We cannot be effective if our minds are cluttered, or if we feel too overwhelmed. Setting aside time to ensure your mental energy is as strong as it can be is so important.
The fuel/tank analogy comes in helpful here too, when you consider the difference between being efficient and being effective.
‘Efficiency is about getting more things done. Effectiveness is about getting the right things done,’ says author James Clear.
‘If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably realise that you are better at doing certain tasks at certain times. What type of energy do you have in the morning? Afternoon? Evening? Determine what tasks each energy level and time of day are best suited for,’ he explains.
This is sage advice. We’ve been taught to multi-task – a veritable badge of honour. But what if we’ve been doing this just to keep up, rather than to do the best job or to mindfully pay attention to all the things in our lives? In truth, multi-tasking undermines our productivity. A temporary shift in attention from one task to another simply increases the amount of time necessary to finish the task.
‘You get one, precious life. How do you decide the best way to spend your time? Productivity gurus will often suggest that you focus on being effective rather than being efficient,’ says Clear.
Schwartz agrees. He recalls a client who moved from checking his email constantly, to setting aside dedicated time to check his e-mail just twice a day.
He discovered that working in this focused way, he could clear his inbox each time he opened it – the reward of fully focusing his attention on e-mail for 45 minutes at a time. It left him feeling on top of his workload, energised for the next task, and with far more time on his hands. ‘He reset the expectations of all the people he regularly communicates with by e-mail too,’ explains Schwartz.
‘I’ve told them if it’s an emergency and they need an instant response, they can call me and I’ll always pick up’. Nine months later he has yet to receive a call.
Schwartz’s story clearly reminds us how important boundaries are in ensuring we can manage our to-do list without burning out. It’s not about stopping when you can’t do anymore, it’s knowing how long the journey needs to be.