How to Time Travel . . . Professionally

We have all been there at work.

You are going to fill up your coffee or tea and as you pass through the maze of cubicles you see out of the corner of your eye people closing website tabs or putting down their phone. For most workers, this walk is comical based on how many people click away from social media, blogs, or other non-work websites because, in reality, you do not care if they are on those sites unless you are the boss.

Interesting statistics show that 89% of workers admit to wasting some time at work with a few wasting as much as five hours a day! Spending some time on Instagram or checking out the latest neighborhood restaurant online is expected. We live in a world where checking in on social media is the norm from executives to junior level employees.

The problem of wasting time is that it can impact work output, yet there is an even bigger issue than wasting time when it comes to productivity . . . distraction. Have you ever been working on a project and someone asks for a minute of your time, the instant messenger icon starts flashing, or your Outlook notification alerts you of an upcoming meeting?  Of course you have and distraction is harming individual and company productivity.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found after careful observation that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off.”

Our attention is split which makes it difficult to complete projects, plus the weight of daily meetings can make you feel like you will never get anything done again . . . ever.

That is where time traveling comes into play. My wife has always said that my superpower is extending hours in a day, my friends joke about how much I get done before 9:00 am, and my former classmates often asked how I worked a full-time job while being a full-time student.

My Secret

My secret is time traveling, yet not how most people think about the phrase.  

I do not mean the science fiction idea of traveling to the past or future. Instead, I mean being more productive per day than the average person. Imagine two people, if person A gets three productive tasks done in six hours and person B gets two productive tasks done in eight hours, then by the end of the day person A will have “traveled” farther in less time than person B.  

The goal is to get more done in less amount of time compared to others which allows time for family, friends, hobbies, etc.  

In this sense, being productive creates a type of time travel.

There are numerous books and articles on productivity and they are valuable for a reason. Eliminating wasted time, distractions, and unfocused work will allow you to do more, enjoy life, and produce greater results.  

If you are convinced that you need to become a professional time traveler, here are some guides to get you started:

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen is a classic as his steps to productivity have been used by many people trying to reduce wasted time.  His main technique is to get everything out of your head, seriously, write down everything that you need to do, want to do, or might think about doing professionally and personally. This includes projects, desired vacations, or dream jobs.  Once everything is out of your head then you can outline what it will take to reach those goals. We live in a time of information overload and it is vital to get everything out of your head to produce clarity which results in better work.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is a favorite for many productivity nerds. The technique is to set a timer for 25 minutes and work on one project for the allotted time with no distractions, that means turn off your notifications and just work. At the end of the 25 minutes, take a three-to-five minute break and then jump into another 25 minutes of uninterpreted work. After four rounds, take a 15-30 minute break and repeat. This technique works great if you have smaller tasks to do throughout the day and are easily distracted.
  • The 90 minute work cycle is a technique I use daily. Many people know that we sleep in 90 minute cycles, yet what is less known is that we have a similar biological clock during the day of 90-120 minute periods of focus and time needed for rest. Using the 90 minute work cycle is easy to understand in theory, yet difficult to master because of how often we are distracted. The basic idea is to work 90 minutes with a few five minute breaks and no distractions, then take a 30 minute break to re-energize your mind and body. Four or five of these cycles would produce a full workday with multiple items accomplished.  I prefer this technique as many of my projects and meetings have sequential tasks that are difficult to complete in 25 minutes.
  • Understanding your workflow is my best time traveling practice, yet is hard to maintain with traditional jobs. We all have a preferred workflow where we perform certain tasks better at specific times of the day. When you understand your workflow you can set an optimal schedule to be highly productive. I will use myself as an example for a better understanding.  

After working out in the morning I begin my workday at 8:00 am.  From 8:00-10:00 am I create content for marketing campaigns. At 10:00 am I respond to emails and do project managing. By 11:00 am I am usually ready for lunch and then am back to work at 11:30 am where I start to work on specific projects, for example updating websites, research, analyzing data, etc. At 2:00 pm my brain is exhausted and I try to attend meetings during the rest of the afternoon for goal setting, looking over strategy, dissecting campaigns, and more. Following my afternoon meetings, I spend time with my family and then work a little more in the evening. I am the most creative at night and will do design work at 8:00 pm. Then at 9:00p m I do one more email check before heading to bed where I will read to calm down.

The above is an ideal day using the 90 minute work cycle with breaks throughout the day, and I do mean ideal. Some days I have meetings in the morning and have deadlines that require content written in the afternoon. When my schedule alters from my desired workflow I am less productive.  However, by understanding my workflow I can create extremely productive days with limited distractions and wasted time.

Using the above techniques has allowed me to be a professional time traveler and produce more than others in less overall time. You can do the same and will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you prioritize your time properly. 

Matt Avery