But What About Time Management?
(How About Energy Management Instead?)
What it is … Many of us create unrealistic expectations about how many tasks and accomplishments we can fit into a single business day. We seem to continually search for ways to deal with the pressure of lists, meetings, deadlines, and commitments. Meanwhile, the stress of trying to keep up with this mess actually reduces our productivity.
Sample scenario #1: Sam is always three to seven minutes late, forgets to eat, and the last time he took a vacation he responded to e-mails and calls from the office for several hours each day. He went to a time management seminar and bought some software that was supposed to link everything together, but nothing has really changed. He dreams that someday he’ll buy a llama farm in Vermont.
Sample scenario #2: Nancy seems to have a gap between how much she believes she can simultaneously juggle, and her actual output. When someone at work asks her if she can deliver a certain packet of data, she has a tendency to respond, “Uh … yeah, I’ll get that to you by noon on Friday,” and this has happened so often (without the actual delivery) that new employees are unfairly set up to put in a request to see if the response will be the same from “noon-on-Friday Nancy.”
Why will this help me at work? This one is another “BFO” (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) in that it is often the perceived demands of work that cause us to get bunched up in our undies. I have seen and worked with folks who move through their days with reasonable grace and composure, and their workloads and responsibilities are no less than yours. The less time we spend thinking about what we are going to do because we have too much to do, the more we can actually get done.
Why is this so difficult at times? First, the key to understanding this topic—as the chapter title says—is to shift from “time management” to “energy management.” Our experience of time is not actually as a rigid, fixed quantity ticking by, but as a fluid element. When you’re in love or playing with your grandkid or skiing in the perfect snow, time is elastic and flowing. When you’re stuck in that boring operations meeting again, every second drags. The other main challenge is that in planning each day, we forget to allow for the unexpected. There will always be things that cannot be anticipated in advance, but we don’t allow ourselves space or permission for these events.
Your frank self-assessment:
· Do you keep searching for the perfect or better system that will someday magically keep you on track? How’s that working so far?
· Are you able to accept that there are limits to what can be done, and that it’s up to you to set them (or find a more reasonable workplace culture)?
· Do you take realistic breaks, or do you believe that Superwoman and Superman don’t need these because they have super powers?
· Technology is often not our friend. Use the same standard for e-mail that you would for paper: is this something that I want to keep around and keep track of? In about 98 percent of the time, the answer is “no,” so send it to your Trash, and set your Trash to delete anything over thirty days each day. If it’s worth saving, then save it now. Otherwise, if it’s a month old and you haven’t had to dig it out of the Trash, let it go.
· Make sure you periodically take as much time as you can—a minimum of forty-eight hours, seven full days is better—for a regular “digital detox.” When we unplug our devices, we return to a more natural rhythm—the one that life is based on, actually. You’ll be surprised how well the world gets along without you.
· When you have to choose between what ultimately is a positive set of feelings (playing ball with your kid, walking out of the gym) versus a crummy or ho-hum set of feelings (like taking another hour to do vague research on the Internet), imagine yourself an hour from now. Determine which set of feelings is going to contribute more to your feeling recharged and resilient, and let that be your motivator.
Action for traction:
· You make appointments with other people and keep them, don’t you? Make that same firm commitment with yourself: write into your calendar (and if it’s a shared work calendar, so much the better) things like “10:00 a.m.—Project Completion Meeting with F. Brown (only)” or “4:30 p.m.—Senior Services Manager (that’s you) out for Health Improvement Project (that’s the gym).”
· Take your current to-do list, and find the 10 or 20 percent of the items that—if you’re serious—just aren’t going to happen anytime soon. Put them on a “List of Future Possibilities” and stick that list in your drawer for three months. Then, see if they’re still important.
· Choose an accountability buddy. If you tend to eat lunch at your desk in a vain attempt to get more done, give him or her the permission to “bust” you and get you to sit in the lunchroom and connect face-to-face. Often, investing in our relationships creates higher value than the creation of another spreadsheet.
· Developing more realistic expectations leads to less stress, better balance, more focus, and higher-quality output.
· You’ll serve as a role model for others (or at least get them wondering what the heck’s gotten into you!)
· This one works at home too!
