In the movie Changing Lanes, William Hurt delivers a memorable line. He tells Samuel Jackson: "You're addicted to chaos." Chaos is the antonym of organization, orderliness and calm. Chaos erodes our peace of mind and causes unnecessary turmoil, delays and loss of productivity.
The literature on time management is abundant. We all crave to save time in our increasingly hectic schedules so that we can accomplish our goals. One way to salvage precious time is to focus on eliminating preventable chaos from our lives.
Here are some ideas to help you accomplish this:
1. Know when to disengage. If you are introverted, you have a built-in radar that tells you when you need to disengage and seek quiet time. For those of us who derive energy from others, it is sometimes harder to know when it's time to disengage. We may continue talking beyond the point when others are prepared to listen. Increase your self-awareness in this area and you will introduce more calm into your life.
2. Attach a monetary value to your time. How much time do you spend tweeting, updating your Facebook status, commenting on photos or creating unnecessary PowerPoint slides? If it is an excessive amount of time, here is an exercise that might help you. Figure out what your hourly rate is, and then ask yourself whether the weekly hours you spend on such activities are worth it. This is a sobering exercise. Rolf Nelson, in The Rational Entrepreneur, says it aptly: "Putting an explicit monetary value on your time has the advantage of ironing out certain irrational habits."
3. Plan your presentation with care. If you proudly assert: "I don't prepare for presentations. I just wing it," know you are doing yourself and your audience a disservice. No matter how good we think we are at presenting, a lack of preparation will almost always result in excessive verbiage, and wasted time. Carefully decide in advance what your take home message is. For everything that you plan to include, ask yourself: So what? Why should your listeners care about this particular point? Will this story or extra bit of data increase their understanding or is it likely to just overwhelm them with detail? This type of preparation will help you avoid giving a lengthy and digressive presentation.
4. Know how to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file. At times, you might be unable to open up a PowerPoint file just before your presentation. This can happen easily with large, complex files. You can eliminate this potential stress and chaos by learning how to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file. To help you in this regard, read the article by Echo Swinford, Microsoft MVP. Print the article and keep it with your presentation material in case you need it.
5. Boost your efficiency with the "ultradian sprint." This idea comes from the Harvard Business Review article, Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. The technique entails being totally focused on a chosen task and completing it as quickly as possible. It requires the elimination of all distractions. As the authors say: "Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another—stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance—increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25 percent." It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, followed by a true break. Then fully focus on the next activity. The authors refer to these work periods as “ultradian sprints.” Give it a try.
6. Set an agenda for each phone call. Before picking up the phone, write down the key points you want to discuss. It has been said before, but how many of us actually do this? Always end a call with a quick recap of what action items were decided. More important, decide in advance what message you will leave, if you reach voicemail.
7. Don't drown yourself in research. In Stop Talking, Start Doing: A Kick In the Pants In Six Parts, author Shaa Wasmund talks about the seduction of research which often becomes a way to put off making a decision. As Wasmund says, "hundreds of millions of us are hooked on the idle activity of finding out more information; on seeking ever more fascinating and entertaining research." This gets us nowhere and introduces chaos in our lives. Know when to put the brakes on more research.
8. Don't micromanage others. If you work very long hours because you are micromanaging others' work, you are doing more harm than good. For one thing, this extra burden will divert your attention from mission-critical work and impede your own progress. Stay focused on your real job and you will be less hassled at the end of the day. As well, micromanaging prevents team members from developing their skills and makes them dependent on you. It becomes a non-ending cycle of time wastage.
9. Acquire training in a process management program. If you have not mapped out a process for running your business or department, consider attending training in a process management program such as Six Sigma. Introduce Sigma-like programs in every department of your organization. This will help you improve efficiency and remove wasted steps.
10. Arrive early everywhere. Plan to arrive early at the boarding gate, at meetings, appointments, and other events. Use the planned waiting time productively: to map out activities, draft reports, answer e-mails, or simply to gather your thoughts. If you are habitually pressure-prompted, flying by the seat of your pants, this one strategy will introduce some calm and peace in your daily routine.
American actress Lorna Luft once said: "Living in continual chaos is exhausting. The catch is that it's also very addictive." Changing your behavioral patterns to introduce more order and tranquility into your daily routine will help you to stop vaporizing valuable hours every day. It will create a safety net to protect you from potential chaos and whim.