• Lai Han Sam

6 Tips For A More Productive Life

In our modern life, busyness seems to be a badge of honour. When asked "How are you?" in a business or social setting, the answer that is so often heard is "Busy!". The mentality of busy is equated to productiveness or even importance. I have a different perspective to offer. Prolonged unstructured busyness is a sign of the mismanagement of time.

We all know that there are times in our lives when we are genuinely busy - a tight project timeline, a sick child, or frequent business trips. If constant busyness is on my schedule way too long, I would step back and check if this is real busy or just me not managing my time well. Here are a few ways.

1. When you answer that you are busy to the question "How are you?" too many times in a row over a short period; 2. When you realise that you don't have time to do what is important to you; 3. When you feel run down instead of invigorated doing the work you love; 4. When you are always on edge and anxious and found yourself frequently upset with others in your life.

Whenever I realise that there is a chance that I have been mismanaging my time, I take some time off alone to reflect. This may seem counter-intuitive during times of busyness but it gives me a chance to step out of my life and see it from the outside.

When I reflect, I review how I have been spending my time and whether the things I am doing is aligned to my values. Since values drive priorities, if I spend the whole day packing the messy cupboard instead of playing board games with my family, I feel frustrated and unfulfilled. Family is one of my top 3 values, and having a tidy home is lower on my values list, thus I want to gravitate towards a priority that is more aligned with my top values. If so, then packing the cupboard can be lower on my priority list, instead of beating myself up for not completing it or forcing the task into my calendar.

I also look at whether there are time-wasters. These are sneaky little things that are seemingly quick to do things but somehow end up taking up a lot of time. For me, some time-wasters are spending too much time on social media when I only need 5 minutes to check my Facebook message box; spending time making something which does not need to be perfect, perfect; multitasking instead of single tasking.

Another area I would reflect upon is whether I have been practising self-care and recovery. If I did not get enough sleep or the right kind of food for my body, I would feel run down and it would take me a lot longer to finish a task. Taking the time to rest and recover is very important for the long haul.

A question that I constantly ask myself is if I am trying to do everything myself. If there are tasks that I can delegate or ask for help, and I did not, this will take up time and energy that could have been better used for my other priorities. For example, instead of doing all the dishes after dinner, I ask every member of my family to do their own. This applies to the workplace as well. If there is someone on my team who could help me finish a project faster, I would ask for help or for their expertise in evaluating a proposal.

Reflection is a great exercise and it is only valuable if we change the way we do things for the better. Some tips that would be helpful in managing our time are:

  1. Schedule everything on your calendar. In one glance, you would be able to tell if you have time to squeeze in another item or not. Don’t forget to schedule breaks and self-care time.

  2. Make sure you have 15 minutes at the end of your day to plan for the next day. This will start your day off feeling focused and with direction.

  3. On your daily to do list, have 3 top things would give you the most satisfaction or the most progress towards your goals when you complete them.

  4. If there is an item that you dread doing but must be done, do that first thing in the morning.

  5. Other than scheduling for the day, do it for weekly and monthly as well. This will help you see the bigger picture towards your bigger goals.

  6. Learn to say “No”. When you take on too much or keep saying yes to social functions that do not add value to your life, you would run out of time very quickly. Saying no is protecting your time boundaries. This will allow you to really focus on things that are high on your priority list.

With these tips, hopefully in the future, your answer to the question “How are you?” would be “Great! I have been very productive and looking forward to my holiday next week!”.

What other techniques can you think of that would help you manage your time better?

#hansamlai #lifework #timemanagement

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