I’m delighted to welcome Sinead Mac Manus from digital wellbeing company 8fold as a guest blogger. In this post she shares her ideas about how we can optimize our workflow simply by balancing our TEA – Time, Energy and Attention. Over to you, Sinead….
Ever have those days when you feel you get nothing done? Sadly, for many of us those days the norm rather than the exception.
With the UK in recession and our 24/7 connected lifestyles, many of us small business owners are finding that our workload, email and daily information diet is increasing exponentially, while our capacity to deal with it all is stuck in analogue mode. As lifestyle businesses we should be designing our business to suit our life, but we can easily fall into the trap of working long hours and being busy.
At first glance the solution would seem to be to increase our time through reducing our workload or implementing efficient ‘time management’ systems. However, adding extra hours to our working day will not fully solve the problem – my research has shown that if we are working ineffectively, work will eventually expand to fill the extra time and we’ll be back where we started.
Managing our time better is only one part of the jigsaw. To be fully effective, and thus happier at work, we also need to manage our energy and attention. We need to balance our TEA (Time, Energy and Attention) to optimize our workflow.
We can have an impact on our time at work but most of us have just too much to do – a never-ending To-Do list of projects and tasks. One exercise I do with my clients is a Brain Dump of projects. Try it out:
List all your current projects and commitments. Yes everything! Professional and personal. Critically review your list. What can you get rid of? What’s been around so long it doesn’t matter any more? What can you delegate or outsource? What can you postpone for a few weeks or months?
Remember the things you could do are infinite – your time, energy and attention is not.
Secondly, instead of having a massive To-Do list, have a Stop Doing list. Identify areas of your work that are not creating cashflow, opportunities or visibility and stop doing them. Now.
Thirdly, make less time for your work. This may sound counter-intuitive but Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available. If you have two weeks to write a report, you will take two weeks. If you are given two hours, you will get it done in two hours. It might not be as ‘perfect’ as the two week report, but it might be ‘good enough’. Experiment with setting yourself ridiculous deadlines and see how this focuses the mind!
All time is not created equal. There are times during the day when you are at the top of your game, awake, focussed and in your flow. And then there are the times when taking a nap could be your most productive work. Listen to your body (and mind). Start to notice when your productive times happen and ring-fence these for your Great Work. Leave the reactionary work like emailing or meetings to other times.
Many things impact on our energy at work from how much sleep we got the night before to that one colleague who just drains you. Be mindful of what drains or adds to your energy and seek to minimise or mitigate against the negative energy and expand the positive. Have a read of 55 ways to get more energy for some inspiration.
When I have low energy and motivation, my carefully planned days can disintegrate into a blur of emails, reading blogs and faffing around the house. As Buddhist nun Pema Chodron rightly points out, “the mundane details of our life eat us up”. On these days, I try and focus on what is the most important thing and forget everything else.
Finally, we can work on managing our attention to improve our effectiveness at work. Practices like yoga or meditation can help our focus, as in these practices we gently focus on bringing the attention to the breath again and again. If you are new to meditation, Dr. Danny Penman, author of Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world has free guided meditations on his website.
Shutting down your distractions will also help to focus your attention, so if you have an important piece of work to focus on, shut off your email, turn your phone to silent and close down any social media. Brower extensions such as StayFocused for Chrome or LeechBlock for FireFox can limit your access to certain programmes such as Gmail or Facebook if you don’t yet have the discipline yourself. For writing try WriteMonkey for PCs (I am using it to write this blog post) or OmmWriter for the Mac to provide an application free writing space.
What other ways can you manage your Time, Energy and Attention to be more effective? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Sinead Mac Manus is founder of 8fold, a digital wellbeing company that helps busy people work better. Sinead has just launched Mindful Productivity – a six week eClass full of practical, get-going insights and tactics so that you’ll have an action plan to do more Right Work and make an impact with your business. Find out more here. The Business Yogi book by Sinead and Bridget Stacey-Luff will be published in April