Why Develop A Game Plan?
This may seem obvious, but most of us still struggle to manage our most precious, non-renewable resource...Time.
Our mindset and behavioral habits that shape our daily routine may have us feeling like we are always busy and accomplishing a lot, but how productive are we being with our time? Are we spending our time in a way that effectively serves us and others?
To put things into perspective, here are some time use statistics from various recent studies on time management:
- Full-time employees work an average of 8.5 hours per weekday and 5.4 hours per day on a weekend day. (BLS, 2019)
- The average employee spends 2 hours per day recovering from distractions. (Atlassian, 2019)
- The average knowledge worker checks email and IM every 6 minutes. (RescueTime, 2019)
- The average employee only works for a total of 3 minutes before switching to another task. (Atlassian, 2019)
- The Netherlands ranks among the best work/life balanced countries with an average 29-hour workweek. (Small Business Trends, 2018)
If you’re not already doing so, take a moment to ask yourself the question – “How do I spend my time on a typical day?”
Depending on our personality type and learning experience, we tend to form habits that sabotage or limit our ability to effectively manage time, therefore it is important to develop skills to stay on track, and having a game plan that provides the framework from which to build and implement those skills is vital. That’s where the MESH model comes in.
The M.E.S.H. Model
Here is a simple acronym that describes an effective platform from which your time management practice can be based. It stands for:
One way to remember it, is to think of ‘mesh’ as the strong fabric used in medieval garments as protective armor. This model too shall be your protection from your time management saboteurs.
What does time mean to you? How valuable is it? What are the costs of not using it wisely?
Consistently connecting and reconnecting to this will be the driving force of our motivation. It is the main weapon in combating the bad habits, and forming the good habits that lead to effective time management.
In his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, Kevin Kruse refers to a sign he puts on his office door with the number 1440. This reminds him and others that this is how many minutes there are in a day, and to use them wisely.
This is merely one example of a touchstone that helps connect to the value of time. Some like to tattoo their skin, others meditate with a mantra. I like to read a poem called The Dash by Linda Ellis each morning, to set the tone for a day well lived.
In order to manage and execute our daily tasks to a high standard, we need a high level of energy. Yet how often do we fail to prioritize our self-energizing needs, especially as our responsibilities and expectations imposed on us by others increase?
There are many factors that contribute to our energizing potential, and here is a list of some of the most important:
- Quality Sleep
- Regular Exercise
- Healthy nutrition
- Constant hydration
- Mindfulness (meditation)
- Regular breaks throughout the day (pulse and pause).
Consider the above as non-negotiables, or the essential fuel that will keep you firing on all cylinders.
How many of us experience a dip at around 2 or 3pm of a typical work day, which we try to push through with an injection of caffeine or some other stimulant? It is common that these remaining hours of the work day are spent ineffectively, with reduced productivity. This can be avoided with consistent adherence to the above pillars of self energizing.
In the time leading up to being fully awake, another powerful energizing tactic to set your day up for a win, is to perform a regular morning ritual, consisting of activities that nourish the mind, body and spirit. For example, drink 16 oz of water with lemon and apple cider vinegar, then 15 minutes of meditation, journaling your gratitudes and intentions for the day, followed by some exercise. This can all be done in less than one hour of power.
Now that we have taken care of the ME (M+E) of MESH, we can attend to the mechanics of our time management practice, starting with our schedule, or calendar.
A common practice that may hold us back from getting things done, is relying too heavily on a ‘To do’ list. In fact, some of the most successful people in the World don’t even bother with a 'To do' list, and only live by their calendar.
Have you ever had so many tasks on your 'To do' list, unable to completely check everything off before new task items keep being added, causing overwhelm and anxiety? If so, you certainly wouldn’t be alone, in fact, a recent study found that on average, 41% of ‘To do’ items are never completed.
The overwhelm and anxiety caused by incomplete tasks can severely hinder the focus on, and completion of current tasks, a process scientifically known as the ‘Zeigarnick effect’.
By adopting the motto “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done”, you will form the habit of scheduling your high priority tasks, and not just let them sit forever on your 'To do' list.
Speaking of priorities, another tendency most people have is to start the day tackling tasks that are easy and normally take less time, like checking and responding to emails. This gives a false sense of accomplishment, and underneath the surface is an avoidance of the harder, less enjoyable, but more important tasks.
It is important to identify your Most Important Task (MIT), and make it a schedule item as early in the day as possible. Duke University Professor of Psychology Dan Ariely suggests that most people are the most productive, and have the highest cognitive functioning in the first two hours after we are fully awake (after your morning ritual).
The definition of the verb “Honor” in the dictionary is “to regard with great respect”, and “fulfill an obligation or keep an agreement”.
This fourth and final step of the MESH model is the most challenging, and yet most imperative. This step involves forming the habits to ensure you follow through on all the steps of the plan you’ve put in place to effectively manage your time.
The necessary question to ask ourselves here is “What gets in the way of honoring my calendar?”
The first thing to observe, is whether we are fully adhering to our first two steps of the MESH model. Without connection to Meaning, and without appropriate Energizing techniques, we are already putting ourselves at risk of lacking the motivation and commitment to Honoring our Scheduling practice.
Succumbing to, and spending time recovering from distractions is the #1 saboteur of productivity. Identifying what our most common distractions are is the first step to managing them. Completing a Distraction journal for at least 3 days can be extremely useful, whereby you track all of your activities of the day and note which of those were distractions, and for how long you were distracted.
Once identified, there are many ways to combat or avoid these distractions, such as turning off all social media notifications on your phone, removing distracting application icons from your computer’s bookmarks bar, or using a timer such as the Pomodoro technique to block out periods of time for distraction free work.
Another destructive behavioral habit, is not being able to say “No”. How often do you try to be everything to everyone, and take on the requests of others that you really don’t have the bandwidth for, or at the least, delay us from completing our important tasks or projects sooner?
Supporting others is an admirable trait, however we must determine when it is to the detriment of the greater outcome, such as your own wellness. Imagine what is possible when we find the courage to break through our ‘people pleasing’ tendencies, and decline requests for our time with confidence and respect.
As suggested in my e-book The Surthrival Guide, a very effective way to beat procrastination and ensure that we follow through on commitments, is to find yourself an Accountability partner, or ‘Accountabilibuddy’. Whether it’s a personal trainer, a work colleague, a weight watchers group, a friend to study with...we often feel worse when we break agreements with other people than we do with ourselves, so find yourself somebody who agrees to hold you accountable to your goals.
If life is a game, and we want to play to the best of our ability before full time, we need a game plan. Stick to the MESH model of time management, and you’ll have the best chance of finishing the game without regret, and having made an impact.
This article was adapted from the Winning EQ online workshop – Effective Time Management. If you would like Winning EQ to deliver this interactive workshop to your team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.