January 13, 2021

In the digital world,

you need to go on a time diet

Have you lost control over how you spend your time?

Talk to anyone working today whether in a startup or a well-established Fortune 500 company, and they will tell you the same thing – “I’m working so hard but there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do my job.” It is not just that they are spending more hours working, but it is also that they are trying to do two, three, or four things at once.

Julie Morgenstern, a productivity consultant, has shown that “stripping multi-tasking from your work routine would help you gain back 30%-40% of your actual time and mental clarity per day.” Simply put, workers have lost all control over setting reasonable boundaries for how they spend their time and energy.

As we begin 2021, most people have put forth their new year’s resolutions. As almost all of us have spent most of 2020 “staying at home,” we have likely put on the Coronavirus 10-15 lbs., so losing weight is probably at the top of our list of resolutions.

While losing that weight is certainly good for our physical health, I would submit that getting control over how we spend our time this year is essential for our good mental health.

Make the time to be fully present

Former colleague and good friend, Jim Loehr, sports psychologist, author, and co-founder of the Human Performance Institute created and evangelized the power of full engagement. The tenets were based on his initial work and research with elite athletes and then “corporate athletes” to help them achieve their maximum performance in high stress situations.

Here is his perspective on how time impacts our performance and well-being:

“We live in a digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one.”

“To be fully engaged, we need to be fully present. To be fully present we must be physically energized, emotionally connected and mentally focused. To achieve that state, I recommend that we take a break every two hours during our working day.”

Take time to make time

Good habits are hard to learn and bad habits even harder to break. Having 24/7 access to information and digital networks makes it easy to stay connected no matter where you are or what you are doing. This puts a new premium on your ability to set boundaries for what you allow to consume your time.

As Warren Buffet said, “I can buy anything I want but I can’t buy time. So I have to be very careful how I use it.”

Instead of starting from with “what you have to do”, start with “when you want to take a scheduled break” to reset your attention and restore your energy. When Bill Gates was CEO of Microsoft, the first thing he scheduled each year was two or three “think weeks”. Gates would go off alone to a cabin in the woods and do nothing but read and think. It was during one of these think weeks that he came to the conclusion that Microsoft must change its business model to be more compatible with the Internet.

As Jim Loehr suggests, make it a priority to schedule time every two hours to take a break.

Go on a time diet

In order to go on a time diet, you need to make a list of what consumes your time today. It probably starts with what one writer call “infobesity” and includes:

  • All the emails, tweets, and social apps you feel compelled to respond to in order to stay connected
  • All the meetings you feel you have to attend to overcome fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • All the data you have to wade through to get relevant information and insights

The next step is to honestly assess the value you are both getting and giving to the way you are spending time now. This can let you start to develop a game plan to reduce or eliminate your time on low value activities to be freed up for higher value activities (some of which involve downtime) which could include:

  • Draw clear distinctions between what is important and what is urgent – spend more time on the former and less time on the latter
  • Make a plan to cut the meetings you attend by 35-50%
  • Make a plan to reduce the emails you respond to by 50-60%
  • Make a plan to schedule your breaks and downtime on your calendar before your meetings and other commitments
  • Find a colleague to “keep you honest” and help you stay on your new time diet

I know many of you are thinking, I’m not sure I have the autonomy or authority to take the actions listed above. All I can say is that I have not only done it personally, but I have worked with numerous clients and friends and helped them get up to 40% of their time back under their control. I for one am happier and more productive for the effort and I think you will be too.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at here. And, if this content could be useful to someone you know please share it here: