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March, 2011

Spend Your Time Wisely

By Elizabeth Anderson-Peacock, DC

There is a saying: If you want something done, give it to a busy person.

Why is it that within a day's time, someone you know seems to be able to accomplish so much more than you? After all, we are working with the same number of hours. But while you're grasping at the day's minutes, others seem to effortlessly float through their workload. Do they hold some special secret?

In short, no. However, there are a few key concepts and strategies that, if followed, can make your day much more productive.

Busyness vs. Productivity

First, let's take a look at the concept of "busyness." Busyness is the act of keeping ourselves full of activity, but without a plan that moves us forward through the day. I think of a time when I watched someone really look busy at her job yet, in observation, she was replying to texts and e-mails while having a lengthy telephone conversation. As a customer standing in front of her, I was asked to "wait" with her hand raised until she finished the conversation. When done, she apologized, but stated she was "so busy." I thought, really, is that so, or had she just lacked the skills to prioritize and handle her workload?

Productivity is the act of being efficient while accomplishing things that move you forward in the day. And it all happens because you have a plan of action.

Can you find examples in your day that can be defined as "busyness" instead of productiveness? Here are a few time-wasting habits to consider:

Time-Wasting Habits

We need to be aware of our time-wasting habits. While we all have our own schedules and individual personalities, there are two major time wasters that many seem to fall victim to: multitasking and interruptions.

Multitasking. There is really no such thing as multitasking. Masquerading as multitasking is the ability to rapidly switch from one task to another. However, the brain is designed to work on one thing at a time. Some people can sequentially change what they are doing, but they are in effect still focusing on one thing at a time.

Evidence is emerging that "multitaskers" are not actually as efficient as we think since their thought processes are distracted by jogging back and forth between tasks. The effect is often reduced focus and mental fatigue as one has to keep in the forefront of the mind the numerous thoughts to "remember."

Interruptions. Have you ever begun your day with a well-thought-out plan of what you wanted to accomplish, but at the end of the day, somehow managed to do absolutely nothing on that list? Of course you have. Time-consuming interruptions can sneak in by a simple phone call, an e-mail, even a radio broadcast and lead you down a very different path than the one intended.

These time wasters distract us and take us off our game, shifting our focus and derailing our plans. We falsely prioritize these distractions as having to do them right away, instead of redirecting them where they belong.

Prioritization

While prioritization is a simple concept that we've all heard of, many of us fail to realize the importance of implementing it in our lives each and every day. Your time is valuable; make the effort to spend it wisely. It is the prioritization of duties and tasks from high priority to low that will allow you to maintain maximum focus and accomplish tasks efficiently. If we do not prioritize our time and energy with high-priority items, we then proceed to fill our day with low-priority items, interruptions and other time-consuming distractions.

Make a list. Start each day with a list of what you wish to accomplish. Then prioritize the items from high to low - either move the list around or number accordingly.

Note what time of day you are the most productive. Is it in the morning, afternoon or evening? We each have our own circadian rhythm: high and low energy times with which we pace ourselves through our day. Once identified, try tackling those important items during your high-energy time of day and leave your low-priority tasks to your low-energy time of day.

For example, my creativity comes best either early in the morning or late at night. My low time is mid-afternoon. I schedule academic reading, complex thinking and creativity during my best times, and leave my low-priority items (i.e., reading e-mail, opening mail, handling messages and chores) to my low time.

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