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Batching as a time management strategy.



Grouping similar tasks together increases efficiency

Batching refers to scheduling blocks of time in your planner for tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources.

The length of time could vary, but I frequently tie it in with my practice of scheduling 90-minute chunks of time to work on projects in a relatively interruption-free environment. For instance, after a half hour or more of early morning start of time, where I get rid of minor but essential tasks such as checking email, voicemail, requests for information etc., I might have a 90 minute block of time scheduled for writing articles for my newsletter and blog, material for my teleseminars, courses or website – all requiring writing, creativity, voice activated software, reference books, notes my journal and so on.

A batching session could involve contacting various people by phone, text or email, whether that be business or personal related, at a particular time in the day.

Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another or putting demands on your energy supply by having to make frequent and unrelated decisions. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.

I prefer 90 minute blocks of time, which are reasonable lengths of time to be unavailable to others, and seem to follow the waves of high energy throughout the day. But smaller tasks require less time, and anything down to a half hour would be feasible. Anything less than that defeats the purpose of batching, and the benefits are few.

Other examples of the types of tasks that lend themselves to batching are back to back meetings or interviews; errands, where you visit the places farthest from your home base first and work your way back; reading magazines, blogs, websites, books and other resources in search of information on a specific topic; posting and reviewing material on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; organizing a specific area of your home or office.

Forming the habit of batching reduces the practice of multitasking, and eliminates time wasted and things overlooked that occur when you constantly transition between tasks throughout the day.

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Work: not a place to go to, but a state of mind



Are we witnessing the end of personal time?

We have become a mobile society with fewer people working in 9 to 5 offices, and many people working at home, on the road or sharing a desk with others. One of my past clients consisted of case managers who seldom visited a centralized office. They were all equipped with laptops and did their administrative work onsite at their client’s place, in their cars or at home.

Even those who work in offices have blurred starting and ending times. Nearly a third of all employees in the U.S. work on a flexible schedule and have at least some say in when their work begins and ends according to the book, The Secret Pulse of Time, by Stefan Klein. The Families and Work Institute reported that over 40% of workers are able to select their start and quit times within a range of core operating hours set by employers. And according to the Department of Labor, nearly 29 million employees start their workday between 4:30 a.m. and 7:29 a.m.

A documentary on TV indicated that women created the demand for workplace flexibility, but men have now joined them full force. Some companies are changing the way they do business both to accommodate demands for a satisfying work/life balance, and to handle the shrinking talent pool as baby boomers retire. The challenge has been to abolish the time clock, yet increase productivity. Other factors have influenced the trend towards a more flexible workweek, including the increase in morning traffic, customer demands, working parents, family priorities and of course the electronic wireless communication devices, laptops and other portable office equipment.

The number of people who work at home is increasing. According to one website, an estimated 23.5 million employed Americans worked from home during business hours at least one day per month. Work is no longer a place where you go to get things done. It could be your kitchen, a library, your car or even a coffee shop. Coffee shops are opening earlier. Many are equipped with wireless Internet. Cars are more conducive to eating on the run with specialty stores sell modular work stations that fit in the passenger seat.

There are some advantages of the increase in work flexibility for both employees and employers. For someone with child care or elder care needs, for instance, it can be helpful. Employers get more of the day and week covered to meet client demands.

And there are some advantages to working at home, in the car or at a coffee shop. In many cases there is less clutter, and no memorabilia such as trophies or family photographs to distract you. There are usually fewer interruptions, no water cooler gossip or morning sports updates. No bottlenecks at working stations, copiers or in the boardroom.

But with today’s technology, you are connected 24 hours a day, tethered to a smartphone or other electronic device, and able to send and receive text messages as you move from one location to the other. And for many people, their handheld devices are no farther away than the bedside table as they sleep at night.

We don’t know how digital technologies are affecting our brains; but we do know that they can become addictive, interfere with our personal relationships, and in some cases affect our health and well-being. Susan Greenfield, in her 2015 book, Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains, indicates that technologies have their price.

It would be wise to keep up to date on the possible harm, as well of the benefits of this digital age of speed – and to wade carefully into the waters of technology without becoming fully immersed.




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Be mindful of people



Spend more time with your “real” friends, not the ones online

There is a common expression concerning mindfulness that suggests “wherever you are, be there.” In this age of technology, we should add, “And whomever you are with, be with them.” It’s interesting to observe the number of people and their companions who seem to be more interested in their devices then each other. Whether in restaurants, commuter trains, shopping malls or walking, it’s astounding to see how little communication is actually going on between partners.

The sheer volume of time people are spending on the Internet has to be taking time away from communications in the real world.

More and more, people tend to be stealing time from personal relationships to spend on Internet relationships. According to the publication Scientific American Mind, the amount of time spent using social networking sites is growing three times the rate of overall Internet usage.

There are many studies showing that social relationships are good for your health and well-being. (Refer to my blogs, Friendships can extend your life span, December 24, 2014, and People are just as user-friendly as computers, November 29, 2014.) None of these studies seem to refer to social networking. There is no doubt a benefit, but it couldn’t possibly approach the benefits derived from the more intimate one-on-one relationships with those you can actually reach out and touch?

At least one study revealed that time spent on social networks lowers academic performance. (Refer to my blog, The price of technology, February 9, 2015.) And when the topic of handheld devices start to surface in sessions on marriage counseling, you know it is having an impact on everyday social relationships.

