Over the years I have tried many different ways to improve my use of time and be more productive at work. Whatever I try, I find that initially the new technique makes a real difference - but only for a short while.
I've finally realised that this is less to do with the technique itself and much more to do with the thoughtfulness that applying a new technique requires. Applying any new technique initially forces me to think about my priorities and focus on where my time is going. But then, as I become more skilled in using the technique, so I stop thinking about it. The new way of working becomes yet another habit which I follow without thinking. This wouldn't matter if there were a perfect technique which would always cause me to use my time in the best possible way. But there isn't, not that I've found anyway.
And so I've come to a much simpler but more challenging approach in which I keep asking myself "What do I do now?" Tim Gallwey, in his book The Inner Game of Work: Overcoming Mental Obstacles for Maximum Performance has a neat little process (which he calls the tool of all tools) for this called STOP:
- Step back - from action, emotion and thinking
- Think - about what's most important here
- Organise your thoughts - to create coherence
- Proceed - when purpose and next steps are clear.
At its centre is awareness, the ability to be fully present to the moment and to create the space in which we can choose. If STOP is the tool of all tools, awareness is the capacity of all capacities. Awareness stops us getting lost in the web of habits which control so much of our thought and action. We notice what we're doing, we notice the universe of possibilities of what we could be doing, and then we choose how to spend this moment in time. Its simple stuff really, simple, but not easy!