TIME psychology

How to Focus on the Things That Matter

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

How Can You Spend Time Wisely?

We all wonder where the hours go. There’s a good reason for that — we’re absolutely terrible at remembering how we really spend our time.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

Hunting through data from the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other time diary projects, I came to the inescapable conclusion that how we think we spend our time has little to do with reality. We wildly overestimate time devoted to housework. We underestimate time devoted to sleep. We write whole treatises glorifying a golden age that never was; American women, for instance, spend more time with their children now than their grandmothers did in the 1950s and 60s.

Nowhere is this truer than with work. Are you a workaholic spending 75+ hours at work a week? Then you’re probably off by as much as 25 hours.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

These curious blind spots continue into the realm of work. People who get paid by the hour know how many hours they work. People who inhabit the world of exempt jobs have a much more tenuous grasp on this concept but, as a general rule, the higher the number of work hours reported, the more likely the person is to be overestimating. A study published in the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review that compared estimated workweeks with time diaries reported that people who claimed their “usual” workweeks were longer than 75 hours were off, on average, by about 25 hours. You can guess in which direction. Those who claimed that a “usual” workweek was 65– 74 hours were off by close to 20 hours. Those claiming a 55– 64 hour workweek were still about 10 hours north of the truth. Subtracting these errors, you can see that most people top out at fewer than 60 work hours per week.

It’s no shock that we don’t spend time wisely — most of us have no idea where the time goes.

We do know some of the culprits. TV. Web surfing. And email. Oh yes, email.

Knowledge workers spend 28% of their time with email. 58 percent of smartphone owners don’t go an hour without checking their device. 9 percent check it during religious services.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

According to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report on the social economy, knowledge workers spend 28 percent of their time wading through their inboxes. According to Lookout, the mobile-security firm, 58 percent of smartphone users say they don’t go an hour without checking their phones. And not just waking hours. Lookout reported that 54 percent of smartphone users check their phones while lying in bed. Almost 40 percent say they check their phones while on the toilet. Some 9 percent admit to checking their phones during religious services.

Why can’t we focus? Dan Ariely says it’s an issue of visibility.

Calendars are great for showing things that take 30 minutes but can’t help us judge progress on big projects or creative endeavors that take 30 hours.

Via Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series):

The next thing working against us is the calendar. It has a tendency to represent tasks that can fit in thirty-minute or one-hour blocks. And tasks that take, say, fifty hours— which could be how long it takes you to complete a meaningful creative task— don’t naturally get represented in that calendar. Then there’s opportunity cost. With money, opportunity cost is the fact that every time you spend three dollars on a latte, you’re not going to spend it on something else. With time, there is also an opportunity cost— but it’s often even harder to understand. Every time you’re doing something, you’re not doing something else. But you don’t really see what it is that you’re giving up. Especially when it comes to, let’s say, e-mail versus doing something that takes fifty hours. It is very easy for you to see the e-mail. It is not that easy for you to see the thing that takes fifty hours.


How Do You Break Free?

In my interview with Cal Newport he said that the emphasis on productivity tricks was problematic. It’s only part of the solution — and not the important part:

There’s this notion that productivity alone, if you could just get the system right, is going to give you a meaningful career. I think a big shift is happening in people’s thinking as they realize “No, no, productivity can’t do that for you.” It can’t help you crack the new theorem or the new big product. What it can do is help clear the deck so that you can then start the sort of hard work of building and applying skills that leads to the really valuable stuff.

We spend time wisely when we plan:

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

Preliminary analysis from CEOs in India found that a firm’s sales increased as the CEO worked more hours. But more intriguingly, the correlation between CEO time use and output was driven entirely by hours spent in planned activities. Planning doesn’t have to mean that the hours are spent in meetings, though meetings with employees were correlated with higher sales; it’s just that CEO time is a limited and valuable resource, and planning how it should be allocated increases the chances that it’s spent in productive ways.

It’s even a good idea with your free time.

Caterina Fake points to management expert Pete Drucker who says working at home in the morning is the only real solution.

Via The Practice of Management:

The only published study of the way chief executives actually spend their day has been made in Sweden by Professor Sune Carlsson. For several months Carlsson and his associates clocked with a stop watch the working day of twelve leading Swedish industrialists. They noted the time spent on conversations, conferences, visits, telephone calls and so forth. They found that not one of the twelve executives was ever able to work uninterruptedly more than twenty minutes at a time—at least not in the office. Only at home was there some chance of concentration. And the only one of the twelve who did not make important, long-range decisions “off the cuff,” and sandwiched in between unimportant but long telephone calls and “crisis” problems, was the executive who worked at home every morning for an hour and a half before coming to the office.

So what do you need to do?

Plan ahead and protect a period of time every day, probably in the morning, and use it to do the long term things that matter.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Time management

7 Time Management Tricks to Help You Keep Your Cool

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#5: Use music to help you focus.

Choosing wise ways to use our time is critical to reaching our goals. After all, “Time is a precious, nonrenewable resource,” says author Brigid Schulte of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. “It’s all those small decisions we make with what to do with five minutes here, 10 minutes there, how to spend the afternoon, that really wind up defining your life.”

When you’re bogged down with a never-ending to-do list, try some (or all!) of these time management hacks.

1. Track Your Time

Set up a log to record your minutes. “If you want to spend your time better, figure out how you’re spending it now,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most of Their Time and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. She recommends keeping a time log for a week; the format doesn’t matter.

“You can write it down in a journal [or] use a spreadsheet or a time-tracking app,” says Vanderkam. One app to check out is RescueTime. For $9 a month (with a 14-day free trial), this program will clock your daily habits to show you how long you’re away from your computer or on certain sites or applications, provide weekly reports of your productivity, and even (if you want) block you from distracting websites.

At least one-quarter of your activities will likely fall under the category of “low-value” tasks that are either “relatively easy to drop, delegate, or outsource,” saving you up to 10 hours of time a week for more important duties, according to the Harvard Business Review.

2. Take Breaks

“We only have 90-minute attention spans,” says Schulte. “The brain can concentrate on anything if it knows a break is coming soon. Choose your most important task and do it first when your willpower is strongest and your mind freshest, then plan to devote your attention in 30-, 45-, or 90-minute ‘pulses.’ Then take a break.”

Schulte adds that insights are even more likely to hit when we’re taking that break, so don’t think of that time you use to take a walk or daydream as goofing off.

3. Use the 6-12-6 Rule

We squander nearly one day a week “managing communication,” like emails and phone calls, according to a new Bain & Company study of CEOs. Kathryn McKinnon, time management expert at McKinnon & Company and author of Triple Your Time Today! 10 Proven Time Management Strategies to Create & Save More Time, is not surprised: “The issue is not whether we have enough time. The real issue is how we choose to spend the time we have.”

McKinnon’s solution to the rabbit hole of email correspondence? Block out set times to check on communication instead of going online all day long.

“Shut off your phone and close email to tune out distractions while you’re working on your priorities,” she says. McKinnon recommends applying a 6-12-6 rule to email correspondence. “Check it only for 20 minutes at 6 am, 12 pm, and again at 6 pm. “Set yourself up for some easy wins by not living by your inbox.”

4. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Contrary to how busy we feel, “we’ve actually gained extra time,” McKinnon says. ”The emergence of new technologies has created vast efficiencies in our productivity and reduced the actual amount of time and effort it takes to do many of our tasks and jobs.”

For example, for organizing your files and documents, McKinnon recommends Evernote, a free online tool. Evernote makes it easy to keep your projects, ideas and even images together. Plus, the software allows you to record meetings or speeches to cut down on your note taking and the means to share your new and improved files with colleagues, taking efficiency to a new level.

5. Use Music to Help You Focus

Get the most out of your working time by listening to music. Then cut down on the time you’d waste figuring out which tunes to play by checking out Focus@Will, a cool site and app that offers specially selected music “optimized to boost your concentration and focus.”

This is no Pandora. Using scientific research to back up its selection, the site contends, “When choosing music for a workplace, it is best to use music that workers neither like or dislike.” To find out what tunes this could possibly include (hint: there’s a lot of classical instrumentals), sign up for a 30-day free trial or pay a monthly fee of $5.99.

