Just as I sat down to write this article, my phone vibrated and I immediately looked down to see what new interesting diversion it brought. Yes, when I’m at work, the phone is always on silent, but it holds such promise of new and attractive nuggets of amusement, that I am but naturally drawn to it, wasting precious hours on non-work matters. I see you nodding your head, meaning you are no different from me. We all struggle with time management, don’t we?
This continual attention-seeking and diversion is making us incapable of concentrating on tasks at hand for more than 5-7 minutes at a time. And it takes almost 25 minutes to get back with the same level of focus. This means we are not really using our time well or our skills to the maximum potential.
Among the biggest time wasters are WhatsApp pings, email notifications, social media posts, comments and likes. And we are not even talking about the mindless spiral of information that we ride when one link leads to another and yet another. Long before you know it, a few hours have just been swallowed up.
And where did it all begin? With one notification ping on your phone or email.
The question that this scenario begs to ask is ‘are notifications making us dumb?’
Research says we have about 56 interruptions at work in 1 day and it takes 16 minutes to refocus after every interruption. After this, the only time left, which would be less than 40% of the day, would be spent on work. How is anyone expected to get any amount of work done in the presence of this notification barrage? This is why working smart is better than working longer.
A Microsoft study has shown that our attention spans have gone to an abysmal low – to 8 seconds (even lower than that of a goldfish!) from 12 seconds in 2000. What is the solution?
Here are 8 of the best time management techniques that will help you to master managing notifications and prevent them from taking over your life:
#1 Schedule email times
Don’t keep your email tab always open. You don’t need instant notification of any new email that you might have got. Clients will wait, colleagues can be patient, but your work must continue.
Keep a fixed time and check and respond to emails only then. Time spent on emails, or wasted, can be better utilized finishing your core tasks.
#2 If it is important, they will call you
Having said the above, let your colleagues and clients know your routine so they know when to expect a reply from you. If something is urgent, they can easily pick up the phone and talk to you. Similarly, you must moderate calls too. More on that later.
#3 What is the subject?
If you can state the intention of the email in the subject line itself, it will save you and your colleague precious time opening and reading a simple question couched in many sentences.
Also, if you mark an email URGENT/IMPORTANT, etc. it will get treated as such. However, use these words sparingly. Everything isn’t really urgent.
#4 Manage your inbox
When you do check your emails, try and slot them as ACT (Delegate the activity, do it yourself, put it in calendar or set a reminder); FILE (file the email to another folder to act or read later, or to a folder for future reference); or DELETE (remove emails from the inbox, unsubscribe from unnecessary emails and newsletters).
This will keep your inbox clean and set a clear course of action for each email.
#5 Don’t email
If you can walk over to your colleague, do that instead of hitting the send button. You get a few steps of exercise in and your query will get resolved right then. Be careful though, that you are not infringing upon someone’s time then.
#6 Don’t answer telephone calls
Every call needn’t be tackled right away. The beauty of telephone calls is that you can see who’s called and you can decide whether to answer, ignore or to call back. Every call notification is a moment taken away from your core work.
#7 Ignore SMS
Keeping your phone on silent will keep your SMS and WhatsApp notifications at bay. You can have a pre-decided time slot for checking your phone. Limit personal texts during office hours, it just looks unprofessional.
#8 Social media notifications
While it is important to keep personal life going on, keep it to a minimum during work hours. Most social media websites have an option where you can limit number of email or SMS notifications. Make use of that. You will be surprised how much more work you’ll get done when you’re not getting jealous over a friend’s Maldives’ vacation photographs. The time you spend on social media can be better spent finishing work and going home to your family, as the COO of Facebook can do.
Try these tricks and watch your personal productivity shoot up.