For a deeper dive …
Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
Stack, Laura. What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do: Reduce Tasks, Increase Results, and Save 90 Minutes a Day. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012.
… and on the Web:
Bates, Jordan. “Psych Basics: Time Management.” Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/time-management
Mueller, Annie. Freakishly Productive. Accessed August 2, 2014. http://freakishlyproductive.com/
“Work Smarter, Not Harder: 21 Time Management Tips to Hack Productivity.” Refine the Mind Blog. Accessed August 2, 2014. http://www.refinethemind.com/21-time-management-tips//
Compassionately Engaged, but Not Entangled—The Rewards of Healthy Detachment
“Once you stop being locked into viewing reality from just one perspective, you will start to be free from habitual reactivity.”
What it is … When we are whipsawed by our emotions, when we are fixated on a desired outcome, and when we simply need people to behave in the ways we need them to, we set ourselves up for frustration (not to mention impacting our results). The art of healthy detachment is not being aloof, uncaring, or disconnected—it is being attentive, connected, and caring, but without internal drama or the lack of being centered.
Sample scenario #1: Maggie is a nurse in the Emergency Department. She sees everything from a kid with a broken elbow to a car accident victim who dies on the table. When asked how she does this without being overwhelmed, Maggie talks about the concept of “emotional calluses”—the idea that you need a certain amount of “tough skin” to deal with the traumas and tragedies that are part of the job, but you can’t be so insensitive as to lose your empathy and appropriate bedside manner.
Sample scenario #2: Aaron works in a call center, providing world-class customer service to a wide variety of individuals. They present with a full spectrum of emotionality—from grateful to frustrated to confused to angry. Regardless of whether the caller is positive, neutral, or negative, Aaron gives him all the same warmth and service. From time to time, he needs to set limits with the unreasonable; however, virtually everyone who calls him with a problem feels heard and understood.
Why will this help me at work? Being able to notice how our thoughts and emotions rise and fall, where and when we get triggered, and how our buttons get pushed is an invaluable skill, regardless of position or industry. We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone’s tirade, and it stops all constructive dialogue. When we can see the swirling currents of reactivity—theirs and ours—we have the option to choose our responses.
Why is this so difficult at times? This requires a high degree of consciousness on two levels—what is happening in terms of the observable behaviors and interactions in the moment, and the awareness of our own internal states. Much of the time when we get caught up in feeling attacked, wounded, denigrated, frustrated, or irritated, our emotional state takes over and drives the boat.
Your frank self-assessment:
· Think back to a recent time when you “lost it” (even if it didn’t result in an outburst). What helpful information can you extract from this situation?
· Conversely, can you think of a time when you were the calm captain in the raging seas as the rest of the crew freaked out? What helped you keep your cool?
· Where is your leading edge of learning and practice in terms of reactivity?
· Consider adding some sort of mindfulness practice if you don’t already have one. Not sure what to do? Ask around—you’ll likely be surprised how many people you already know who quietly have one.
· Often, our reactivity is rooted in some historical origins. Do the hard work of figuring out those beginnings.
· When being assertive, take a clear, firm stance based on clarity rather than impulsiveness.
Action for traction:
· Design your own mini-360-degree feedback survey (online and anonymous, if you wish) to see how others view you in terms of your ability to move through work’s challenges calmly.
· Think about a person or situation that is more likely to cause you to be reactive. Map out your options in advance.
· Find someone whom you experience as being rather unflappable. Buy her lunch and ask how she does it.
· You’ll have a better experience moving through your workday.
· People around you will also have a better experience.
· This works well at home, too!
For a deeper dive …
Carroll, Michael. Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos. Boston: Shambala, 2006.
Casey, Karen. Let Go Now: Embracing Detachment. Newburyport, MA: Conari Press, 2010.
… and on the Web:
Chaudhuri, Anita. “How I Stay Calm, by People With Very Stressful Jobs.” The Guardian. February 28, 2014. Accessed August 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/01/how-stay-calm-by-people-stressful-jobs
Tanjeloff, Jasmin. “How to Create a Balanced Life: 9 Tips to Feel Calm and Grounded.” Tiny Buddha. Accessed August 2, 2014. http://tinybuddha.com/blog/9-tips-to-create-a-balanced-life/
Zen Habits Blog. Accessed August 2, 2014. http://zenhabits.net/