6. Use an App to Track Time

“Don’t be a clock watcher,” says Rachelle Isip, an organization, time management, and productivity consultant for The Order Expert. “Try setting an alarm or timer as you work. This way you can pay more attention to what you’re doing without interruptions to check the clock. You may even find you’ll finish your work faster using this method.”

For freelancers or business owners, Isip recommends Harvest, a website and app set up to track billable hours on various projects. Plus, you can add staff members to your membership and send out invoices to clients. Harvest offers a 30-day free trial and, if you like what you see, you can pay a monthly fee starting at $12. At that price, it’s still a lot cheaper than hiring a personal assistant.

7. Rise and Shine

If after all these changes you’re still not finding the time to add something to your life, Vanderkam suggests getting up earlier. “Mornings are a great time for getting stuff done, particularly personal priorities that life has a way of crowding out.”

Vanderkam should know: Besides being a journalist and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, she’s also a mother of four. Getting up at the crack of dawn doesn’t mean depriving you of sleep, either. “Most people spend a lot of time puttering around awake before bed. So go to bed earlier and turn those unproductive evening hours into productive morning ones.”

More From Daily Worth:

MONEY productivity

Why You Should Stop Multitasking and Start Singletasking

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Andy Roberts—Getty Images

Multitasking is a myth, but there is a better way

Multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, it decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. In addition to lessening your productivity, it also lowers your IQ and shrinks your brain—reducing density in the region responsible for cognitive and emotional control.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days. Worse, a whopping 69% report they had talked on their cell phone.

So what’s our stressed-out society to do? One word: singletasking.

Here are nine ways to get started:

1. Realize that multitasking is a myth

Your brain is incapable of simultaneously processing separate streams of information from multiple tasks. That’s because there’s “interference” between the two tasks, says MIT’s Dr. Earl Miller. So, in actuality, multitasking simply doesn’t exist. What you’re really doing is task-switching—the technical term for moving very quickly and ineffectively between tasks. You task-switch within tenths of a second, and thereby don’t consciously notice delays.

2. Commit to your choices
Singletasking obliges you to do one thing at a time—excluding any other demands at that moment. This means you must stand firm and genuinely commit to your choices. You can manage your next task after working on the existing one. You don’t have to complete every task all at once, just the current period of time dedicated to it.

3. Discipline your brain
How often do you meet someone and instantly forget her name? This indicates that your mind was distracted, that it was preoccupied with something else entirely. The inability to concentrate on a name or conversation is evidence of what I deem SBS—Scattered Brain Syndrome. Singletasking isn’t only about getting things done. It’s also about developing focus. Living in the present will affect the very essence of your life, including work, relationships, and everything else that matters to you.

4. Park extraneous thoughts
Singletasking doesn’t require you to discard distracting thoughts. Instead, it provides simple systems to set them aside until you can redirect your mind. One technique is to “park” other ideas in a designated place, such as a notes page on your smartphone, and then quickly return to the current endeavor.

5. Build fences
At work, it’s up to you to control your environment—to “build fences” to keep potential distractions, such as noise and pop-ups, at bay. Rather than blame technology (think your computer and smartphone) or nearby colleagues, take control of your workspace and gadgets. For example, before a conference call, close your door or put a “Quiet” Post-it note outside your cubicle. Mute all chimes, ringers, and pings, and turn off visual alerts and social media messaging.


6. Practice clustertasking
Does reading and replying to texts, emails, and social media messages lure you away from bigger, more important projects? Then try clustertasking—a technique whereby you bunch related tasks into specific segments during the day. At the office, for instance, you could confine your emailing to three segments daily—when you arrive in the morning, before lunch, and as you prepare to leave for the day.

7. Grow your attention span
The average human attention span is eight seconds, reports the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. That’s right—a goldfish has you beat. Next time you’re “busy” surfing the Web, ask yourself if you’re really sidestepping solitude and introspection. Try carving out a little time each day to be left alone with your thoughts.

8. Say no early and often.
Attempting to be all things to all people is more than unrealistic—it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s perfectly fine, even responsible, not to respond to every request immediately. “No, I can’t right now” is not equivalent to “No, I won’t ever do it.” By saying no, you’ll be free from the constant frustration of half-finished tasks.

