Making The Most Of Your Time
If you’re jumping from screen to screen looking for the next dopamine fix, you’re not alone. If you have been wondering how you can spend that time doing something productive it’s not so simple. It requires a long view. A belief in slow, steady rewards. And it requires discipline that leads to new habits.
In the “always on” culture we are now trained to seek the latest social feedback on the last post. Our notifications are the distraction that satisfies for the short term. We keep feeding the LIKE machine to guarantee a little feedback that keeps the cycle in motion.
We are distracted and unable to focus. We argue that we don’t have time to do meaningful work or follow that path to our dreams. Yet, we return around the clock to our notifications, tweets, and emails that don’t even need our attention. The thought of missing out leaves us slaves to the machines, non-vital relationships and the incessant chirping that keeps us wired.
Think back to another time when you were reading a book and you didn’t realize hours had passed. Or when you were in a conversation that transfixed you without checking your phone for anything else or perhaps more interesting. When you sat down to do something (like write) and you just did it. For long stretches without distraction.
Author Michael Harris has published two books which confront our current state of longing for less and some approaches to ponder. In the 2014 “End of Absence” and his latest “Solitude” he suggests that we have so much of everything all the time that we are no longer at peace without a lack of constant stimuli. To take it further, we are afraid and uncomfortable when we are alone.
Mindfulness is now trending in coastal meditation studios and even on, yes, apps. This is a great news. The simplicity of the approach from teachers like Shunryu Suzuki is that getting to a quiet place in your mind is a useful tool that can be summoned at any time.
That sounds simple enough. Just try it. Sit still for 20 minutes and see if your mind doesn’t begin to circle around from this thought to that thought. It takes years of practice to get to “Beginner’s Mind” – the truly clear state where the mind is unburdened from what you know and what you might learn. From there you can begin to really be in a creative and focused state.
This isn’t easy. We hope that we have surfaced some coping techniques and workarounds with technology that might get you closer to a more focused, creative life where you make progress spending your days on the work and rich relationships that you know live within you.
None of this is necessarily easy (we said it again). We’re so deep into our distracted lives that you’ll need to muster up some serious discipline and repetitive exercises to get there. Nobody will do it for you, but if you’re reading this you might just be willing to try.
As Tom Robbins boldly noted in his book “Still Life With Woodpecker”
It’s not men who limit women, it’s not straights who limit gays, it’s not whites who limit blacks. What limits people is lack of character. What limits people is that they don’t have the *!%*ing nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it.
It’s not an impossible task. You do have the nerve and imagination to make the most of your time and stop wasting it on quick hits. You may learn to carve time that is conducive to productive, creative work. All the while not missing out on important opportunities. (Hint: They’ll be there when you get back.)
Take Back Your Calendar
The late satirist Nora Ephron wrote a 2007 essay on the shortcomings of email. At the top of her list was the incessant back and forth that often precludes the scheduling of a simple appointment. We’ve all been there. By the time you finally get the appointment you may have forgotten why you wanted to meet, or worse you’re already frustrated with what you had to go through to get something actually scheduled.
The first thing you need to decide is are you available to meet or aren’t you? You may feel a sort of panic when committing to a time when anybody can schedule you. Will something more important come up? Do I really want to spend time with them? Only you can commit to your availability and willingness to meet, so we hope to help you make that a little easier and free up some time.
Uninterrupted time is a rare commodity these days. After every interruption “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.” according to research from UC Irvine. Can you imagine the amount of time you’re spending scheduling appointments and the distraction that causes?
It’s time to take back your calendar. If you truly want to speak with your customers (or anyone else for that matter) why not create times when you are free and let them choose a time that works with their calendar?
Productivity guru Tim Ferris recommends “batching meetings or calls in one or two set days, with 15 minutes between appointments. Scattering them throughout the week at odd times just interrupts everything else.” That makes sense. So adjust your available times around blocks which are built for interruption and dialog. You can have other times blocked off for focused work.
David Allen, bestselling author of “Getting Things Done” (GTD) describes the calendar as the “hard landscape” — put things on your calendar that can only happen at a particular time. That makes sense too. Random reminders or tasks that aren’t time specific would go on a list you check with some frequency. Otherwise the calendar loses it’s foundational job of knowing what you have to do at specific times.
The founders of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page are known to block “office hours” each week, where anybody in the company can grab a block of time and get feedback on what they are working on. This has opened the busy executives up to a variety of points of view that they might not have gotten normally.
When the commitment to a specific time is cemented, the reliance on vague or unformed dialog in email often stops. The scheduler will be more prepared when they’ve explicitly asked for your time. A bonus will be fewer emails of idea meandering and more productive meetings.
If any of this sounds familiar or desirable, following are some best practices we’ve seen in our work with the business of scheduling.
1. Define and share when you are available. It’s a courtesy to your customers and you’ll know each day if it’s going to be a meeting day or a “get work done” day.
2. There is some training involved. Many business people have grown so accustomed to the back and forth that they’ll be surprised to know that they can simply book time with you. They’ll be amazed, but it’s something new so encourage them with a link with a call to action such as “Schedule an Appointment With Me.” Include this in your email signature and include in the body of your emails.
3. Encourage those you’re meeting with to provide background information in advance and what they hope to achieve. You’ll be prepared and you may even bring in someone with expertise on the topic — saving you from another meeting.
4. Put some buffer time between appointments to prepare for the next. It can be as little as 15 minutes, but it makes all the difference.
5. Now that you’ve put some constraints around your availability, you’ll likely need to adjust and refine the approach over time. Which times are best? When are you better at doing the focused, creative work that benefits from fewer interruptions? Make calendar adjustments a part of your regular administrative preparation.
6. We keep hearing from our customers that there’s something freeing about owning their calendar. It’s not always easy to put your finger on, but you know you have some more time to focus on quality, needle-moving work and that those appointments you do have are more focused and productive.
We’d like to hear about your experience in taking control of your calendar and giving your customers sane access to you. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org