Career

How To Make The Most Out Of The Hours We Have

We’ve seen the memes. It’s true that we all have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé. Yet for some of us, it’s a mystery why we aren’t able to use our time like Queen Bey. But in the wise words of Roman philosopher Seneca, life can be long if we know how to use it.

We’ve all been guilty of labouring over tasks that lack purpose but don’t seem to end. Tiring ourselves out while waiting for the right time to start something. Planning outcomes based on what other people will think. Or forgetting the reality of how our work and time is valued (remember, working harder ≠ working better).

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Sure, but we don’t have her team of personal assistants

Controlling your time might sound like a buzzkill to creativity. But mastering how you spend your minutes (and hours, and days) can lead to two great things. Firstly, you can dedicate focussed effort into the things that matter.

Secondly, (and unsurprisingly) being organised shrinks stress. That ‘block’ you’re feeling is banished far away enough to get a head start on doing work that’s valuable.

Here are a couple of ground rules to get you started…

Instead of making a to-do list, schedule time to think

Scheduling in a visual format – blocking out time on your iCal or using a journal, for instance – forces you to confront your working day. This makes it easier to work out how long it will take you to do something in the time you have left. So ditch the elaborate to-do lists which can be endless and difficult to measure.

Start creating your building blocks of concentration. Try to avoid getting into a binary of ‘important work’ versus ‘everything else’. Scheduling time to take breaks, do social things, and tackle life admin are necessary, too.

Over time, you’ll create a visual feedback mechanism for yourself. You’ll start to learn things about yourself. How you like to spend your time from beginning to end of a typical working day? What days are most productive days for you? What changes can you make to save energy and time but still get a reasonable amount of work done?

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Sell yourself the best hours of your day

This a tricky one. Valuing your own time (even when others around you may not) is vital to getting back in control of your time. This applies whether you’re self-employed or working for someone else.

Start with a discretionary one hour out of your entire working day. Sell it to yourself – tell yourself that you can do with this sixty minute block whatever you might believe is most valuable to your immediate (or long term) future.

Sure, you could use it to multi-task and skyrocket off the dopamine rush of checking Twitter while replying to emails while watching a Youtube video while writing up a report. Or you could use it to learn something new (perhaps master an aspect of a new software or pick a subject of interest to delve into on Kahn Academy). It’s all up to you.

Make your environment interruption and distraction-free

Messy desks and print-out tsunami stacks are the enemy of focus. While there are theories floating around that chaotic desks could mean you’re the next Einstein, it probably doesn’t matter as much when you’ve just knocked your coffee all over your keyboard.

Apartment Therapy has a great guide for cleaning up your cubicle or desk space on a regular basis. And desk organisers (such as this beautifully designed one) can be a useful way to fit all your daily essentials into limited spaces.

And we have a few tips on making an open-plan office (distraction central) work for you.

Match your energy to your task

Completing a task is only as important as how you feel when you’re trying to get it done. To be truly engaged at work, we have to get to know the limits of our energy, both physical and emotional.

A lot of what we do day-to-day is automatic and unconscious. So if we have to think about something every time we do it, chances are that we won’t keep doing it for very long.

Building up routines to manage how we respond to failure or rejection can be helpful here. How do you mentally prepare or talk to yourself before facing a phone call that could end in potential rejection? How do you offer feedback that leaves your co-workers feeling inspired and engaged rather than vulnerable?

Ideally, you can swallow those frogs (the tough tasks) before you sail into the easier ones to end your day.

We’re living in a time where we celebrate how much we can do rather than how well we can do it. We’re encouraged to react rather than reflect. And we can often find ourselves retaining surface-level knowledge rather than mastering specifics.

For a lucky bunch of us, having nothing on our minds except what we’re doing in the moment can be an amazing feeling at work. Hopefully, with some practice, it’s a thing that becomes a daily essential rather than a once-in-a-while luxury.


Nathania is a writer, video editor and snack enthusiast based in Melbourne. You can find her on Twitter @unicornology