No one I know has enough time. However, it is possible to better use the time you have. The following four beliefs about time are often counterproductive. A change in perception could improve your use of time, giving you more time for your leadership tasks.
Myth #1. Time is money. According to researchers Sanford Devoe and Julian House, thinking of time in terms of money leaves you feeling impatient and dissatisfied. These feelings can actually hurt your productivity and problem-solving capacity, causing you to waste time instead of maximize its use.
REALITY: Non-productive time is actually productive. Creativity demands you have periods of time where you don’t think about work or problems. The more complex a situation, the more there is a chance to overload your cognitive resources. When you instead “sleep on it” or distract yourself with something mindless such as watching television, or with something mindful, such as playing a fast moving sport, you give your unconscious mind a chance to sort through possible solutions. Letting your subconscious categorize and connect ideas is more effective than consciously trying to sift through pros and cons. This is called the deliberation-without-attention effect.
Build “mindless” time into your schedule. When it comes to your company culture, give people dedicated time to do something other than work, including socializing or surfing the Internet.
Myth #2. There is not enough time. If you are conscious about how you are spending your time, you might be able to speed up time. How much evidence do you need before you make a decision? How deeply do you need to analyze each step in your plan? Decisions and tasks often take a long time because of a conscious choice to emphasize accuracy over speed. Trusting yourself to work faster can give you the gift of time.
REALITY: If you don’t stop to choose, you waste more time than you realize.
Can you remind yourself to sit back, take a breath, and choose what is the best use of your time for the next hour or 30 minutes? Let go of being perfect, move on to your next priority, and delegate research to someone else. Choose to find the time you need.
Also, “productivity tools” can actually make you less productive. Constantly checking your emails, the latest news, relevant blog posts, and irrelevant but interesting articles keeps your brain scattered and overworked.
When you are working to complete a task, ban the distractions. Be aware of what steals your attention. If you get interrupted, make a conscious choice to return to the task at hand with your full attention.
Myth #3. Thinking about time is stressful. This feels true when you are under pressure to perform. When you are having a good time, you don’t worry about time. When you are not, time is either a drudge or a stress producer. If you are not feeling upbeat, you will not use your time wisely.
REALITY: You need to consciously choose how you feel throughout the day to enjoy how you spend your time. Positive emotions improve the brain’s executive function and encourage creative, quick and strategic thinking. Gain time by actively thinking about what makes you feel proud about your work, what you are grateful for, and what the end result will give you. These feelings will help you stay focused.
Myth #4. The day quickly becomes a blur; at the end of the day I don’t feel productive. As a leader, it is difficult to control your time. Issues arise that need your attention and take you away from completing tasks. At the end of the day, you feel like you haven’t done anything. You might even work late or on the weekend when the phones and Internet are less noisy.
REALITY: You have to compartmentalize your work to limit the overlap. When you leave one task to go to another, be sure you leave the last task behind. Acknowledge you are starting something new, even if you are putting out a fire. If you can, walk down the hallway and back, get a glass of water, or take a few deep breaths to clear your head. Even if you think you are a good multi-tasker, giving a task even 80% of your attention can lead to mistakes you will have to fix later, taking up precious time.
Now, go make up the time that you have taken reading this post!