Trouble Finding Time to Complete Tasks? Take a Deep Breath…

Breath and go to your happy place...

A knowledge worker’s effectiveness depends on completing assignments. Sometimes, work just gets in the way of getting things done.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work. Specifically, what I’ve been contemplating is an increasing inability to spend substantive time writing during the day.

Perhaps it’s indicative of the problem that I am writing this at 10 p.m. Monday evening. I thought about starting to write this several times during the day, but work got in the way.

Of course, for me, writing is my work, so what happened? It isn’t writer’s block; indeed, I have plenty to say (and write).

Let’s look at when I was, and was not, productive for a moment. Over the weekend, I was able to spend a total of six or so relatively quiet hours writing. I finished three articles.

It’s not that I was constantly being interrupted during the workdays of the previous week. Today, with the prevalence of e-mail, my phone rings only once or twice a day.

During the normal workday, the typical nine-to-five, I find that many people are exchanging information and messages in an automaton-like fashion. They equate volume with a depth of understanding, facts with knowledge. They are deluding themselves.

Looking at the world in this fashion is not only misguided but wrong. But I digress.

Our jobs are not to move mounds of information from one pile to another. As knowledge workers, it is our job to digest information and extract a kind of wisdom from it.

Nonetheless, it’s possible to get caught up with my fellow automatons that are out there pushing out information and the day is over before you know it.

Even though I’ve cut back tremendously on my sources of information, I still find that my curiosity gets the best of me. There are so many things to be curious about and so much is available with the tap of a few keys that one can get lost in an abyss without even trying.

A few years ago, I scaled back from two 22” LCD monitors to the single 13” display built into my laptop. I thought I was being far more efficient and effective with wall-to-wall information but I was fooling myself. Instead, I was giving myself more ways to succumb to distraction.

Last year, I cut back on my news intake – and found that the absence of a constant barrage of small bits of news I really didn’t need gave me back the ability to concentrate more effectively.

This year, I find myself fighting to regain more time for thought and reflection. Alert readers will recall that we found that only 5% of the day is typically available to a knowledge worker for thinking and reflecting. That isn’t nearly enough time for a workforce that, essentially, thinks for a living.

What I am starting to see work for me is practicing deep breathing techniques. By doing so, I basically turn off all of my thoughts (it was a struggle at first but eventually it will happen to you too) and focus on my breathing. I feel more relaxed and more focused afterwards, and the result for me was a productive weekend of writing.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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