Wednesday, December 12, 2007


"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”
- H. Jackson Brown

Do you sometimes think it’s ironic that despite all the time-saving gadgets we own, we always have less time? It feels like the days have got shorter and work has expanded to fill the waking hours. Even our sleep is disturbed.  

The first instinct is to go on holiday, get away from it all, escape the grind. While the benefits of a holiday are not disputed, perhaps it is only a temporary solution. When we return, it’s back to the routine, hectic as ever. 

Let’s set aside crises situations, advanced deadlines and last-minute preparations that go well into the wee hours. Let’s focus instead on long, boring, routine workdays.
Recognise that there are 24-hours in a day. No more, no less. About 7 hours would go in sleep (lesser, with a looming project deadline). Our personal grooming takes about an hour. Meals, snacking and tea breaks take about 2.5 hours. Depending on where we live, our daily commute to and from work would take about two hours a day on average (more, if you add commute to meetings outside office). We’re left with about 11.5 hours, most or all of which go into work.
While our session this month, The 70-minute Hour featuring Dr. Jim Hennig, will elaborate on how we can stretch the hour when it comes to work, here are some ideas that could make life simpler bothe at work and away.
- Grooming. The simplest way to stop spending time wondering if your shirt, trousers, tie and shoes match, is to have them all match each other. One doesn’t need to overdo the standardization and wear the same colour every day, although people are known to have done that as well. Women, particularly, have it tough on this one, but once they set their mind to it, they also figure out how to cut down the daily-decision-making on what to wear. Also, if you tend to work irregular hours, keep a spare set of clothes and some basic toiletries at work.
- Use your commute time. If you are driving, avoid taking calls at this time. Use this time to catch up on music or audio books on the car stereo. Listen to music of your choice instead of simply turning on the radio. If you have a driver, you could catch up on phone calls during the commute, read trade publications or simply, plan your day.
- Get to work on time and not just when the company sends out a memo on late-comers. It’s a precious quiet period to plan, schedule and strategize before the office becomes a beehive of activity. Simply put, it’s professional to get to work on time. The same goes for meetings – get there on time, and decide beforehand how long you’ll stay. It brings a sharper focus to meeting agendas.
- At work, cut out non-work distractions. Networking websites, your cousin’s wedding pictures on a photo storage website, batchmates calling, your own urge to call batchmates, forwarding jokes on email or sms. All these act as holes in the drain, when it comes to time – individually small, but collectively, adding up to a lot in an average work day.
- Use the best means to get a task done. One of the best ways to stretch the hour, get more done is to make your fingers do the walking. Sometimes we can get the same task done in the shortest possible time using the telephone or email. Other times, we may simply have to delegate the task to the right person for it to get done on time, and perhaps get done better.
- Breaks. Tea breaks are important as ‘me-time’, but before you know it, you’ve spent twenty minutes catching up with colleagues on what happened to that programmer who quit last month. Let’s not forget drop-by visitors who have not scheduled to meet you. While sometimes it’s unavoidable, accept that you can say ‘no’ most of the time.
- Tame the email/paper tiger. Find ways to get rid of email/paperwork from your desktop. The objective is to ensure your desktop isn’t a resting place for unnecessary email/paper. Read any email/paper that comes to your desk and then, file, pass, trash or shred. Act immediately.
- Problem-solution. Every time someone from your team approaches you with a problem, if they have a couple of suggestions on how to handle it alongside, it drastically cuts down the time spent on that discussion. In any case, the solutions are often the same, and you will be delegating some of the problem-solving to them anyway. The same goes for when you’re approaching your boss with a problem. If the onus of handling the problem is yours ultimately, it might make sense to line up some solutions before approaching the boss. It also shows that you’re proactive.
- Draw the line on technology. Use only those gadgets that are relevant to you. Recognise what’s helping and what’s not. If viewing email attachments is critical to the nature of your work, a Blackberry that doesn’t allow you to do so is just another electronic leash. Prioritise - not every call is important and not every email is urgent. Some emails are only to inform you, seeking no response. Voice mail and answering machines help maintain contact while you’re doing a task requiring high priority. It’s especially useful while spending quality time at home.
- Sleep deeper. Back home, are you flipping channels because you’re wide awake at bedtime? Doesn’t work - TV actually keeps your brain active long after you’ve switched it off. The same goes for books, except maybe instruction manuals or academic books that guarantee sleep in 3 seconds flat! Ditto with surfing the Internet. If you’re trying to keep track of priorities in your mind, jot them down and take the load off your mind. Have a ‘sleep-mode’ ritual that your brain could associate with shutting down for the day. It could be to meditate for a minute, listen to soothing music or simply look at a calming picture. 

Implement just one of the above ideas and save time that could be better used. If you’ve had success putting these into practice, we’d love to know about it. Also, do write to us with your own simple and innovative ideas on stretching the hour.

(Article written for Best of Crest, 2007)

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