“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

~ Albert Einstein


by renita kalhorn

If you’re a working human being in the modern world, you’re keenly, maybe even obsessively, aware of time, with thoughts like: “I don’t have enough time.” “This is taking too long.” “I’m falling behind.” For sure, it’s hard not to come from a place of scarcity around time when our success seems to revolve around it.

But before you read another article about time management or productivity hacks, first understand this: Your brain perceives lack of time as an actual survival threat. Which means every time you imagine an unwanted consequence related to time, you’re likely triggering a “fight or flight” response.

You think: “How are we going to get this bug fixed before the client meeting tomorrow morning?” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!) You think: “We’re not going to make our quota this month.” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!)

Now, think about the hundred other ways you can be triggered by time scarcity during a typical work day: you need to hire that rock star salesperson before your competitor does, get through traffic to a client meeting, finish a meeting in time to make your flight, get home in time to see your kids before they go to bed, and the list goes on.…

The thing is, there’s a cost, a sort of bandwidth tax, associated with this “time scarcity” mindset. According to economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir, authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, our perception of being overwhelmed or feeling behind induces a kind of shortsightedness that makes us “less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” Not exactly the recipe for stellar decision-making.

And remember, fight-or-flight reaction produces a rush of stress hormones like adrenaline or cortisol and, over time, we can become as addicted to this state of scarcity as we do to caffeine, alcohol or other chemical substances. So even though you may think you want to feel less stressed and more calm, your body has other ideas — it’s craving its adrenaline fix and is not going to easily let you change your habits.

So while you can’t eliminate the fight or flight response, you can train yourself to interrupt and neutralize it. Here’s how:

Step 1: Recognize the false alarms. Because so much of our behavior is automatic and deeply conditioned, most of the time we’re not even conscious of what sets us off. But you can start to notice your signature “fight or flight” triggers: Do you feel a pit in your stomach when you see the CEO walking toward you? Panic a little when a certain name comes up on your phone? Each time, ask yourself whether your survival is literally, actually, in danger: “Am I being chased by a sabertoothed tiger?” “Is my hair on fire?” If not, you can tell yourself: “False alarm! My life is not in danger.”

Step 2: Get back to the present moment. For most of our waking hours, we’re in our heads, reliving the past or transposing it into the future. When we’re in a meeting, we’re thinking about getting back to work; while writing an email to the team, we’re rehashing what someone said in the meeting; in a call with the client we’re wondering what to eat for lunch…we’re never really fully present in the moment that’s right here, right now.

And yet, all our power to solve our perceived problems is in the present moment: “It’s easy to miss a potential piece to your innovation puzzle when it’s right under your nose if you aren’t there,” says Angela Benton, founder of NewME Accelerator. As I’ve said before, a ridiculously simple but effective way to bring your attention back to the moment is to simply narrate the facts of what you’re doing (leaving out the emotional content): “I am listening to the conference call…” “I am calling the client…”

Step 3: See time as a tool not a threat. “Time and space are not conditions in which we live but modes in which we think,” said Albert Einstein. That’s the difference between being in survival mode and working well under pressure. If you see time as a condition that you can manage, you will feel out of control when you perceive that you can’t. Instead, use time as a tool to manage something that is in your control: your attention. Decide how much time you’ll spend answering emails (15 minutes), brainstorming new sales prospects (30 minutes). Try the pomodoro technique.

You’ll have the same amount of time as before, but you’ll feel more in control, less in survival mode.

by carolyn mathews

Well, here we are a few months into the New Year! To mark this annual start, many of us make resolutions to improve our time management. Armed with the belief that better time management will allow us to do more, we buy planners or resolve to organize our lives though smart technology and online schedulers. First, stop and consider, is it really necessary to get more done, or could we use the time we have more efficiently to complete what we set out to do?

Many time management systems, it seems, require you to invest a lot of upfront time to get organized. One example of this is a well-known system embraced by corporations and individuals alike. While this highly regarded system works for many of you, it does not work for everyone. As much as we love buying fresh inserts and perhaps even a new cover to celebrate the New Year, putting the required time into planning ahead and prioritizing feels like another item for our to-do list.

However, I came across a brief description of another system in a Barron’s article by Sue Shellenbarger.  Shellenbarger approached several executive coaches throughout the country to find out what system they recommend to their clients. One suggested system is called The Pomodoro Technique. That’s right; the tomato technique! In essence, you create a to-do list each day and then work on each item for 25-minute intervals (called Pomodoros,) with the use of a kitchen timer (in this case, in the likeness of a tomato). At the end of 25 minutes, you record that pomodoro with an X, and take a short break for 3 to 5 minutes. The time allotments assigned to pomodoros and the ensuing breaks are based on research regarding concentration levels and efficiency, according the technique’s creator, Francesco Cirillo.

Like Shellenbarger, I recently tried the system for a few days. Instead of a tomato timer, however, I used the timer on my smartphone. Also like Shellenbarger, I was surprised by the number of things that came to mind that were not relevant to the task at hand, and thus, how many times I wanted to get up from my work during a pomodoro to start another task. However, it is a rule that you must never break a pomodoro! Instead, by marking each one of these internal interruptions with an apostrophe, and returning to the task at hand, I was able to complete the pomodoro. I also became quite aware of my propensity to distract myself. However, once I settled down, I was also pleased to notice how efficiently I used my time, and how quickly 25 minutes passed.

Although the system is a bit more involved than described above, it requires less upfront time than other time management systems.  Isn’t this really the point of having a time management system – to use more of your time to do the things you need to do? The balance of energy use and refresh time work well, and are reinforced by the satisfaction of crossing to-do items off your list when completed! The system is designed for those who work solo, or in an office with others. It may help those who have trouble concentrating, feel anxious and burdened by too much to do, or procrastinate. It would be ideal for organizations planning strategy sessions or teams involved in project work. In all, the Pomodoro Technique è meglio!

To learn more, go to www.pomoderotechnique.com and download the free 45-page pdf book. On his website, Cirillo explains how to develop this technique, offers answers to FAQs, provides forms to track pomodoros, and even sells kitchen timers that look like tomatoes!