  And typically we switch between those styles every 10 and a half minutes.

82 percent of all interrupted work is completed on the same day, BUT it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to each task.

As expected, the psychological cost of switching is that there is significantly more stress. In addition to higher levels of stress, workers can also experience increase in frustrations, mental effort, feeling of time pressure and mental workload.

Interestingly, when people are not interrupted they worked slower. Perhaps this is because when people know they can expect interruption they work faster to compensate. When you know you’re going to be continually interrupted, you compensate by working faster.  I don’t know about you but that sounds like a stressful environment!  It creates the sensation of just not being able to keep up. It creates what some call “invisible work”: the work that your colleagues and managers don’t see, the extra work you have to get done just to keep up with the demands of your working environment.

Many people are required to really sink their brain into complex problems or analysis of work.  If people are switching projects every 10 and half minutes they can’t possibly be thinking deeply or creating a work flow.  This is really bad for innovation.

The best solution to preserve your productive time is to quarantine yourself for blocks of time.  Whether you stay at home, switch off your phone, ignore your email or but a blanket ban on your colleagues in the office.

My advice to those that can’t keep up is to limit your web usage and be disciplined about when you check your emails.

Now be honest, have you read this start to finish or have you done another task at the same time?

Buddhism encourages you to focus on your breathing or on a single principle of Buddhism to calm the monkey mind.   But then the annoying thoughts creep back in. You know what I’m talking about. Boring thoughts, really mundane mental memos. “Did I turn off the iron?” “I must remember to send that email to my boss.” “What was that idea I had when I was going to sleep last night?” “I know I’m forgetting something.”

The reality is, when your mind is full of chatter, you can’t just shut it up by trying to shut it off.  You have to ask yourself, “Why is this on my mind?” and “How can I log my thoughts to release my mind from the burden of remembering?”

Our brain is a bad and unreliable filing system.  Everything big and small is jammed in there.  These thoughts become clutter in our head.  By living a life of distraction (thank you Social Media and smartphones), we are pushing out the deeper and creative thoughts, along with any hope of real calm.

When looking at the effort required to effectively juggle between home, work, finances and other demands, the modern world seems to have forgotten to be Mindful. Becoming more conscious, being more present, in our own thoughts, feelings and sensations may not sound useful.  Yet the principles of mindfulness is to be able to stop, for a moment. To consider things without preconceived judgement, to view things objectively from a different angle. Applying this to a business allows for you to let go of the ‘this-is-the-way-we’ve-alway-done-it’ mindset.

The more you release the burden on your brain, of habitual thinking, of fixed ideas, of remembering and doing everything, the more you are able to be in a state of Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to and observing clearly what is happening, right now.

Practicing Mindfulness

As mentioned earlier, Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally. Mindfulness does not come quickly, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. When practicing mindfulness, everyone will experience thoughts creeping into their heads and it is inevitable. In a business context, this can be allowing past experiences to cloud our mind.

You need a systematic approach to extricate the things from your mind.  Here are some simple steps to help that process.

  • Adopt a reliable capture method to get thoughts out of your head (I love Evernote).
  • Create actionable items and next steps on your daily to-do list.
  • Review regularly your list to decide what must be done today and when you’re going to do it (on the train, at home etc).
  • When you have the time, prioritise as you go and complete the tasks on the list.
  • Develop ways to track and monitor along the way. Was there a good return on your resources? (Time and money)

If we don’t clear our mind of all our business,  we get annoyed for not being able to retain focus, we stop paying attention and get distracted.  Multitasking means that you are not giving mindful attention to the task at hand. Give each task your undivided attention.

Being continually focused on the present and what is happening around us, is the essential attribute of mindfulness. By learning to live the present moment, we build up the ability to step away from habit, from chronic unconscious emotional and physiological reactions.  These may be reactions to everyday events, behavioural habits that have formed over time and stuck with us.  A moment of mindfulness, allows us to be objective, to look at things from another perspective to either find an alternative way of doing things or to value and build upon something being done well.   We are able to respond to things wisely rather than on auto pilot.

Perks of Being Mindful

Mindfulness enables you to live in the present and improves the quality of your work. With focused effort, we can;

  •  Observe, slow down and stop automatic decisions;
  • Respond more effectively to complex difficult situations;
  • See situations more precisely;
  • Balance work and home.

