The Time Wasters, aka the Time Vampires
These are the many reasons which create difficulties for people to have when trying to manage their time and be effective and efficient. They’re nicknamed “Time Vampires” because they suck the time from your life.
Time Vampire #1
“Yeah, right,” I hear you saying, “I can get two things done at once, easy! I do it all the time.”
OK. Try this. Count backwards from 26 to 1; easy, no? Now, recite the alphabet from A to Z; also easy? Now, recite the alphabet from A to Z and count backwards from 26 to 1 at the same time, i.e. A-26, B-25…, still easy? Didn’t think so.
Welcome to Multitasking. This Time Vampire creates the illusion of being able to manage more than one task at a time. However, many studies have shown that people are 25 – 40% less efficient when multitasking. It takes more time to complete tasks if you have to switch back and forth between them and you’re more likely to make errors when you switch than if you manage one task at a time. If the tasks are complex, these time and error penalties increase.
As any horror show devotee knows, the way you eliminate having a vampire hanging around is to hang a bouquet of garlic in the room. So what’s the garlic bouquet for this Time Vampire?
Simple, focus on one task at a time. Avoid scheduling conflicts, which reduce your ability to concentrate on the task at hand while being distracted by the potential consequences of missing the conflicting appointment. Evaluate your priorities. Consider both the urgency and importance of meetings and events before agreeing to take them.
When working on a project, such as prospecting, dealing with clients, etc., eliminate the distractions. Turn your cell phone off and let callers go to voice mail. Turn your emails off. Get disconnected from the outside world and allow yourself to be unavailable. Don’t allow interruptions to pull you off task; have your door closed and locked.
Clear your desk, clear your mind. It used to be said that a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, but I’m not sure that’s truly accurate. After all, Einstein’s desk was a mess. But a cluttered desk does create an environment where distraction and multitasking can lurk. Eliminate the potential for multitasking and you’ll find that it’s easier to concentrate on one project at a time.
Time Vampire #2
Procrastination (“I’ll get to it later”-itis)
Do you suffer from “I’ll get to it later-itis”? The symptoms of this crippling disease are:
- You can’t see the benefits of completing certain tasks. So why start them?
- You have difficulties with time management, leaving no time to start things.
- You have difficulty with organization and scheduling, which means you’re more likely to forget tasks and miss deadlines.
- You spend so much time running around doing non-priority things so you’re too tired to get started.
- You fear the outcome of the project, which can be a:
- fear of failure in that you’re afraid that you may not be able to complete the task to the standard expected, or
- fear of succeeding and what that success may bring
- You’re easily distracted
- You feel overwhelmed by the project and don’t know where or how to get started
- You read e-mails several times without starting to work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them
- You sit down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately realize you need a cup of coffee
- You wait for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.
Do any of these sound like you? If you suffer from two or more of these symptoms, you have “I’ll get to it later-itis” in one form or another. But don’t despair, as with multitasking, this time vampire can be beaten with a garlic bouquet too.
The Garlic Bouquet
The first step is to recognize you have the disease, to recognize you’re procrastinating. (Sounds like the first step in overcoming any addiction). Since procrastination can be due to a wide variety of causes, you need to ask yourself WHY you’re procrastinating.
One of the major factors is a lack of organization, which can create serious difficulties in managing a schedule and completing tasks within a specific time frame. This lack of organization can be overcome by following specific steps:
- Every night, set up a To Do List for the following day with the most urgent / important task at the top and follow it.
- Set up a daily schedule that will allow you to have sufficient time for each task on the To Do List.
- Use an Urgent / Important Matrix to decide which tasks are the most urgent and which can be put off until later.
- Is the task you’re thinking about one that’s Highly Important and Very Urgent? If so, do it now. If not, do it later and deal with the one that’s of greater urgency and higher importance now.
Do I really have to?
Another key factor at play in procrastination is the avoidance of having to do an unpleasant task. Do you hate having to change the kitty litter or take the dog out for a walk or clean the bathroom or make those prospecting calls? If so, remember that no matter when you get to it, it still needs to be done. And, as my father used to tell me, “If you don’t do it now, it just gets worse later.” That task you’re putting off won’t go away and gets larger in your mind as time goes on, adding more pressure and guilt. You need to get it done and over with NOW.
The Garlic Bouquet
Eat that frog!
Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “If the first thing you have to do each day is eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that this is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day.”
The most effective tool in combating avoidance behaviour is to learn to “Eat That Frog”; to face up to what needs to be done and do it no matter what. It’s going to have to be done at some point and there’s no purpose in hoping someone else will do it. Brian Tracy, in his book “Eat That Frog” said, “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first”. In other words, if you have two important tasks to complete, do the biggest and hardest one first. By completing the biggest, most distasteful task first, the rest will appear to be much smaller and easier to complete. “Hey, if I can get that one over with, I can easily do these.” He also said, “If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.” Just get it done! Don’t spend time thinking about it.