9. Ask others to call you out
Old habits die hard. From time to time, you’ll almost certainly go back to your old ways, reverting to task-switching. So ask your family, friends, and co-workers to call you out. You may have myriad excuses for an exception. No matter, thank them for their vigilance.

Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc., is the author of three books, published globally in as many as 25 languages. Her new release is Singletasking: Get More Done—One Thing at a Time (Berrett-Koehler). An international expert in leadership development, she is an award-winning keynote speaker, consultant, and coach. Visit myonlyconnect.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

These Small Habits Can Transform Your Life

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Don’t let little time wasters or poor habits bring down your performance


When you’re starting a business as a young entrepreneur, it seems like there are an infinite number of tasks to juggle. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of the details, no matter how tiny or tedious. Small changes, like reducing the amount of time you spend each day managing email or your remote team, can quickly add up, meaning you can spend your time growing your business instead of your to-do list.

Managing Time Wasters

One of the most insidious time sucks in the modern workplace is at your fingertips every day, and worse, it’s legitimately work related. Ask almost anyone what they spend the most time on while at work, and the answer is bound to be email. Email is the basis of communication in the 21st century workforce. Why not make sure you’re being as efficient as possible when you’re doing something so important?

Professional email etiquette is just as crucial as efficiency, and it’s more than just good manners; it’s good management. For instance, knowing how to start and end a professional email takes a lot of the guesswork out of communicating with co-workers, clients and customers. A professional greeting lets the recipient know that the topic is business, and a cordial and appropriate sign-off can eliminate the need for unnecessary responses as well as the need to go back and read them.

Knowing when to CC or BCC someone can also go a long way in saving time on email distribution. Create folders to keep all emails of a certain type together, and regularly archive emails that you have handled but that still contain information you may need to refer to later. Email search will also save you tons of time when tracking down old emails, so make regular use of this feature even if your inbox is completely organized.

Checking your email the right way can also help keep you on task. A good way to do this is to set aside certain points of the day to check your email, and check it at only those times — if that’s realistic for your situation. Try setting your email program to only check for messages at your decided times if self-control isn’t enough to keep you from clicking that envelope.

Developing Good Habits

Structuring your day and managing your workflow are the two pillars of any successful productivity strategy. Tasks should be outlined at the beginning of every day or at the end of the previous day, and nobody in the office should ever be unsure of what they are supposed to be doing. Setting productivity goals at the start of each day gives both you and your employees concrete objectives to work toward instead of an endless procession of menial tasks.

Good physical habits are often an underrated part of an entrepreneur’s success. As clichéd as it may sound, a good diet, moderate exercise and the appropriate amount of sleep will actually help you feel better and miss work less often, maximizing your potential as a leader and decision maker. Work habits are important as well, and business owners in particular must evaluate their methods on a regular basis to ensure they’re still best for the business. A clean physical and digital workspace minimizes distractions and promotes clarity of mind, allowing you to focus on the task at hand.

Putting your business in the best position for success means managing your resources wisely, and time is the most valuable and irreplaceable asset a business has. Time truly is money, and making sure not to waste either in the early stages of growth can make the difference for your company.

Jeff Fernandez is the CEO and Cofounder of Grovo, the quickest, simplest training platform for digital and professional skills. The venture-backed learning technology company is based in New York City and serves Fortune 500 companies, businesses and universities in 190 countries.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

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You can never get everything done, but you can set up productive habits


As the owner and CEO of a successful business, I’m constantly pulled in many directions. Our salespeople need information, a client calls with an issue or I’m due downtown for an industry meeting. To keep on top of it all — and stay sane — I’ve developed 5 daily habits that help keep me one step ahead.