Ways of Being Mindful

Mindfulness isn’t just 10-minute morning meditation. It can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you’re performing them. To list a few:

  •  Pay attention to your breathe-Calming your breath is the key to calm your brain. Are you starting to feel wound up?  Are you taking a break, a breather, a walk away for a moment.  Smokers have the misconception that it calms them (it’s actually a stimulant) but the old “smoko” is a method of taking a breather and allowing some mental down time from the job at hand.
  • Multitasking can be the enemy of focus. The time it takes for our brain to switch from one task to another can take valuable seconds away from the task.  We would achieve all the tasks much quicker if we did them one at a time.  A recent study reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology found that it took students far longer to solve complicated maths problems when they had to switch to other tasks – in fact, they were up to 40 per cent slower.
    Getting outside- Spending quality time with nature allows you to increase your focus. (It’s that smoko thing again!)
  • Being Happy – Laughter and meditation have similar effects on the brain.

The moment you become mindful and start living in the present, you will become the curator of your world. It is always good to a keep a watch on what you think, how you think or what you say as the world swivels on the law of attraction.

Share with me what you feel is a method for clearing your mind and staying focused?

 

If you’d like to try a complimentary coaching session to see if Time Management Coaching is right for you, CLICK HERE to make an appointment at a time convenient for you.

About the Author:

Barbara Clifford - The Time TamerBarbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a time management & stress management enthusiast based in Alice Springs, Australia.  She has spent over 20 years working in time precious and stressful industries such as film, hospitality and marketing.  She has always had a burning passion for creating order and making sense of things.  She is sought after like a beacon in a sea of chaos to provide professional development in the business environment through workshop training, coaching, mentoring, online training programmes, webinars and as a guest speaker around Australia.  Her professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care, Universities, Health Services and Cruise Ships. Follow Barbara on Twitter @barbclifford. 

 Time

You may delay, but time will not.

Managing your time is a hot topic and really it’s because effective time management is quite achievable but only through conscious effort.

Recently I got very ill for around 2 weeks.  I think it was my body telling me to slow down.  Ironically, as The Time Tamer I was fitting lots and lots into my time, but not actually scheduling any rest and recover time.   Time management doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself engaged all the time.

A typical day involves so many responsibilities like working, leisure, eating, shopping, communicating and relaxation. If you want to manage to complete all activities in a single day, then you need to consider the time required for every action. I’m a firm believer of a time and place for everything.  You may have to examine what is your instinct vs what is important. Are you a procrastinator, achiever or an overachiever and what causes you to procrastinate?  What are you passionate about or good that you will always over achieve in?

Ask yourself:

Am I a morning person or am I an evening person?  (Click HERE for a video on time mapping.) When are your peak times?

What is my motivation to accomplish my tasks?

Am I going to be journaling my tasks and schedules?

What amount of self-control do I have today to not message, chat and Facebook when I am working?

 

So what’s your personality type ? Are you kind of the person who will sacrifice much to achieve your targets? In all business you need to look at return on investment.  It’s not just about money you invest but time you invest.  Does it yield result? How much can you push your limits? (Be mindful not to push too far)

 

What’s your schedule? Is your schedule SMART. It’s important to have Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely goals. Only if your plan is S.M.A.R.T, it will be great for your project or company. What you need the most is a schedule that you cans stick with and which suits your business. I always tend to see extremes, someone that doesn’t have a diary or someone who has 3 or 4 (a calendar at work, a calendar at home, a diary, an electronic diary and a planner!)

 

Are you taking frequent breaks? This is probably my biggest mistake.  I don’t allow my brain or body time to relax.  Today I had a very stressful day.  It was only stressful because I had lots of little challenges one after the other, but it was a prolonged level of sustained stress that boiled and bubbled away.  I needed to leave one contract to head to another.  I didn’t want the stress of one environment impact upon the client I was about to see.    Rather than busting myself to work right up until the last minute to squeeze work in, I decided my deadline for tools down to give me enough unwind time.  Thankfully, I decided to spend just half an hour on some meditation (I chose Tai Chi out on the lawn.  I’m sure my colleagues found it amusing).  Even if you work in an office or work from home, ten minute power naps, a scented candle or listening to your favourite songs can be great ways to de-stress your overworked mind. Small things like exercise, may help you progress through the day. We often underestimate the power of an exercise and walking. Small things like this help you a lot in your work life.

Please remember in most organizations the things we schedule are the things we get done.