Is More Time the Answer
When it comes to getting more work done we usually focus on how we are spending our time. We improve our time management systems, we prioritise better or we just put in more hours. Are we putting our focus in the wrong place? This obsession with time does not seem to be helping us improve our work or our quality of life.
The problem with only focusing on time management techniques is that time is a fixed entity, we cant make any more of it, and lets face it we have stretched it to the limit. Everyone is busy, we are all stretched to the limit and we need not go any further than our language to see this. A normal greeting to people is "Hi, how are you, keeping busy". Or our response to a greeting of "Hi, how are things" is usually "Oh I'm busy, flat out". A beautiful example of this is the newest craze to hit the US, 1 minute bedtime stories. A company in the US has condensed all the great bed time stories down to a 60 second sound bites. Hans Christian Anderson meets the executive summary. These short (very short) stories are being marketed as the simple solution for the busy parent who doesn't have time to read to their child. What is the world coming too? When I thought it couldn't get any worse I had lunch with a friend of mine who is a partner in a law firm. He is a very successful man who made partner before he was 30. Following a discussion on time and being busy he told me that for the first 9 months of his daughters life he did not see her awake. Did not see her awake for 9 months! My horror was such that I did not believe him until his wife confirmed the story.
We are slaves to time! Just like the crocodile in Peter Pan with the clock inside of it, we all carry an internal clock that rules our lives and constantly demands our attention. Even when we start the day our initial thoughts concern time. We never wake up and instantly think, "what can I do today for my partner that is special" or "what am I looking forward to today". Our first thought is "What time is it?????".
To improve our productivity and performance during the day we need to drive it deeper than time. One factor that severely impedes our performance is an inability to focus on a single task. The whole world has ADHD we are loosing our ability to concentrate on one task. The new generation that is coming through the workforce are an excellent example of this, they seem to have the attention span of a gold fish.
There are two main reasons why the world is loosing its ability to focus: 1. We are over stimulated. With the massive increase in technology we rarely spend time just sitting in a quiet space. You rarely see people staring out a train window anymore, they are now on the phone, using a laptop, listening to an i-pod or reading. Because we have so much stimulation coming to us all the time we are not required to focus on one thing anymore.
2. The second factor is that we pride ourselves on multi-tasking. At most points in the day we have a half written email, a report we are trying to finish, someone is in our office and we are on the phone to someone. Multi-tasking is a sure fire way to kill your productivity. It causes you to do a number of things poorly rather than a few things well. The best example of focus I have ever seen was while I was working in a sports science lab in Baltimore. While I was working there Tiger Woods was being studied by one of the worlds leading sports psychologists. After Tiger was tested we all piled in the lab and asked the scientists what made him so good. We didn't get much sense out of them they just kept muttering how we was an athlete with the most perfect focus they had ever seen. I later discovered that in sports psychology one of the greatest attributes you can possess is the ability to detach from the outcome. What this means is the ability to perform a task and not worry about what the outcome of that task is. Tiger is a master at this. When he is getting him self ready to hit an important shot he is totally immersed in the mechanics of that shot. He is focused on where his feet are placed and where his weight is distributed on them, he is focused on the angle of his hips, shoulders and wrist, where his head is located. He is so focused that as he is hitting the shot he is listening to the trees to determine if the angle of the wind changes while he is in mid-shot. The reason why Tiger is the best golfer in the world is that he does this on every shot. On championship shots while Tiger is completely focused most other golfers are thinking "If I miss this I will be 3 shots behind, I cant miss this shot". In fact Tiger is so detached from the outcome that his caddie has to constantly keep him updated on what hole he is playing and where he is positioned on the leader board.
You might be thinking yeah that's ok for Tiger Woods but I am not a world class golfer. Well in my time of working with elite athletes and people in the corporate world, athletes do not have the level of continued pressure that corporate workers experience. Thus the ability to focus is just as important to us as it is to them.
In this "time poor world" one of the keys to getting more done is to focus intently while we are at work. What this allows us to do is get on with it and get home to the people we want to be around. Also one of the biggest problems in our family is being at home but not being engaged and focused on them. So often we are at home in body but not in mind. We rarely focus on the people that mean the most to us. The greatest gift we can give another person is our undivided attention, yet in so many conversations I have I notice that the other person is not quite there (maybe this says a lot about me). There are two ways to develop focus; formally and informally. An example of a formal practice is meditation. Years ago I thought that meditation was tree hugging, crystal gazing load of crap. However recently a huge amount of evidence has come out showing that meditation has a huge impact on our cognitive ability.
Do we have time for it though? I recently saw a speaker who said that on busy days you need to meditate for 30 minutes and on really busy days you need to do 1 hour. I am not sure what planet this person lives on but he doesn't work or have a family. In this new society we cannot afford this much time. Fortunately the University of Kentucky has shown that short bouts of meditation (5 – 10 mins) refreshes your brain and improves your ability to engage in work greater than a 45 minute power nap or a relaxing conversation. Also meditating actually makes you smarter. It has been shown to increase the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and information processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula. I am sure we can find 5 minutes to improve our intelligence and refresh ourselves.
An example of informal development of focus is during the day practice focusing your attention on one thing. For example if you are having a conversation with someone totally immerse yourself in that conversation don't let your mind drift. Likewise if you are writing a report focus entirely on that report without thinking of the other things you need to do in the day. In Asian cultures this is called Mindfullness. It's a great habit to develop as it will improve relationships, productivity and your ability to learn information.
So go forth and focus!