Time-management suggestions rooted in research are especially vital in the “gig economy”, which rewards high output, creativity, and mindful work.
It’s gratifying that scientists are discovering new ways to help us do more in less time. Feeling good physically, emotionally, and spiritually is an impressive side effect.
Following are suggestions based on research as well as some of my own secrets to tweak your routine to improve efficiency, be more productive, and integrate balance into your life.
What Scientists Know
Dr. Michael Breus’s new book, “The Power of When,” is based on the premise that there are good and bad times to do everything in your life. Adapting your schedule to your rhythms and preferences makes you more productive.
Thankfully, independent workers can adjust their work life to suit their preferences as night owls or early birds.
Change Your Habits
Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg spent a number of years researching the power our habits have over us. Duhigg discovered that people perform better when they adopt new habits rather than trying to change their old ones.
When you experience rewards for your new habit, the neurological pathway thickens and the next time, becomes even thicker. The thicker the pathway, the easier it is for impulses to travel down it.
So, learning new and more efficient ways of doing business, provides us with immediate rewards.
Try New Ways to Schedule Your Time
Writing down your goals and reading them every day – or more than once a day – ensures you will stay on track.
With that in mind, colleagues have suggested two methods of tracking time and controlling busy schedules that I’m integrating into my daily routine – and I’ve experienced early success.
The Time Flip is an ingenious cube that you label with various activities and merely turn when you switch to another task. The Time Flip is synced with your smartphone or computer to provide the corresponding hours you spent on each task, thus making monthly invoicing a snap.
A new-to-me calendaring system is called Planning Pad. It operates on a pyramid-shaped structure, with your goals on top, followed by measurable objectives, and filtered down to a daily schedule. Various sizes and formats are available; I chose the spiral-bound, 8.5-by-11-inch format and have put the Planning Pad into a pretty, turquoise-colored binder.
The Pomodoro Method
You work hard. You deserve a break! It’s easy to burn yourself out if you try to work at full throttle all day long. For optimal productivity try the popular and praised Pomodoro technique: Work for 25 minutes, then give yourself a five-minute break. Sometimes you don’t realize that much time has passed and you choose to keep working.
Respond Right Away
If you make a habit of responding to phone messages and emails right away – and writing things down when they happen – you’ll eliminate the fear of forgetting.
This is a habit I’ve had since my newspaper days and it works. I rarely forget to check back with a source or schedule a follow-up appointment, provided I’ve put a tickler into my calendar on the proper date. It’s a simple enough habit and one that leads to more business.
Add Exercise, Meditation and Walking to Increase Productivity
Movement stimulates productivity. And, I have discovered, increasing amounts of exercise, a commitment to eating well, improving the quality of sleep, and paying attention to healthier habits have actually helped increase my work productivity.
It’s a time-honored tradition: Albert Einstein walked the mile-and-a-half from his home in Princeton, where he taught classes, and was known to lecture as he and his students walked the campus grounds.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal that walking made him more productive: “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
Consider yoga, which increases stamina and develops balance and coordination while promoting meditation and mindfulness. Or try Tai Chi, which offers calm, meditative action paired with moves that are guaranteed to improve your balance and stability.
Think about walking or running. Individual exercise allows you to focus on your breathing, listen to the music of your choice, and enhances mindfulness. It also gives you a break from other people and their expectations and lets you exercise in peaceful surroundings, should you choose to do it at a regional park or even, like me, a cemetery.
How about a regularly-scheduled exercise class? Group activities can provide important social interaction for those of us who work alone. Zumba is popular because it combines catchy, upbeat music with fun dance moves.
Sleep on it.
We recognize that we absolutely need sleep to be productive. Don’t fall into the trap of staying up later thinking you’ll get more accomplished – lack of sleep will make you useless the next day.
Researchers say losing one night’s sleep is equivalent to trying to function when we drink too much. Consider these scientifically proven suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep:
* Lower the room temperature; a chilly room is conducive to sleep.
* Use deep breathing or a use a rhythmic breathing pattern.
* Get on a schedule.
* Practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. If you are ‘in the moment’ you can’t worry about the past or plan for the future.
* Do not look at your clock.
* Experience both daylight and darkness. Getting some sunshine during the day helps your body adjust when it’s time for sleep.
* Avoid naps during the day.
* Watch what and when you eat.
* Listen to soothing music.
* Exercise daily.
Seize the Day!
Practicing mindfulness means eliminating time-wasting meetings and useless routines. GoToMeeting, Skype, WhatsApp, or free conference-calling software replace face-to-face meetings and save time, money, and mileage costs.
Pay special attention to your own comfort. Take an hour for yourself. Read for pleasure, sit on your patio for a few minutes enjoying the fresh air, play with your dog, or call your best friend. Small indulgences motivate you when you’re back at your desk.
As Winston Churchill said, “The positive thinker sees the inevitable, feels the tangible, and achieves the impossible.” An optimistic outlook goes a long way toward keeping you happy, healthy, and productive. Count your blessings – and seek out the silver linings.