  1. Set three daily priorities. Each day, my priorities vary. If I’m at a client’s office, I’m engrossed in what they need; yet when I’m in the office, a variety of matters need my attention. Each day, I try to write down the three things that must be achieved that day. This helps me keep focus on what I truly need to get done — and feel good about my accomplishments. Naturally, life gets in the way, but the trick is to set attainable expectations.
  2. Reduce interruptions. This is incredibly hard to do, but very important. My entire team is remote, so when I’m in the office, I don’t have to worry about anyone physically interrupting me … but I do have electronic interruptions. To reduce these, I try to spend an hour a day without email, the phone or instant messaging. There are days I can’t make this happen, but it’s important to find a way to reduce interruptions when I haven’t finalized my daily priorities.
  3. Check email less frequently. Time management experts recommend checking email only a few times a day rather than every five minutes. This is a great tip! I generally check email early in the morning before the day begins, then periodically in between meetings and at the end of the day. When traveling or waiting for someone, I check email on my phone. The point is this: I am not a slave to email; if I were, nothing else would get done.
  4. Rely on my CRM. I preach automation and integration to my clients because I know it makes a huge difference in keeping them on track, thereby saving time and money. In my own business, the best tool we use is our CRM, QuickBase. We chose QuickBase because it can be customized to meet our needs. It keeps track of clients and prospects, monitors their activities, manages proposals, contracts and signatures, and sends reminders for various activities that we need to do. In addition to sales and prospect management, there are project management and HR components that allow us to stay on top of all the activities going on in our business.
  5. Set a timer. One of my team members set up his computer to announce the hour, sort of like an old fashioned cuckoo clock. I recently adopted his habit. It allows me to keep better track of time when I’m knee-deep in a project. An important side benefit is that it reminds me to eat; I no longer get the afternoon doldrums because I forgot to eat lunch.

Remember, you can never get everything done — I call that “job security.” But, having some simple daily habits to improve productivity means I have more control over my day with more time spent on the activities that brings me and my company the biggest results.

Marjorie Adams is president/CEO of AQB, a business process and software consulting firm that improves the efficiency of client accounting departments. The firm specializes in QuickBooks integration and conversion projects. In her spare time, Marjorie catches up with one of her six sisters, sweats through CrossFit training, dresses up her four cats, reads a business book or watches the latest AMC show.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME advice

9 Habits of People Who Are Always on Time

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If you’re in a constant struggle with the clock, these solutions will help you master your schedule

Some people get their daily dose of cardio by running into every meeting saying, “Sorry I’m late!” While it might seem like chronic lateness is just plain rude, time management can be harder than it looks—and often, lateness is rooted in something psychological, like a fear of downtime.

Luckily, there are simple habits you can tweak and others you can adopt entirely to turn you into that person—the one who shows up early and finishes projects with time to spare. Here, nine habits of those mystifying people who are always punctual.

When it’s time to get up, they get up.

Waking up is the first item of the day you can procrastinate. Whether you hit the snooze button and fall back asleep, or accidentally turn your alarm off and wake up 30 minutes later in a panic, getting out of bed is an easy thing to delay. Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, suggests an easy fix: Put your alarm out of reach. Physically moving out of bed to turn your alarm off is a surefire way to get out of bed—and not crawl back in.

They plan breakfast at dinner.

Everyone is rushed in the morning, says Gottsman—it’s the busiest time of day. Hyper-organized, punctual people tend to have their mornings laid out before they go to bed the night before. Their shoes and keys are by the door, their lunches are packed, and the coffee pot is set to start brewing. Some even lay out their outfits the night before—“first day of school”-style. A map for your morning routine eliminates the five minutes you spend searching for your keys, and sends you out the door right on time.

They end tasks on time.

Often, people who are late simply get caught up in moving from one activity to the next, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. People who are time-conscious, on the other hand, map out their tasks in advance, and understand how long they should spend on each project before moving on. By answering the question: “How long will this take?” ahead of time, you’ll find it easier to wrap things up.

“If you can see what success looks like for each item, it helps you stop working,” Morgenstern says.

They recognize patterns, and correct them.

If you’re always running back inside to grab your phone charger, keep an extra at work or in the car. If you’re constantly on the hunt for your sunglasses, train yourself to leave them by the door every day. “Timely people know what they need to do to stay punctual,” says Gottsman. “Know your idiosyncrasies.”

They embrace downtime.

Part of the psychology of lateness is typically a fear of waiting or being left with nothing to do, says Morgenstern. People who are perpetually behind are often subconsciously trying to make sure that they are always moving—the idea of sitting in a doctor’s lobby makes them anxious. Morgenstern suggests using this time to catch up on simple tasks, like networking emails or that book you’ve been dying to read. By having items permanently on your “to-do” list, you’ll always feel like you’re accomplishing something.