There’s just too much to do.
Another significant player in procrastination is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the task. Often, people get caught up in the size of the task and spend so much time looking at the overall scope of the project that they sometimes feel beaten and are therefore unable to begin.
The Garlic Bouquet
Eat that elephant!
There’s an old saying, “How do you eat an elephant?…One bite at a time.” Overwhelmingly large tasks can appear to be insurmountable, but when broken down into their constituent components can suddenly be seen to be manageable. Rather than dealing with the whole great scary task, it becomes easy to plan and manage when dealing with smaller, sequential segments. If you were asked you to go out and sell a house this week, I’m sure you’d feel overcome by the sheer amount of work needed. You’d have to find someone ready to sell, get it listed at the right price, handle all the paperwork, deal with the seller, manage the offer and the conditions, and so on. But, by breaking each process into its constituent parts and learning them thoroughly, it becomes a much less daunting task. Break the task into manageable bites, plan how long you’ll spend on each segment and the task becomes achievable.
Time Vampire #3
I Just Have a Quick Question
Interruptions can come from many sources: phone calls, information requests, questions from colleagues and unexpected events. No matter the cause, they all have the effect of causing a distraction and making you lose focus on important tasks. Once you’ve lost focus, time must be spent in refocusing on the original task, thereby taking time away from working on the task itself.
The Garlic Bouquet
In order to use a garlic bouquet for this time vampire, you must first analyze interruptions to determine if they’re a high urgency / high importance issue and if you have to deal with it now. The first barrier to interruptions is a closed door. Placing a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and making sure people understand you mean Do Not Disturb will add emphasis to the point, but only if you adhere to it yourself. Having a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and still allowing people to interrupt you is completely counterproductive! My friend Bruce Keith tells a story of a Broker he coaches who placed a Do Not Disturb sign on his door, but people kept opening it and asking him questions. That is until he bought a squirt gun and anyone who stuck their head in the door… well you guessed it. That stopped the interruptions cold.
Just Say No!
Learning to say “No” is an effective tool in reducing the number of times you are interrupted. Setting “Available” and “Unavailable” times and letting coworkers and family know when those times are will allow coworkers or family to adapt to when you’re available. Another effective weapon in the war against interruptions is to schedule “Invitation Only” time. Schedule regular check-in times for the people you talk to most often, so that they know when you’re expecting them to meet with you.
Phone interruptions can be dealt with by the simple method of unplugging the land line and turning your cell phone off. Alternatively, you can have an assistant, or receptionist, screen your calls and take messages. However, we all know that unavoidable interruptions occur. After an interruption has occurred, take a few minutes to catch your breath, clear your head, and refocus on the main task.
It’s NOT a Hobby!
The successful real estate agent understands that real estate is not a hobby. Because we’re self-employed independent contractors, it can be a challenge to treat it as a real job. We can set our own hours, earn as much as we want and take as many holidays as we choose, right? Think again.
It’s important to understand that while we are able to set our own schedule, if we don’t put in the work needed, it’s going to be very difficult to earn the money we want. There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time we work and the amount of money we can earn.
In any business where taking action results in earning income, it’s vital that you treat your business as if it was a real job. Because it is. Certainly, it has some different flexibility options, but it’s still a work in equals income out proposition.
The best way to understand this concept is to ask yourself the following questions:
- My salary is $_____________ / year.
- If I worked for a company, what would the company expect from me?
- Would their expectations of me be greater than those I have of myself?
- Would they hold me accountable for my activities?
- Would I have to follow a schedule?
- Would that schedule have to be filled with income-producing tasks?
It seems to me that the answer to the last four questions needs to be a resounding yes. If you’re not working to the same level that you’d be expected to by an employer, if you’re not holding yourself, or being held, accountable for doing what you need to do every day, if you’re not religiously following a schedule that’s filled with lead generating activities, how can you expect to earn an income that only comes from having and maintaining that level of commitment?
It’s all a matter of priorities
Time management is nothing more than a matter of defining your priorities, setting them in a schedule and following that schedule. To get started, you have to first ask yourself, what’s the most important activity that will help you reach your goals, what’s the next most important, and so on. Using the Urgency / Importance Matrix previously discussed will help you make these determinations.
The whole point of this is to make sure that you work on what Brian Tracy calls the ‘VITAL FEW’ tasks rather than on the ‘TRIVIAL MANY’. Once you’ve established the priorities, your Vital Few, the most difficult part of managing your time will be to ensure that the Time Vampires don’t take hold of you. Avoid the pitfalls of trying to do too many things at once, putting off things just because they’re unpleasant or large, allowing people or other things to get in the way of completing the priority task or forgetting why you’re doing what you’re doing. You must hold yourself accountable and be strict about it.