Effective Time Management Blog

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Perfectionism put into perspective

Recently I stumbled over a short story about perfectionism, that may change your way of doing your work, if you tend to „overperfectionize“ your tasks.
The change can be a breakthrough to an even more successful work. Being perfect this way will save you much time too and you will reach your goals earlier. You just have to adopt a new habit. Keep up this sort of perfectionism for 21 days and you will possess it to your own benefit. Read the story here (sorry for the pop up).


Micro Chaos, Why Not?

Some readers of the TAO Timing (Task Organizing Time Management) may counter, that an endless to do list, with no visible concentration on only a few tasks a day, lacking any structure like categorizing, ABC valuing and similar stuff is chaotic. I must admit.

However, what would be the price to establish an order, that meets your desires for structure? What if you produce an order that lasts maybe some minutes or less in a fast paced business environment? Wouldn‘t it be better to prioritize quickly and dynamically and step into the matter?

I am sure, you master your job and as such you are a prof in selecting the right priority among maybe 20 tasks within seconds. Of course you must have some order to keep control over your duties. This order is a neatly prepared Masterlist (endless to do list), that lists all, really all that is important and if you prefer the term urgent; anyway, significant for your job.

The Masterlist creates an inherent order established by only a few easily graspable instructions of how to note your tasks and how to process their status. Like a template. This needs nearly no additional effort. The content of the list itself can be chaotic. I call this „micro chaos“ or „split chaos“.

This freedom of unstructured listing allows to choose the tasks spontaneously in oder to act and react according to the daily demands and requirements of your working day. You are not distracted by the claim of questionable structuring of a short-lived listing. The gentle force, to quickly scan your list often, enhances memorizing your pending tasks. Your brain this way may prepare better solutions and find ideas for efficient finishing your tasks.

Your job is to perform, not to build structures and order within a list of let say 30 - 40 single tasks. If you try it you will find, that dealing with the unstructured list is no matter of super intelligence and will work as promised. Furthermore - you save time, that you may use more efficient.

Zeigarnik and Multitasking

The Zeigarnik effect has another dimension too. Since unfinished tasks are remembered much better than finished ones, an unavoidable multitasking is slightly supported by the Zeigarnik effect. The additional time that is needed to resume an interrupted task maybe is not as severe as is found by various studies. (see Multitasking).

A more appropriate term for trying to accomplish many tasks at once is „Multiplexing“. In reality it is hardly possible to do even two things at the same time effectively. I know sipping coffee and reading a report happens within the same time span. However, reading and understanding an important report and doing a demanding phone call does maybe only work, if you are a genius like Leonardo da Vinci.

Therefore what we call multitasking is a rapid switching between various tasks - just multiplexing.


The hidden Zeigarnik Effekt

As I describe in the TAO Timing ebook, the „expert between our shoulders“ - our bain - does an excellent job in the case of prioritizing and preparing solutions for tasks pending or in progress, or tasks, that had been stopped because of an unavoidable interruption. Finished Tasks, that are flagged as done on a to do list almost disappear from our conscious minds.

Unfinished, pending and interrupted tasks impose some tension, that forces us to finish the task. And, in the meantime unconsciously our expert prepares for solutions or contributions to finish the tasks.

It seems this is because we remember the tasks better and longer than the finished ones.

Bluma Zeigarnik first discovered this effect in the 1920's. Ultimately she proved in a paper (1927) that unfinished tasks were remembered approximately twice as well as completed tasks. (see http://www.managetrainlearn.com/page/the-zeigarnik-effect and http://changingminds.org/explanations/memory/zeigarnik_effect.htm).

The most remarkable sentence I read about the origin of the Zeignarnik effekt was: „The waiter's trick is thus to keep spinning the plates of the open orders whilst letting those which are completed fall.“ This is exactly, what I recommend in my book: scanning (spinning) the to do list and (by applying a trick with special symbols) seeing only the pending and unfinished tasks.


Email Mess Clearance

  • How many flagged emails do you store in your email account?
  • How many do you really read within one or two days?
  • Does the list of flagged emails rise steadily?
  • How many newsletters and similar information services are you subscribed to?
  • Which of these are really important and needed for your success?
  • How many do you need just  for your mental hygiene?
  • Do you (or are you able to) regularly maintain your social media sites?

Find answers to these questions but much more important is to take action:

Never let the number of flagged emails rise above a reasonable level - it is up to you to define this.
Never allow the number to increase remarkable.
Never keep emails unprocessed longer than a few days.
Unsubscribe all newsletters you do not relly need to support your success - especially those, that come in too often per week for example.