They’re immune to “Just One More Thing” syndrome.

You’ll rarely hear a time-conscious person say they need to squeeze in “one more thing” before they leave. That impulse can lead you off track, and suddenly it’s not just one more email—it’s an entire 15 minutes worth of emails.

“Train yourself to recognize that impulse when it happens,” Morgenstern says. “Resist the impulse to do one more thing and just leave.”

They schedule built-in overflow time.

If you glanced at the calendar of that woman in the office—the one who’s always on time and whose hair is somehow immune to humidity—you’d probably see large gaps in her day, and space between meetings. This overflow time is essential for handling anything unexpected that might arise and throw off your schedule. Morgenstern suggests setting aside a chunk in the morning and one in the afternoon to catch up on to-do lists and handle spontaneous crises.

They’ve mastered the skill of calculation.

Timely people are serious planners. They map out their days, often down to the minute—including elevator time, walking time, and even the traffic and weather, meaning they are rarely delayed. If you’ve yet to become this precise, Morgenstern has a fix: Time yourself completing routine tasks three days in a row. Find out how long it takes you to get from bed to out the door, and then from the door of your office building to your desk, with a stop at the coffee machine on the way. Soon, you’ll become a time master, too.

They know when they do their best work.

“People who schedule well are very aware of their energy cycles,” Morgenstern says. “They know what is the ideal time for different kinds of activities.” If you do your best thinking in the morning, save that time for your hardest work. By scheduling your day to maximize performance, you eliminate burning out or getting sucked into the Internet while your brain recovers from a slew of meetings.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

The Easiest Way to See if You’re Spending Your Time Right

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Get your paint tool or color pencils ready


This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

When Info We Trust’s graphics depicting the average days of creative geniuses of yore went viral earlier this week, we were impressed like so many others—after all, it’s pretty cool to see how the masters made it work!

But more importantly, we thought this method of visualizing time was an awesome way to quickly understand what each of these masters spend their time doing—and would be something that all of us could use to get a better handle on our own time. After all, the first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the visual below and then either print it out or open it up in MS Paint or Photoshop. Using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon. For example, I filled out a Wheel of Productivity for my own days below, and can easily see that I do well on the sleep front, but could probably try and break up my big block of green work time (by taking an actual lunch break, perhaps, or going to the gym midday instead of in the morning).
Fill out your own Wheel of Productivity, and then give it a hard look: Are you devoting enough time to the colors that matter most to you?

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The Simple Calendar Strategy to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 2015

Gillian Blease—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Cali Williams Yost is the founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexible workplace advisory firm.

A combined priority list helps reestablish solid boundaries around what you need and want to get done

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.

Cali Williams Yost is the founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexible workplace advisory firm, and the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street, 2013).

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Workplace

3 Ways to Keep Your Workload From Crushing You

lucas zarebinski For salaried employees, the typical workweek now totals 49 hours.

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded at work? Here's how to take back your time.

So much for 9 to 5. The average full-time salaried employee is now putting in nearly 10 hours a day, according to a recent Gallup poll (up slightly from a weekly average of 47 hours in 2007). Even grimmer: 25% say they’re regularly working a 60-hour week.

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded? There are some simple tactics that will help you keep your workday in check.

Get your priorities straight. “Do the most important or most difficult task first,” says Mitzi Weinman of professional development firm TimeFinder. Starting with the quick, easy jobs is tempting, but delaying the thornier tasks just increases the odds that you’ll need to stay late to finish.

Plug productivity leaks. Try tracking your activities: Write down everything you do in half-hour increments. You may discover that you’re spending more time, say, browsing social media than you thought. Set a limit for how long you can spend on any time-sucking activity and stick to it.

Manage messages. Email, while necessary, can be a distraction, says Patricia Thompson, a psychologist and career coach. Decide how often you need to check messages, then shut down your email program between checks (mute smartphone alerts as well).

TIME psychology

How to Be Efficient: Dan Ariely’s 6 New Secrets to Managing Your Time

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It’s hard to be efficient.

