Personal Productivity

How to Effectively Spend Your Time

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Self-Improvement Focus Advice Organization
"The key is in not spending time, but in investing it." ~ Stephen R. Covey

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How to Effectively Spend Your Time

Regardless of the system you use to manage your projects and tasks, both professional and personal, there is something that is rarely discussed when talking about personal productivity, and yet is the foundation of any healthy productive behavior: the strategic allocation of your time.

How do you allocate your time over the course of a day, even over the course of a week? How you do this will influence the way you manage your career, your relationships with others and your quality of life.

Let’s take a look at several approaches that can help you design a healthy distribution of your personal time.

Four types of activities

According to Ichak Adizes, available time can be allocated over four types of activities:

  1. Getting the job done. These are activities that produce immediate tangible results for those who pay us in return, and respond to a need for short-term effectiveness.
  2. Reviewing our work or the work done by others. These are management activities that allow us to improve how we do things and help improve efficiency in the short term.
  3. Innovating, undertaking, changing things. This is when we try to anticipate what the future holds, or question current solutions and seek to learn new things in order to create new solutions. These activities improve long-term effectiveness and connect us to the purpose of what we do.
  4. Integration activities. They improve relationships with other people close to us and with ourselves. They promote long-term efficiency.

It is quite common for short-term activities to consume almost 100% of our time. Failure to invest in future-focused activities has dysfunctional effects on both individuals and companies.

It is necessary to seek a balance in the use of time between short-term and long-term activities, and between those more oriented to efficiency and those focused on improving effectiveness.

How to achieve this? First of all, you must keep track of how you spend your personal time. Once you know how you spend your time, look for a new, more proportional distribution among the four types of activities (at a rate of 25% for each of them) and then make the necessary adjustments to your situation.

Shallow and deep work

Most people have to do, to a greater or lesser extent, these two types of work.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport defines deep work as “those professional activities performed without distractions that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits. These efforts always create new value, enhance your skills, and are difficult to replicate.”

Deep work is the work that adds value to your career and your company; it is the work that contributes the most to making you a great professional.

In contrast, shallow work refers to “logistical, non-cognitively demanding tasks that are often performed in a state of semi-distraction. These efforts do not create much value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

If you do not distribute your time correctly, mixing deep work with shallow work and with the usual interruptions of cell phones, messages, social networks, etc., your personal productivity and value contribution may not be as good as it should be.

Deep work requires uninterrupted attention and a high cognitive demand. You must proactively seek out and plan time slots in which to do this type of work, create a suitable environment in which to do it, and commit to it. Shallow work and interruptions should have no place in these spaces.

Evaluation of daily work

According to the GTD (Getting Things Done) personal management methodology, at any given time throughout a workday, we are involved in one of three types of activities:

  1. Doing work as it shows up. Whenever something pops into our head we can capture it to do at another time, but there are times when it may make sense to get on to it immediately (unforeseen events, crises, etc.). This type of work is a totally unproductive trap and should be kept to a minimum, but it’s easy to get caught up in this kind of work, especially when you have an organizational system relatively out of control. If this type of work is not timely and controlled, it tends to generate high levels of frustration and anxiety.
  2. Doing predefined work. It means doing the work you have already defined in your personal management system, i.e., choosing an action to perform within your lists according to your current situation and priorities.
  3. Defining our work. This is time dedicated to clarifying what exactly are the demands that come into your life, organizing them conveniently in the appropriate lists and checking that these lists are up to date. In short, it’s about determining what tasks you need to carry out.

Defining your work is a totally necessary investment in order to have your life and work under control most of the time (doing predefined work), without being driven by the apparently urgent demands of the moment (doing work as it shows up).

In summary

  1. Make sure your activities are a rational combination of tasks that will generate a short-term benefit with tasks that will improve your life in the long run.
  2. Allocate your time so that you can devote a significant amount of time to deep work in an environment that encourages concentration and avoids distractions.
  3. Spend some time every day defining and organizing your work, so that you don’t get carried away by the tyranny of urgencies.
Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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