You started the week with big intentions.

Monday morning: detailed, prioritized task list and updated, color-coded calendar.

All week: long hours at work, extra work at home.

Friday afternoon: you’re exhausted from managing endless urgent-feeling tasks, your to-do list has grown exponentially, and you’re hard pressed to describe a single important project that’s complete.

You’re so not alone.

Overwhelm and burnout are hallmarks of our culture of busy. Our schedules become more jam-packed and work days longer, no matter the quick fixes we try to use to create more work-life balance. Technology we thought would make our work more efficient instead leaves us feeling on-call 24/7.

We’re suffering. Our work suffers, too.

Break Out the Broom

While you might not banish your overwhelm or change your company’s culture overnight, you can lower stress and boost productivity and feeling of accomplishment when you sweep away the time confetti in your life.

Time confetti. According to Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, it’s those snippets of free time in our days that get filled with random tasks, household chores, and emails. So. Many. Emails.

It’s neither down time nor creative time. It crushes our productivity as well as the sense of accomplishment we get from completing tasks that fulfill us and support those we serve.

Dealing with time confetti means we might accomplish what feels urgent, but never seem to get to what’s important.

Amp Up Your Pro-Time

Concerned that knowledge workers were favoring urgent tasks over important ones, researchers conducted a study to help them sweep away time confetti and accomplish more of what matters.

A test group practiced proactive time or pro-time – a colleague calls it genius hoursfor six weeks, spending a daily two-hour block of time doing distraction-free creative work on important rather than urgent tasks – no email, texting, Slack, or social media – while the control group tossed time confetti all over the place to their hearts’ content.

The pro-time folks reported an increase in effective use of their time, less overwhelm, more accomplishment, more met deadlines, and completing important tasks more quickly.

They were happier with their work overall, and a whopping 84% recommended that the pro-time continue to be used and even expanded across the entire organization.

Get Your Genius Hours On

If turning off your phone and – eek – stepping away from Facebook for two hours feels extreme, first of all, I am so with you, and second, here’s a few simple steps to help you get started:

Start small. Brigid Schulte started with 30 distraction-free minutes, increasing to 45 and then 90. However small you start, do start.

Be intentional. Plan your pro-time, put it in your schedule, treat it as sacrosanct as an audience with the Queen, testifying before a Congressional committee, or whatever appointment you’d never dream of bailing on.

Be diligent. Turn off the devices. Silence the phone. Close the email app. Some writers go so far as to rig up old laptops so they can’t access the internet at all while they’re writing. Do what it takes to stay in proactive time.

Be consistent. You may find that 4 hours twice a week works better than 2 hours daily for you. Whatever schedule you choose, stick to it.

Track and celebrate your accomplishments. However you schedule and however short your first steps with pro-time, track your big wins and don’t forget to celebrate every tiny step that got your there. (You stayed off Twitter and wrote a proposal for a half an hour? Yeah, you. Go get yourself a latte!)

Checking off stuff that’s easy to complete feels good over the short term, but nothing beats completing a big, important, impactful project. So grab that metaphorical broom and start sweeping away the time confetti today!

I help professionals who want to make a difference through their work but feel stuck by something in their work that’s no longer working.  Book a consultation to learn more about how I can help you navigate the pace of change in today’s world of work with more ease and joy.

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image: Miesha Moriniere; pixabay; used with permission
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