Sometimes it feels like the world doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes youdon’t make any sense. And sometimes it feels like it’s all a conspiracy.

As we’ll see shortly, these are all, in a way, true.

Dan Ariely is the king of irrational behavior. Not that he’s more irrational than you or I, but he’s studied an impressive amount of it.

Dan is a behavioral economist at Duke University and the New York Times bestselling author of three wonderful books:

  1. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
  2. The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic
  3. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves

Most recently he’s turned his attention to the irrationality of how we use our time and has helped create a new smart-calendar app, Timeful.

What’s great is the data from Timeful is helping us learn things about what works and what doesn’t as it relates to productivity.

I gave Dan a call to hear what he had to say about how we can improve time management, how to be efficient and how to get more done.

1) The World Is Working Against You

This isn’t a conspiracy theory and a tinfoil hat isn’t required, but we are spending more of our time in environments that have their own agendas.

Billboards and TV ads want you to buy. The links on the internet encourage you to click. Notifications on your smartphone beckon you.

Our default is now a constant, aggressive chain of siren songs from our environment.

Here’s Dan:

The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our lives really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult.

If you followed every directive from your surroundings these days you’d quickly be broke, obese, and constantly distracted.

It’s like we’re surrounded by scheming thieves: thieves of our time, thieves of our attention, thieves of our productivity.

And how do pickpockets steal your stuff? Distraction.

Here’s Dan:

I have a friend who’s a magician and he pickpockets people in his show. He said when he started he used to tap people to distract them. He’d tap them, they would lose their concentration and he could take their watch. He said now he realizes that merely asking people questions is enough to make them lose the ability to focus.

(Short on time? Skip to 5:35 to see how easily distracted you can be.)

Not having a plan, goals or a system in today’s world is dangerous because the default isn’t neutral.

(For more on what the most productive people do to reduce distractions, click here.)

So what does this mean is the first big step to productivity?

2) Control Your Environment Or It Will Control You

We can’t control our environment everywhere we go, of course, but we have more control than we usually choose to exercise.

If you banish distractions and control your calendar you can make sure your environment is ripe for productivity.

Here’s Dan:

One of the big lessons from social science in the last 40 years is that environment matters. If you go to a buffet and the buffet is organized in one way, you will eat one thing. If it’s organized in a different way, you’ll eat different things. We think that we make decisions on our own but the environment influences us to a great degree. Because of that we need to think about how to change our environment.

What does research show the most productive computer programmers have in common?

It’s not experience, salary, or hours spent on a project.

They had employers who created an environment free from distraction.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

…top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.

Research shows distractions make us stupid.

Your surroundings should make the things you need to do easy and the things you shouldn’t do hard.

What happened when Google put M&M’s in containers instead of out in the open? People ate 3 million less of them in one month.

Here’s Dan:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

(For more on how the most organized people stay on track, click here.)

Okay, so you need to manage your environment. How do you manage your calendar?

3) Write Everything Down

We all know how fallible our brains can be yet we routinely trust ourselves to remember and follow through on things. Bad.

What did research from the Timeful app tell Dan?

  1. Most people don’t write down the things they need to do.
  2. When you do write things down, you’re more likely to follow through on them.

If it’s important, write it down. Reminders, post-its, and calendars are all good tools.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker points to research showing that your calendar can make you happier:

Take the things that make you happy and energized and schedule them more often.

Sound stupidly simple? Research says we don’t do it enough. Here’s Jennifer:

…there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time… once you identify the activities and people with whom you want to spend more time, calendaring your time thoughtfully becomes critical. When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity – partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it – because it’s already on your calendar.

(For more on how to schedule to-do’s like a pro, click here.)

So you’ve written down everything that needs to get done. Should you just run down the list in order? Absolutely not.

4) When You Do What You Do Is Key

All hours are not created equal. What did Dan’s Timeful research show about our most productive hours?

You have a window of 2-2.5 hours of peak productivity per day, starting a couple hours after waking.

Here’s Dan:

…it turns out that most people are productive in the first two hours of the morning. Not immediately after waking, but if you get up at 7 you’ll be most productive from around from 8-10:30.


