Why less can become more
A recent 2-year study has found that having too many deadlines actually makes us use our time less efficiently.
Eight tests were carried out and showed that restricted time intervals (say the hour before a planned meeting) feel shorter than the same time interval but without that restriction (i.e. having a free hour with nothing scheduled immediately afterwards). Productivity was also found to be lower during the restricted time interval.
The results also showed that we build in preparation time before a scheduled appointment – so even if we have an hour free beforehand, we consider that’s only around 50 minutes to get something done. We then build limits into that time and are more likely to tackle a half-hour task than one which may need 45 mins. However, if we didn’t have an appointment scheduled, we are more likely to choose the 45-minute task.
This may explain why stress levels can be raised for those who have several meetings/appointments spread throughout their working day. Short tasks like checking phones and writing simpler email responses get priority over more productive, and possibly more urgent, longer tasks as we don’t maximise the time between our committed time.
3 suggestions to help increase productivity and reduce stress
- Diary management – try scheduling meetings/appointments closer together when possible, to leave a longer period of unaccounted time within a day for lengthier tasks. Or plan a mixed week, doing a lot of shorter tasks on days with a high meeting/unallocated time ratio, keeping other days clear for larger tasks that require uninterrupted time to complete.
- Time management – train yourself not to build in ‘just in case’ time. Be realistic about the time between appointments. If you have a meeting in an hour, don’t spend the first fifteen minutes on short but less urgent tasks, begin with a task that may take the full time available but you know is more pressing. Try holding calls for a set period and limit checking emails to the beginning, middle and end of each working day.
- Self-management – find the right environment that works for you and be continually vigilant of how you are managing your workload e.g. are you over-extending yourself and being less productive by agreeing to attend that 2-hour meeting which is of lower importance than an outstanding task you could make good progress on using those 2 hours of uninterrupted time.