Michael Harris, in his book The end of absence, referred to the results of 72 studies between 1979 and 2009 that indicated today’s youth were scoring 40% lower levels of empathy than their earlier counterparts. No doubt a dozen hours of screen time a day will equip youth to deal more efficiently with the digital world. But what is it doing to equip them with reality, and with live, personal one-on-one relationships?

It may be time to trade a few hundred friends on Facebook for a few more hours of quality time with those you really love.

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We are overwhelming our brain



Does technology really make us more effective?

Getting more things done faster is no longer limited by technology, but by our brain. Our brain has a limited capacity for processing information, and this limit is being approached and frequently passed by the ever-increasing rate at which it is being assaulted by new information.

In the past decade, Internet use has expanded by 566%. It is estimated that 40% of all people of the world are now online. According to the book The End of Absence by Michael Harris, by 2012 we were searching for information via Google more than 1 trillion times each year. We “liked” 4.5 billion items on Facebook and uploaded hundreds of hours of video on YouTube for every minute of real time. With over 6 billion cell phones in use, and the average teenager sending about 4000 text messages each month according to Nielsen research, it is not difficult to imagine the impact on our brain. Torkel Klingberg, in his book The overflowing brain, claims “boundaries are no longer defined by technology, but by own biology.” Torkel mentions a survey of workplaces in the U.S. that showed workers were being interrupted every three minutes, and people have an average of eight windows open at the same time.

Ed Hallowell, who has written several books related to ADD and ADHD, coined the expression “attention deficit trait” to describe the ADHD -like symptoms being displayed by adults and induced by a business environment that is now characterized by a fast pace, rapid change, constant interruptions and information overload.

The impact of multitasking alone is now so obvious that it cannot be ignored. The human factors and ergonomics Society estimates that 2600 deaths and 330,000 injuries are caused each year in the U.S. by motorists speaking on their cell phones while driving. Daniel J Levinson, in his book The organized mind, claims that multitasking also disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually required for problem-solving and creativity. He also indicated the impact of interruptions when he said the awareness of an email waiting to be answered can reduce our IQ by 10 points.

Absorbing new information also burns energy. And it takes more energy to multitask, make decisions and work on demanding tasks. To maximize brain efficiency, we must protect our brain from energy- draining activities encouraged, if not caused, by technology.

We must continue to use technology and all that it has to offer in order to improve both our performance and lifestyle. But we must do so in a manner that protects our health – including the health of our brain. This involves judicious use of the Internet, control of technology, and the practice of moderation as opposed to excess.

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The single most effective strategy for managing email

Email management strategies

Email management strategies

Is it the end of personal time?

The single most effective strategy for handling email is to control it and not allow it to control you. Personal life coach Valorie Burton, author of How Did I Get So Busy (Broadway Books, 2007) relates the story of a woman who sleeps with her BlackBerry. Her reason? If she gets an idea in the middle of the night, she can email it before she forgets.

That’s not such an uncommon story. Stefan Klein, in his book The Secret Pulse of Time (Marlowe & Company, 2007) talks about the constant stream of emails that prevent us from finishing our projects. He cites an AOL study that indicated people are addicted to email. Three quarters of all Americans spend more than an hour a day on it. 41% of those questioned retrieve their email first thing in the morning even before brushing their teeth – and almost as many admit to getting out of bed at night to check their email. 4% even read their email on their laptops while seated on the toilet!

One of my own clients told me that he was proud of the fact that he could reach any of his managers at any time – even if it were midnight Sunday – because the company had issued BlackBerrys to all the managers.

Valorie Burton referred to a Wall Street Journal article titles “BlackBerry Orphans” that discussed how these gadgets intrude on families and how children are feeling neglected.

Email is one of the reasons that work is no longer a place but a state of mind. It’s also one of the culprits in an out-of-balance life. And it contributes to the number one time problem as we will soon see as well.

It’s not email itself, but our lack of control. People check it from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night. That is, if they don’t sleep with it! And it frequently takes them on tangents, checking recommended websites, reading attachments, responding to queries and keeping them from working on their priority projects. Some people even have bells and whistles that tell them another email has arrived so they won’t miss another distraction.

If you want to gain control, set up a time and a procedure for handling email. Don’t allow it to control your day. You might check email twice per day, for instance – more frequently if your company’s success depends on a quick response to emails. Checking your email every ten minutes or so is both costly and time consuming.

Timothy Ferriss, author of the book, The 4-Hour Workweek, published in 2007 by Crown Publishing, checks his email no more than once per week. He insists that any lost orders or other problems are overshadowed by his gain in efficiency. Personally, I wouldn’t go to this extreme. But twice per day does not seem unreasonable.

It’s not generally a good idea to check email first thing in the morning. You could easily get distracted from your plan. Make sure you get your top priority done first. We recommend you schedule one or more priority tasks each morning and not check your email until about 11:30. You could check it again about 3:30 in the afternoon. You might want to turn off the automatic send/receive option so that email doesn’t pop up in your inbox the moment you sign on. Email programs seem to be designed to control us rather than the other way around.

I encourage everyone to at least give it a try. Check your email twice per day for at least a couple of days and then assess the impact on your business. I’m sure most people have experienced a computer crash or an Internet access problem or a vacation when accessing email was impossible, and yet have survived the experience with no earth-shattering problems.

When you do check your email, make sure that you have enough time to dispense with all the email messages in your inbox. You might want to allow a half hour for instance every time you check your email. Either delete it, forward it to someone else for reply, file it, answer it, move it to an action file or To Do list, or (if it warrants it) schedule time in your planner to take the necessary action before replying. It’s a similar process you would use with paper. Handle it only once where possible and never leave it in the inbox.