How many times have you said to yourself "I don’t have enough time" this month? What about this week? And today, alone? If you’re one of those people who are having difficulty with managing your time during the pandemic, look no further. Time management may look like science, but it’s actually not as hard as it looks once you understand a few key concepts. This goes way beyond to-do lists and schedules, although they definitely help. Let’s dive right in.
According to the American Psychological Association, motivation refers to a person’s willingness to exert physical or mental effort in pursuit of a goal or outcome. In other words, it’s someone’s predisposition to expend energy in order to achieve something. You could have all the energy and time in the world, but the more unwilling you are to do something, the more time you’ll waste getting it done.
If you find yourself unmotivated and notice that certain tasks keep getting bumped off to the bottom of your list, and you just never seem to find time for them, ask yourself the following questions:
Am I actively avoiding this task?
Do I feel comfortable doing this?
Is there a way to get this done first thing in the morning?
Is there anyone I know that could give me advice on how to get this done?
Have I researched enough about this?
Is this really a priority to me? Does it need to be?
Is this my responsibility?
Is this really as hard as I think it is?
Sometimes, we set mental roadblocks that don’t let us get things done, but other times, we’re simply unmotivated because we’re trying to solve tasks that shouldn’t even be on our plates. Take a few minutes to talk with yourself about how you truly feel. But not all unwillingness is mental, as there’s another aspect to motivating yourself: energy.
During the pandemic, many have experienced what experts are calling COVID fatigue, which can be identified by "being excessively tired despite adequate rest," according to Carl Lambert, assistant professor of family medicine and director of the Family Medicine Leadership Program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
"Even if you’re getting eight hours, you just feel like you’re dragging through the day and it’s hard to find the pearls in the mud. [...] If you have increased isolation from loved ones, co-workers and people who you used to have bonds with, burnout and fatigue can make you feel like those things aren’t really worth it anymore," said Dr. Lambert to the American Medical Association.
Without any energy, there’s no way you’ll feel motivated to get everything done on-time and still feel emotionally stable, especially if you’re a very busy person. Energy management is key to time management because handling energy efficiently allows you to do more in less time and less effort.
According to Harvard professors Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, there are at least five types of energetic sources that we should take care of to ensure optimal productivity:
Physical energy: this refers mainly to our general health and organ functions. In other words, this refers to if you’re eating well, sleeping enough and don’t have any nutritional deficiencies. Physical activity is also key to generating this type of energy. A lack of physical energy can impact how we perceive others, manage emotions and take decisions.
Emotional energy: how we manage responses to situations, both stressful and non-concerning. With this energetic source, you’re able to either preserve energy, in a good mood, or burn through it, if you’re in a negative emotional state. This also determines how irritable one is or if your fight or flight instinct will activate when faced with a stressful situation. To preserve this energy, it’s important to take things one step at a time, celebrate the small victories and know your limits and emotional triggers.
Spiritual energy: or the purpose behind what we do. This can be related to one’s faith or simply one’s value system. To conserve spiritual energy, think of how your work impacts others and the community. Overall, instill meaning and passion into what you’re doing. This will improve the quality of your work and conserve your energy.
Mental energy: this type of energy relies heavily on physical, emotional and spiritual energy. It refers to our ability to focus, and is highly linked with motivation. Having mental energy allows you to be more creative, analyze stressful situations and invest time. One of the best ways to preserve mental energy is by avoiding multitasking, but we’ll get back to that soon enough.
Social energy: or simply put, how one relates and works alongside others and manages interpersonal relationships. Social energy is highly reliant on the first three types of energies as well, but it’s key to fostering healthy relationships with others and handling conflicts.
If you can preserve your energy, you’re more likely to feel less tired, practice each task with a purpose, and develop better relationships. Moreso, learn to identify things that drain your energy, and cut them out of your life whenever possible.
Yet, if there’s one thing that’s made preserving energy difficult during the pandemic, it’s been the uncertainty and sudden lifestyle changes that were needed. If you’re a workaholic, the pandemic has probably taken a toll on your mental health and energy like no other situation before. Two things are most likely contributing to this. First, an excessive workload, but the worst offender is one you’ve probably never even heard of: context switching.
If multitasking is bad for your mental energy—as it drains your ability to focus and achieve tasks—then context switching is absolutely toxic. Multiple studies have shown that multitasking can affect productivity by at least 40%, meaning that if you want to get everything done, it’s best that you do each task one at a time, but what does this even mean for people with many responsibilities in a digital world that’s become completely reliant on technology due to social distancing? Hell, is what it means.
An excessive workload handled from the once safety of your home now becomes a seemingly never ending list of tasks without proper boundaries. Odds are that, if you’re stressed and feel like your time is mismanaged, it’s because you’re context switching. By practicing this habit, people aren’t able to dedicate enough time to specific tasks, and even less when they’re complex.
In other words, if you have to get something done and it’s complicated, getting the small things out of the way first isn’t actually going to make you feel any less stressed. On the contrary, you should use your energy efficiently and handle the most complex, difficult tasks when you have the most energy. Although we may believe we’re being productive by getting ‘‘so much done at once’’, we’re actually fostering a complete lack of focus on the task at hand, which is usually the one that demands the most attention and energy. If no task is receiving our full attention, then the space for deep thinking is limited, and we’re only able to focus on tasks of low-value. But fear not, there is a way to escape this hellish cycle:
Discover what’s distracting you. Try to eliminate it whenever you’re trying to focus on a single task.
Block distractions and unnecessary notifications. These will hinder your ability to focus on the task at hand. This includes both email and social media, if they aren’t immediately relevant to the task at hand.
Don’t be available all the time. You must set some sort of boundaries so that you’re able to focus on yourself, your tasks and your off-time without having things in the back of your mind.
Set apart time for complex work. You need time to do hard things, simple as that. Make sure you schedule specific periods to handle the tasks that take the most time and require most attention. This will help you to avoid procrastination and make sure you get them done correctly.
Evaluate your priorities. Although it’s noble that you’d like to help everyone else whenever possible, you need to learn to focus on your responsibilities first. Try to make sure that you dedicate enough time to specific tasks and block participating in urgent yet inconsequential ones while you’re busy.
Group similar tasks together. If you have many similar, yet mundane tasks, try to get them done at the same time. This will help you to go through them faster and avoid that they clog up time for more important things. Don’t try to get through them via multitasking, you’ll just waste more time.
Do the mundane when you don’t have enough energy left. If you genuinely don’t have the energy to do complex tasks, focus on the most mundane ones. You have to get them done anyway, and getting them out of the way will allow you to focus on the bigger ones the next day or as soon as you’re energized again.
Overall, working from home is difficult for many, so make sure you set apart time to rest and recharge by doing things you genuinely enjoy and spending time, safely, with loved ones.