This article looks at why time efficiency is less about technology or planning and more about understanding your pressure pattern.
Getting it done
Each week, it is estimated that the average person loses a minimum of 5-6 hours replying to email, 4 hours on the phone, 9 hours eating, and almost 2 hours on the toilet.
How time efficient and productive you are isn't due to the number of emails you get, the amount of calls you have to return, or the overly ambitious 'to-do' list you have waiting. Rather, it is a function of how your pressure pattern responds to and packages tasks and projects.
Why is it that some people love lists and structure, whilst others crave creative space and work in chaos? Why is it that some people love the smaller detail and moving in a linear fashion, whilst others revel in their big picture and global view of the problem? Do you micromanage others?
People work in different ways because, under pressure, they default back to their ingrained, most fundamental way of thinking and doing. Known as your survival instinct, when put under constant pressure and worn down, people revert back do their most ingrained habits and behaviours to survive.
At work, it may not be a case of life and death - but the pressure may make you respond as if it is.
Consider what patterns you fall into when managing your time
- Proactive or Reactive
Proactive patterns are like financial planners, they are more structured and think through their approach. They anticipate and plan for contingencies. Reactive patterns, on the other hand, are like fire fighters - they respond to an emergency quickly, efficiently - but may leave a mess after they have finished - great in customer service roles. Reactive patterns solve 'now' problems, proactive patterns solve 'upcoming' problems.
- Logical or Emotional
This is a battle between 'do good' and 'feel good'. The logical pattern prefers to do good - and think in terms of sequence, priority and outcome - regardless of whether it is enjoyable or entertaining to do. The emotional pattern wants to feel good - so they do the small jobs first, reply to the easy emails, say hello to their colleagues. Logical patterns are efficient and focus on outcomes. Emotional patterns focus on morale and relationship building.
- Global or Specific
Global patterns like to sit above the clouds and see the entire picture, project into the future and generate big ideas. Specific patterns like to drill down into detail and know what is going on. Global patterns are useful when creating company visions, project managing or expanding. Specific patterns are useful in technical roles, documenting detail or if you are a surgeon.
Go global when you are strategising, building vision or brainstorming. Go specific when you need to roll up your sleeves and get stuff done.
- Intrinsic or Extrinsic
Intrinsic patterns are more motivated and directed to action by their own needs and priorities. Extrinsic patterns are more motivated and directed to action by meeting other people's deadlines, needs and issues. Extrinsic patterns are always jumping to their email and prioritising other people's urgencies. Intrinsic patterns will meet their own goals at the expense of others.
To be truly time effective, you need to practise being able to do all these things, by choice - not because of survival instinct.
The key is the ease that you can morph and change your pattern to suit your demand at the time. By always reverting to your basic pattern means that pressure will continue to control you.
Do less - achieve more
Today's business environment is faster, more competitive, and demands us to deliver more in less time. To cope, people are giving more of themselves by working harder, longer and faster just to keep up, but is it working? Although this approach appears logical, trying to keep up with an accelerating work pace leads to increased tension, higher error rate, morale strain and professional burnout.
The answer lies in Directional and Reactional activity.
When athletes train to run long distances, they work on keeping up with their 'pacers' who set a speed for them to keep up with. In business, often it is your clients, customers, KPIs, or managers who set your pace. A marathon may last hours, so the pace can be sustained - but in business the pace can go on for weeks, months or years. Trying to meet everyone's needs, all the time, in their time frame is exhausting. It is both impractical and unsustainable.
Reactional activity is the process of placing high priority, focus and effort to meet other people's needs. Reactional activity helps you attend to your clients' / KPI needs, get work done quickly, and keep everyone happy. Whilst this is an important attribute, it often leads to people expecting you to be available whenever they need you, working till 2.30am to meet unrealistic deadlines and, ultimately, burning yourself out.
If you are always in reactionary mode, you will take on too much work, and have trouble saying 'no' to projects and people who ask for help, and find it difficult to switch off.
Maintaining appearances that 'we can handle everything and are doing fine' is a high priority for many legal professionals. The irony is that, behind the scenes, many lawyers are struggling with the increasing workload, relentless hours and continual client demand for their time. More people now are leaving the legal profession to find work that is more lifestyle-friendly.
Reactional activity signs:
- You always make yourself available to your clients and colleagues
- You have trouble speaking up, saying 'no' in fear of people not wanting to do business with you or losing your job
- You always work tirelessly to meet deadlines set by clients / managers - often working early or late
- Your family often ask you to email a recent picture of yourself so that they can remember what you look like
Directional activity is the process of determining what your working capacity is to produce reliable and good quality output, and then prioritise both your needs and your clients' / KPI needs to fit your available time. Directional activity helps you focus on your most important activity and gives you permission to say 'no' or 'yes, but...' so that you can meet your assigned tasks on time, to a high standard, without it costing your wellbeing or morale.
The challenge with directional activity is that it will require you to say what you mean, have discipline with your time and risk people not liking you because you don't want to 'fit in' and accept everyone's expectations of what you should do.
Directional activity signs:
- You are clear to your clients / team what you can get done within the time frame (and with the resources) available.
- You work hard, but know when to stop
- You prioritise your time, energy and focus on the high priority activities (you get the important stuff done first)
- You accept your capacity and respect your body's need to rest and unwind
The solution is not about choosing the 'best' mode, but rather integrating both types into your working day so that you think and work in the most effective and streamlined way. You may need to be more directional when negotiating project time frames, client expectations, or your own work-life balance.
Being reactional would serve you when replying to client issues and dealing with unexpected problems.
Find your balance between directional and reactional to get more done in your day, and still have time and energy for a life.