Written by: Sabine Wojcieszak, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
We have long since entered the era of VUCA, where it feels like time is flying by. And we have the impression that time is the limited resource we need to manage. Long-known time management methods experience a revival and become more and more popular. But is it enough or even possible to control the time?
Higher speed in the VUCA world
The era of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) is characterized by an increasing speed of changes around us. This speed of change significantly impacts us, our work, and our skills. But as everything around us constantly changes, the requirements and expectations towards us are also changing. The consequences of this are that we have to learn day by day while working. We must deal with failures and misunderstandings due to constant learning and increasing complexity. What seems right today might not be correct anymore tomorrow. However, although we are under this extra pressure which consumes a lot of our energy, we all must work productively. One thing that is not affected by the VUCA world is the speed of time!
No matter how hard we try to manage time, it will do what it has always done: keep running steadily. Instead of hoping that time management methods will fix everything, we better understand that it is more about us. We must learn to use another limited resource – our energy - better and focus on the crucial tasks. And this is all about our behavior, mindset, discipline – or, let's call it, self-management.
The crux with the time frame
Usually, our working hours are regulated by contracts. However, many employees still firmly believe that working overtime is a good solution for all their productivity problems and workload. But contrary to their hopes and expectations, continuously working overtime will make the situation not better but even worse.
If not our bodies, but at least our brains need enough time to relax. The longer we work, the slower our brains will perform. And in addition to that, the probability that failures will happen will grow immensely. Bad quality and more time for reworking result from too much overtime. And here the vicious circle starts:
The well-intentioned idea of working longer ultimately consumes more of our time, of which we do not have enough anyway. We need to spend more time on one task to correct it, which costs us more precious time, which is limited anyway. And our brain, which does not have enough time to relax and recover, needs more of this precious time to process a task. With this outdated thinking, we harm our productivity and our health.
So, if, on the one hand, overtime is not the solution, but on the other hand, the flow of time remains constant no matter what we do, what can we do instead to achieve more productivity? The first natural reaction might be to work harder and faster when we can't work longer. Maybe some of us can work faster, but there is also a "speed limit" for each of us. And if the work requires learning because of VUCA, then we cannot work as fast. Otherwise, we will have the same results as when we work overtime: Failure and rework.
And here we go! There is only one solution to this problem:
Work smarter, not harder!
You probably have read this phrase countless times. And most likely, you even agree. But have you changed anything?
A widespread answer is: "I will do that when I have time…!" Sorry, but here comes the hard but honest truth: You will never HAVE the time. If something is important to you and you want to change it, you need to TAKE the time for it. Changing something always means investing time and effort before benefiting from it.
Here comes the first principle for "working smarter":
Ask yourself if you really want to change something. Be true to yourself!
Suppose you say "Yes": fine! You are ready for the next step.
But it is also okay to say "No". Here is helpful advice: If you don't want to change anything, stop wasting your and other people's time and energy by complaining. Just make your peace with the situation and accept it. By the way, this is also self- and time-management.
Are you just complaining for the sake of complaining? Those people who are just complaining about everything without changing anything are toxic for most others and – like black holes – consume the energy of their colleagues. Do the rest of us a favor and do it for yourself – alone!
Do you have one of these black-hole-colleagues who is eating away your energy? And is this why you are convinced that you can't change anything? Wrong! You need to take care of yourself. And suppose there is a toxic person around you, and this is a harm to your productivity. In that case, you need to take responsibility by separating yourself from this person or by saying "No" and drawing a clear boundary. If you are part of a team, this becomes even more important because it will probably not only be you struggling with productivity due to someone else's bad behavior.
If you wait for the other person to change, you will probably wait forever.
The second principle for "working smarter" is as follows:
Take responsibility for yourself and the situation!
"Smarter" is about understanding
Working smarter is also about changing smarter. Why? We can use endless methods and tools to improve productivity – if we believe in the marketing slogans. And they all have their justification – for a certain kind of problem or personality, in a specific context, or the given situation. But the hope for a one-size-fits-all solution is not realistic. If we want to go for a smart change without investing more energy than necessary, we should try to find out and understand the reason behind the problem. Only then can we identify and eliminate those methods and tools that are not solving this problem. Trying out one way after the other without a clear understanding of the reason behind the problem is a waste of time.
Here is an example:
Problem: Your workload is so immense that you can't keep any due day.
Reason #1: you are not organized well enough.
using a task board for more visibility
using a method like Getting Things Done or the ALPEN-method
learning how to prioritize (e.g., Eisenhower-Matrix or similar).
Reason #2: you are a bottleneck because you are the only one who can do these tasks because of your knowledge, and the amount of these tasks has grown.
create knowledge transfer within the team to relieve you
talk to your manager to find a new hire as add on
find out if parts of your tasks can be automated
identify and reduce waste in the process
delegate tasks that can be done by others as well.
Reason #3: you can't say "No" if someone else asks you for a favor.
learn to say "No"
set yourself goals (e.g., SMART goals) to better focus on your tasks
use a task board to visualize your workload.
This example makes it clear that what might be a solution in one case doesn't help with the next.
The solution doesn't come that easy. We have to reflect on ourselves, and we need radical honesty to ourselves. And this is the hard part of smart working and changing.
The third principle for "working smarter" is as follows:
First, understand the reason behind the problem! Then look for a solution that addresses this problem!
Let the work begin!
You have already made significant progress. You have decided to want to change something. You are ready to take responsibility. You have also examined your problem, understood the cause, and chosen a suitable method. But nothing has changed yet. Because now, the hard work begins: to change your behavior. The only thing that helps here is regular practice and reflection. And success may not come immediately. Discarding an old behavior pattern and establishing a new one takes time. Therefore, your productivity may not increase instantly. Give yourself and the change some time.
At the same time, a behavior change always requires discipline. Especially when we are under pressure from external circumstances, we tend to fall back into old behavior patterns. But if you want to succeed with your new time management method, you must be self-disciplined and stay on the ball! But with all this extra effort and self-discipline: never forget to recharge your batteries!
The fourth principle for "working smarter" is as follows:
Practice, discipline, and recharge!
Our energy is a limited resource. In our increasingly fast-paced and volatile world, we cannot manage all tasks, opportunities, and experiences if we want to remain productive. We have to decide what we use our energy for consciously. At the same time, we also need to question ourselves and our behavior and part with old patterns of behavior that are no longer helpful. If we want to change something, it is up to us. We have to want it! We also do well first in understanding the problem and its cause. Often the problem lies in our own behavior. Only when we have understood the problem and its reason can we look for a suitable solution. Those who want to take the shortcut and simply pick time management methods randomly and apply them to their working environment run the risk that this attempt will not achieve the desired success. And even then, the real work is just beginning when we have found the perfect match between the problem, cause, and method. Any time management method only works if we change our behavior and understand that we are the key to success. And although these behavioral changes require a lot of patience and work on ourselves, it is worth the effort! If we learn in this way to direct our focus to essential tasks and use our energy wisely, our productivity will increase enormously.
Sabine Wojcieszak, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Sabine Wojcieszak is the Enthusiastic Future of Work Enabler at getNextIT in Kiel. She coaches companies, executives, teams, and individuals to improve collaboration between human-to-human and human-to-machine - all for the future workplace. For her, success is about enabling people in our digital world. Sabine is convinced that companies must put their employees back at the center and help them to grow to achieve success. Values and attitude play a crucial role if we want to stay successful when technology becomes increasingly part of our daily work and life. Sabine is an international speaker and author. As a speaker coach, she supports newcomers in achieving more visibility and mastering this future skills.