February. The excitement of your New Year’s resolution has already faded, and the fresh promise of spring is so, so far away. The daily grind is back in full effect accompanied by gray skies and a massive list of action items. Nothing to do but just grin and bear it – right?
Wrong. Any time can be the right time for a reset. Little changes can make a big difference, especially when it comes to reclaiming focused work time and giving your own productivity a boost. Forget New Year’s – Fresh Start February is here!
Fresh Start Challenge #1 – Assert Calendar Control
Just because you’re invited to a meeting doesn’t mean you have to go. Get in the habit of asking organizers for a meeting’s purpose and your role in reaching its objective. If you’re meant to attend as an FYI – or something else that’s code for “to listen to everyone else talk” – decline the invite and ask that any necessary follow-ups are sent to you in a recap. If you’re a manager and your role in the meeting is low-stakes, take the opportunity to delegate to someone on your team. Once you’ve freed up the time, don’t forget to block it on your calendar as individual working / thinking time. You know, so you can actually get your work done at work.
Fresh Start Challenge #2 – Turn Off the Wi-Fi
The cost of even the briefest distractions is extraordinary. A simple interruption – a text, for example – costs you just over a minute in reacclimating to your task. A longer interruption – let’s say an IM conversation with a colleague or reading 3-5 emails – can extract 25 minutes from your day. That’s five percent of your workday spent just figuring out what you were working on. And, if you’re anything like the rest of us, this can happen over, and over, and over again.
Fresh Start Challenge #3 – Myth-Bust Multitasking
Here’s the problem with multitasking – it’s not a thing humans can do. The term originated with computer processing, and it means running tasks on multiple processors at once. Since we each only have one processor (your brain, to be clear), what we think of as multitasking is actually “task-switching,” and it takes a toll. Think of it as picking up the remote and changing the station. The lag is small, but over time it adds up.
Challenge yourself instead to stay focused on the task at hand. In a meeting? Close all other applications and be a full contributor toward reaching the meeting objective. Talking to a team member? Give them your full attention and truly listen. Tackling the big report? Give yourself no less than 90 minutes of dedicated work time to get into a true flow state.
Just like distractions, quick wins add up over time, creating real change. Reclaiming work time has a ripple effect. When we’re more efficient with our work time, we can get back more real-life time. And even in the cold dark of February, that makes a difference.