Time Management

by Di McLanachan

Focusing techniques

Achievers are totally focused on the task at hand. While they may occasionally get interrupted, they never get distracted away from the successful completion of their work responsibilities.

Techniques for achieving this kind of focus include keeping your desk clutter-free, so that the only paperwork on it relates to the task on which you are working.

Another way of focusing on a particular task is to schedule blocks of time in your diary, and dedicate these 100 per cent to the problem job.

If you work in an open plan office, be aware that your mental attention will go wherever your visual attention wanders. Check how your desk is positioned – are you facing an area where people tend to chat together a lot? If so, can you change the angle of your desk to avoid that distraction? If you need a two-hour block of time, perhaps to write a report, can you book a conference room in which you can work undisturbed?

The burst technique

Try the burst technique: take a task you have been procrastinating over – the outline for that report, for example, or tidying up your desk.

Decide on a short length of time, say five or ten minutes. Even though you perhaps dread doing the task, you know you can at least focus on it for a fixed length of time that you know for sure will end.

Now, really go all out and concentrate on doing the task for the time chosen. At the end, stop. Move on to something else.

The beauty of the burst technique is that your unconscious mind won’t stop – it’ll keep working at it. So when you come back to the task later on, you’ll find you already have some momentum and you get off and running a lot quicker.

The unconscious is like a search engine – you might switch to a different application, but the search is still going on and your mind will come back with results. The reason for this is that if you ask a question, the brain is wired to look for an answer. It’s been doing this, for example, when you overhear a quiz show question and the answer escapes you... until an hour later while you’re washing the dishes, and it pops right into your head.

Imagine using five-minute bursts on a list of ten things. You might get a couple scored off, completed. You might then start at the top of the list and do 10-minute bursts. Next, 15, and so on. Try it – you’ll love the results!

For bigger tasks you will need a bigger burst to make it effective. Set a timer for one hour and commit to doing that task for exactly that period of time. You will work uninterruptedly for that time – no answering or making phone calls, getting snacks, checking the mail or any other distractions. At the end of the hour, you can choose to stop working on that task for the day.

At this point, one of three things will happen – you’ll have completed the task (congratulations!), you’ll be so into it that you’ll keep working until the task has been completed, or you’ll see that you need to devote more time to it. If the last is the case, at least you’ll now be an hour closer to its completion and will have a clearer idea of the time frame involved. With any of these results, you’ll end up with a feeling of success and accomplishment.