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How Can I Get My Weekends Back?

… or why time and priority management matters

time and priority management

Time: Where does it go?

As you start your working day – sitting on the train or perhaps in your kitchen having your breakfast before you go to your “home” office, is your heart singing as you think about the day ahead? No, not you?

Perhaps your shoulders are starting to sag with the weight of the jobs that you keep adding to the mental list of things that need to be done today? Worse than that?

Maybe you woke up with a sense of dread as your first thought? You don’t feel refreshed from the night’s sleep, your heart sank as you had flashbacks of things that went wrong or did not get done yesterday and your mental to do list seems to keep losing things. No wonder getting out of bed takes a real effort of will.

Now for most of us, some challenge is good. We need it to be happy and healthy. A day when you look forward to achieving or contributing is a much happier prospect than a vista of grey. On the days when our heart sings we feel we can conquer the world and we are happy to take it on (see our Resilience at Work programme for advice on how to maximise these good days). However, there comes a tipping point when too much in the day ahead makes us anxious and thinking about the world just becomes another burden. Research has found that UK employees spend more than one third of their time at work feeling stressed.

Our thoughts about the day ahead affects how we perform, when we are bored we can start to make mistakes because we find it harder to concentrate, or maybe find it difficult to get started on more challenging tasks or perhaps we overthink and then become paralyzed by all the options we have discovered. At the other end, too much work and we start to make mistakes because we can’t take the time we need to do it properly, we don’t get to things that need to be done and we don’t have time to think “outside the box” and be creative.

Would the day be different if we start with an outline plan allocating our time it to what we think may be coming up?

Start thinking about good time and priority management

Now for most of us, work rarely arrives in neatly spaced parcels, perfectly designed to fit the time available. We are all responding to the demands of others and they work on their time scales, rarely ours. But it is true that when we are feeling energized by being in control, we can do much more. So how can we plan our day when we don’t know what is going to come in?

There are things we can do to make better use of our time without having the gift of seeing the future. As a start, if we think about our day, could we group some of the activities and get time synergies? Maybe, but we need to spend time we don’t currently have thinking about it! Here is the thing … if we view planning our day as a productive use of time we can change this.

This is not the total answer though. Time plays tricks which mean that even when we have planned our day, we still end up stressed and under pressure. “Real” time bears no relation to the regular movement of the minutes on the digital clock. Some minutes race by while others dawdle. Our perception of the passing of time changes depending on what we are up to. Nothing on? – “real” time minutes amble by. Boss needs a tricky report by the end of the day? – “real” time minutes pass in a flash. So we get the report done but the email that you needed to get out for next week comes home with you for the weekend. We need to keep track of time.

Technology can help or hinder. If we use it wisely it can filter emails, delegate tasks, add requests to our calendars, so saving time and helping us to take control.

Time is a scare resource and we need to be able to make it work for us, keeping challenges manageable and stopping that panic that stops us being productive. Understanding how we distract ourselves when we are under pressure and finding new more effective habits can find us many more productive minutes or hours in the day.

Spending a little time on planning how we will spend our day, allowing time for the unplanned can give us back control and giving us back our weekend.

To learn more about techniques to help you claim back your weekend have a look at our Time and Priority Management training programme.


Other perspectives on time and priority management:

On the relationship between pressure and performance

The curse of the to do list?