For over two decades, Mark has discussed and consulted with leaders and organizations on productivity, workflow management, strategy, work-life integration, and business development. He is the author of Attack Your Day! Before It Attacks You. Academic leader, and our host, Dr. Heather Frederick, began implementing Woods’ methods across her practice, and they have helped her and every team she’s led become more productive with less stress.
Today, Mark shares his time paradigm for greater productivity, which may challenge how you would usually think. He wants you to learn to think about time in ways you may not have considered before. He shares five skills to help you get the most out of your time daily. So, let’s dig in.
Here is this week’s episode in full:
Time, the ultimate nemesis
Do you feel overwhelmed? Stressed? Burnt-out? One of the biggest challenges of today is work-life balance and the time that is needlessly lost due to poor planning and decision-making.
We have more events and activities to manage than ever before due to technology, the internet, and the expectations to do more with less in both our work and personal lives.
Mark believes we have become compressors of life, trying to jam as many activities and experiences into our day as possible. On a continuous basis, this lifestyle drives our stress levels up, creating a swell of anxiety, leading to feeling overwhelmed and eventually burnt-out, and sometimes complete shutdown. It’s no surprise that the self-care industry has erupted in recent years, considering the toll our lifestyles have on our well-being.
There is no cure-for-all, magic potion, or app that will solve life’s problems. The solution begins with you and your ability to change your mindset. When you change your mindset (aka how you view certain things), you can find tools that could enhance the effort you’ve put in to change your mindset.
Expert tip: if you want to gain control of your time, you must recognize and understand that we do not manage time; instead we execute activities.
From your first breath, you’ve been executing activities non-stop– an activity is literally anything you can do, including the activity of doing nothing. Activities can be physical or mental, and they can be long in duration or short, but make no mistake activities are not neutral! Mark emphasizes the importance of understanding that activities are never neutral, so one last time: activities are never neutral! This means that the activities you choose will either enhance or detract from the quality of your life.
6 statements to illustrate Mark’s idea that activities will enhance or detract from the quality of your life:
- Activities that align with what we value give us a greater sense of satisfaction than those that don’t.
- Activities creatively arranged in a sequence can culminate in the achievement of a desired outcome or goal.
- Negative activities repeated over and over again can erode our well-being.
- Positive activities repeated over and over again can make us stronger and improve our well-being.
- Activities repeated over and over again become habits. Some good, some bad.
- When we choose to do certain activities we simultaneously exclude other activities.
To help you get the most of your time each day, you’ll benefit from learning and mastering these 5 skills:
Skills #1 Choosing and refusing
It’s all about choice. Choosing and refusing the activities we do directly impacts the quality of our life, including our performance and productivity in both our personal and professional lives.
The key part of choosing activities is refusing activities. Good choosers are good refusers– they simply know how to say “no” and stick to it. In fact, one of the first steps to feeling overwhelmed is the inability to say “no” to activities that distract from value-added activities. Or put another way, overcoming the feeling of overwhelm is all about learning how to say “no.” Most people think that this ability only involves saying “no” to other people, but really, the goal is for you to learn the ability to say “no” to yourself!
Using the traffic light metaphor, you can gain experience in choosing and refusing. This metaphor will help you deal with interruptions and distractions during your daily activities.
Before you engage in any activity, when you get interrupted, distracted, or hear a notification – ask yourself this filter question: what color is this interruption? Use these colors to label and identify distractions. Use it over and over again until it becomes a habit. At some point, you may learn to do this automatically, saving you a lot of time and decreasing your stress levels.
o Red: STOP. The red light may have a double meaning: 1) Don’t do it and refocus on your task! Or 2) Urgency: this activity must be done by the end of the day.
o Green: GO. These are the activities that you want to do. These activities are valuable and enhance your life or task.
o Yellow: USE CAUTION. This is a bit tricky and requires making a decision – these things likely need to be done but not immediately. Think about it. The activity could carry value, but maybe not at this moment. Ask yourself: does this activity add value? Does it align with my current goal(s)? Do you need to do it now, or can you schedule it for the future?
Skill #2 Tracking
Most of us do not have a clear idea of where our time goes, and tracking will help you do just that. Mark believes this problem arises because people rush into their day without planning. When this occurs, people generally end up working on other people’s time, aka reactive instead of proactive mode. To combat this, to gain control of your time, Mark suggests investing some time ahead to plan and arrange your day.
Mark’s Challenge – track your time and the length of your activities for a few days. Code it with the colors described above to have an eye-opening experience about where your time is going and whether or not you are spending time on activities that detract from your well-being.
Skill #3 Arranging
Arranging is taking time in advance to organize your day and activities. What’s on your plate today? When you color-code your activities, your to-do list becomes more digestible and less intimidating, which results in less stress and overwhelm. Spend at least 5-15 minutes planning your day. Ask yourself: which activities must I execute today that are color-coded green? What yellow-coded activities are urgent or bring value? And for the red-coded activities, which are to be avoided and which are meant to be addressed?
To succeed in the planning process, avoid these mistakes:
o Don’t attempt too much! Be aware of how much time things will take (the tracking skill)! It is crucial to remember to factor in time for transitions– which is the amount of time it takes for you to prepare to execute an activity and go from one activity to another.
o Allow time for interruptions! Whether self-imposed or external, it is important to account for the time interruptions take away from your day. Either take care of them if they’re important or urgent or reschedule for later.
o Don’t rush the planning process! People typically rush the planning process, which can come back to bite some people at the end of the day. However, if you can commit to successfully planning ahead of time, you’ll get that time back later.
Skill #4 Flexicute aka Flexibly Executing Activities
This is a valuable skill to hone because it can help you get back on track if you’ve been pulled off course. Let’s be honest, on a typical day, you can count on getting “caught in the crossfires of interruptions,” as Mark says. The unexpected will show up and demands will emerge at the most inconvenient times, it is in these times where you need to flexicute.
- Flexicute means leaving your activity list when priorities shift and not allowing it to cause a big disruption to your planned activities.
- Turn on a dime when opportunities present themselves, especially if it’s a green activity that will enhance your life.
- Don’t be a multitasker. Mark says, when abused, multitasking can lead to what he calls time contamination. This is when time from one activity bleeds into time for another and detracts from the goals of both activities.
Skill #5 Focus
The ability to stay laser-focused on one task at a time can help you execute your activities more timely with less stress. You must learn to be ruthless with your time and strengthen your “no” muscles to avoid distractions and interruptions. Keep in mind the activities that you choose based on your circle of influence– the important things that you care about and how you perform them. Begin to think about aligning what you care about most with your performance, that way you can better allocate your time and energy to activities that matter most to you.
There is no cure-all to the distractions and interruptions you experience in life. You do not know what the day will bring, but you can take action to set yourself up for success. This starts with changing your mindset regarding how you think about time. Remember to start thinking about activity management instead of time management: which activities should you choose to execute and what value do they bring to your life? When you have this figured out, think about how you can align your circles of influence so that you spend more of your time in activities that enhance your life.
To learn more about his work, or to buy a copy of his book, or to simply connect, find Mark here Attackyourday.com.
If you enjoyed this episode, please make sure to mark your calendars for next week’s episode! We will be featuring Aspen University’s dean of students, Dr. Eva Ballard and her presentation: Feedback: The Currency of Success.