Those are the hours when you should be working on your most cognitively demanding tasks. The big projects. The stuff that really moves the needle.

But what did Dan find that most people did with those hours?

Email and Facebook.

You need to guard those hours for important tasks. Designate that part of your day as “protected time.”

And Dan’s findings line up with other research. I’ve posted before that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking is when your brain is sharpest:

Studies show that alertness and memory, the ability to think clearly and to learn, can vary by between 15 and 30 percent over the course of a day. Most of us are sharpest some two and a half to four hours after waking.

When I interviewed willpower expert Roy Baumeister he said that early morning is also when you’re most disciplined:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

In studies of geniuses, most did their best work early in the day.

(For more on the schedule very successful people follow, click here.)

So you need to shape your environment and protect your peak hours. What should you avoid doing?

5) The Four Horsemen of the Productivity Apocalypse

Dan’s research found 4 things that were the biggest time wasters:

1) Meetings

We all know how meetings waste time and multiply like rabbits. The solution?

Schedule your work time on your calendar. Have a presentation to work on? Block out hours for it.

If people try to put a meeting there, you can say you have a conflict. You do. Your work matters.

A calendar should be a record of anything that needs to get done — not merely of interruptions like meetings and calls.

2) Email

Most people simply spend too much time in their inboxes to accomplish anything of substance.

Here’s how to stop email from taking over your life.

3) Multitasking

Put aside the distractions and do one thing at a time. Across the board, multitasking lowers productivity.

4) “Structured Procrastination”

What’s structured procrastination? It’s doing little things that give us thefeeling of progress instead of deep work that really makes progress.

Here’s Dan:

So making to-do lists and crossing them off is an example of this. Because those things are easily measurable, they make us feel as if we’re achieving things. But real achievements take time. Progress is not always linear. Big projects aren’t always immediately rewarding. Things that are really complex don’t give us the same sense of momentary enjoyment but those are the things that give us the real sense of achievement and progress once we get to them. But I don’t think we get to them enough.

Avoid these four and you’ll see an 80/20 style jump in your productivity.

(For more on work-life balance, click here.)

So you are making progress. You’re more productive during the day. But we all get tired or bored. What’s the best thing to do then?

6) No, You Don’t Need An Email Break

You tell yourself you need an email break, and that you’ll be rejuvenated and work better afterward. Problem is, that’s just not true.

Getting your head into and out of your work takes time. Switching tasks has cognitive costs that reduce efficiency.

Here’s Dan:

People think that checking email refreshes them. It doesn’t. If you want to get refreshed, close your eyes, meditate, breathe deeply, or think about some things that are important. The reality is the right way to do things is shut your email down and focus on what you’re doing.

In fact, research shows that frequent email checks can temporarily lower your intelligence more than being stoned.

Constant emailing reduces mental ability by an average of about 10 IQ points. For men, it’s about three times the effect of smoking marijuana.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis.

Some of you are already saying: “But I have to check email!” Yes, you do. But probably not that often.

As Cal Newport says, Shallow work is what stops you from getting fired. Deep work is what gets you promoted.

And email is shallowest of work. We got men on the moon without email. And email can wait while you get the important things done.

(For more on how the most successful people manage their time, click here.)

So Dan has a lot of tips for us. How do we pull all of this together and be more efficient?

Sum Up

Here are Dan’s tips:

  1. The world is not designed to help you achieve your long term goals. Passivity is not going to get you where you want to go.
  2. Control your environment or it will control you. Optimize your workspace for what you need to achieve.
  3. Write the things you need to do down on your calendar. You’re more likely to do what you write down.
  4. You have about 2 hours of peak productivity, usually early in the morning. Protect those hours and use them wisely.
  5. Meetings, email, multitasking and structured procrastination are the biggest time wasters.
  6. No, you don’t need an email break. Switching tasks reduces effectiveness as your brain transitions. The more you do it, the less effective you are.

You don’t need to account for every minute. You don’t need to agonize over wasted seconds. It’s just about improving.

And none of us are infallible. When I asked Dan about work-life balance, what did he say?

I struggle with it every day. You and I are doing this interview and it’s Saturday, Eric.

So nobody’s perfect. But with Dan’s tips we can all get better at managing our time.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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