Each email you receive asks for some subsequent activity. Even opening and deleting it wastes time. So why allowing it to come in? 

Elsewhere I talked about the „shelf-life“ of information. Many emails are not worth reading after some time, but you have probably opened it, looked at the subject and flagged it. Then after several days or weeks you maybe unflag and/or delete it.  Useless steps.

You will experience how wonderful a world can be if you only cut in half your email flood and you concentrate on those information you really need. You step from superficiality to wholeheartedness in your profession.


Double Trick against stress

What follows now sounds like a bad joke at first glance. However, this is a powerful stress reducer. When you finish reading this idea and think a little about it you will see, it is doable and very helpful threefold in most job situations. (At some activities of course, it is definitely not advisable and should not be done very often, as I explain later).

Make it a lasting habit to drink pure water regularly. Most advice says up to 2 litres a day – but only water – preferably without ice and chlorine. Coffee, juice, soups and other liquids only additionally! What will happen?

First, you do your body a tremendous favour.

Second, stopping work for a drink is a short but important stress reducing act and third you are naturally forced to make more breaks a day, than without drinking so much water. 1,5 - 2 litres have to leave your body sometimes. You are forced to go to the bathroom and therefore you are forced to make a break for some minutes every one or two hours depending on your metabolism and size of your bladder.

Maybe the breaks are not always doable, however visiting the bathroom should be possible in 99% of the working time. I admit, the increased force to go to the toilet may cause more stress initially. However, when you accept the facts you will even plan to make more breaks in the long run and drink water “strategically.”

However, two severe warnings:

  •  Avoiding to drink enough water dehydrates your body.
  •  This is a common but severe health problem.
  • Allowing the pressure of your bladder content going too high may lead to the lazy bladder syndrome. Take a break by drinking water and enjoy the empowering “double break” from work.

    A sneaky time waster

    A citation from the Site Sell Forums (New postby ken-admin » Sun Apr 18, 2010 6:00 pm, Gosh Katerhine, Ken Evoy):

    "…The Web used to be called the Information Highway.I always thought of the Net as the Information Byway.It is sooooo easy to get sidetracked with "interesting" stuff.You can stop yourself by stretching your "is this important" question by just a few words. Ask instead..."Is this important for my business's profitability, short-or-long-term?"If you can't answer with a huge YES, my guess is that you have something more IMPORTANT to do. :-)."

    Ask yourself 5 times, if you really should try a new free software, or if you should sign up an interesting forum or social media. If you leave your focus out of your eyes, you will probably be hung over. Ask yourself: How many subscriptions can you serve, so that they contribute some substantial benefit to your activities? Even if you are able to create a clear structure, for example, by using a mind map the danger of massive overwhelms or information overload remains. Collecting information you cannot use profitably, wastes time only. A platitude, however, common reality.

    What is the speed of time?

    A physical nonsense, of course. Maybe you heard, that in meditation, time seems to disappear? I am sure you know the feeling to have not time enough. Enough for what? Compare the examples: how many things to do appear in both situations?

    Right!- missing time happens, if there are many things to do, and you need another piece of time to do something very specific. And if you have no idea, how much time you will need to accomplish all. And if there are many of the tasks that are damned important or urgent. This is pure stress!

    And what is important – for what? And what is urgent – why? If you miss answering these questions, then you face extreme speed of time!

    You know the sayings: time flies or time passes slowly. However, if you take a closer look, it is always a matter of the count of things you want or are forced to do within a time span often you define.

    Normally, 80% of those things contribute most to your shortage of time according to the Pareto Principle. The secret to slow your time down and reduce stress is, not to analyze much the 80% and look, what you may omit, but recognizing the 20% and concentrating your efforts on it. I know, nice words. It is a process, that needs time, you have to change beloved habits. It is an adventure for many people.

    But it is the truth. The 20% are worth analyzing or better: defining consciously. However, what are the guidelines, what are the rules for defining these 20%? It is the existence of a certain goal. So it may be a sign, that you miss a goal, if you face excessive speed of time.

    Did you enter a contest for doing a maximum of tasks or do you want to go straight ahead towards a goal? In the latter case, the number of tasks did not count.. The right tasks, the tasks that contribute relevant steps towards your goal count.

    As a consequence you may establish a personal formula for you, maybe as your New Year´s pledge : “My time management should be a tool only, to reach my goals. So I define my goal(s) and finally reduce the speed of my time down to 20%”!