Escaping The “Time Trap”
Time traps, you know them. I can’t take the time to install memory because I have so much to do that five minutes out the window will break me right now. And who knows? If I don’t finish project A today and get started on project B, I won’t finish it tomorrow, and I’ll spend all weekend trying to sort out the mess.
While your brain races forward, you can hear this little voice in the back of your head, the voice of reason that is always so faint, telling you that five minutes now is nothing more than a trip the refrigerator, but it will be worth lions over the next year. Invest now! Enjoy a yearlong payback.
The time trap–once you’re in, you’re in deep, and it’s hard to get out. Let me, if I may, play the little man, the voice of reason, and speak those quiet truths we all know but all too often ignore in the heat of battle. Even escaping the trap for one day can make a big difference in your attitude toward work.
Take breaks. When I start losing energy in the late afternoon, going for a run revives me for another couple of hours. That kind of exercise during work hours is a timesaver because I end up accomplishing more than if I sat at my desk, nodding off. Of course, there are several techniques you can employ to energize yourself, such as sitting in a chair and catching up on reading, fixing a cup of tea, taking a Kennedy nap (a 5-to-10-minute doze at your desk), and so on. What you do is immaterial, as long as it works; knowing when to take a break is the secret.
Turn off the phone. I have received much flak from readers and friends since writing a few months ago that I had succumbed to the cowardly practice of screening phone calls. But guess what? It’s a real timesaver. If you have to get work done, shut out the world, excepting those you absolutely positively must talk to. Besides, if you talk to people when you don’t really want to, you may come across as rude or short.
Clean office at end of day. Spend 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the day cleaning off your desk and you’ll get a much faster start the next day. I know this because I’ve lately fallen into the time trap of working until I can’t stand to be in my office a minute longer and walking out on a mess. The next morning I not only face a mess but spend precious time organizing the day’s work. Like most people, I can get twice as much done in a given time period in the morning, so it makes sense to apply that precious energy to productive work, not the mindless task of cleaning up. You’ll not only save time, you’ll produce more work in less time than you did before. The same theory applies when finishing one major project; clean up and file before getting sucked into the next one.
Invest In needed equipment. It’s not hard to convince yourself that you can get by without a given gadget. In some cases it may never even occur to you to buy it. But consider the extra memory I referred to above. If you’re on the phone and trying to locate a piece of information, but have to close several programs before you open your database, you’ve lost several minutes. You then have to close the database and open up the programs you were in and find your place. With a few more megabytes you could have located the information, hung up the phone, and returned to work. How many times does that happen a day or week? How many times do you print a document, trudge to the fax machine, and send it off? Wouldn’t a fax/modem save you gobs of time each day, by allowing you to fax documents directly from your computer with just a few keystrokes?
Brutalize your to-do list. Don’t carry to-do items forward forever. Do them or cross them off the list. As philosopher William James said, “There’s nothing so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” Next time you hear the little man in your head, accord him the respect you would a philosopher.