Are you losing time?

Do you ever lose hours? I don’t mean you’ve lost hours because you have blacked out, I simply mean have you ever zoned out for awhile without realizing it? Have you looked up at the clock and thought, “Whoa! How is it noon already?”

There are times when daydreaming is a good idea, like when you’re on vacation and your mind deserves a break. It’s also important to pack some variety into your work day by alternating between mindful and mindless work. (Doing so will increase your creativity.)

Zoning out isn’t helpful, however, when you need to get work done. Staring off into space and losing time kill your productivity. If you need to get stuff done but are having a tough time of it, try one or more of these techniques to help regain your focus:

  • Set an alarm for 10 minutes, and keep hitting snooze. When the alarm sounds, make a mental note of all the work you completed and then hit snooze. Do the same thing when the alarm sounds again in 10 minutes. The alarm helps to keep you on track when you mind is eager to wander elsewhere.
  • Pretend to be a lawyer, and log your work in 15 minute billing intervals. You can download basic free time-tracking software from numerous companies to help get you started. Programs that automatically prompt you to input your progress are similar to an alarm that reminds you to stay on track.
  • Identify very specific action items each hour. At the top of every hour, take two minutes to write out exactly what you plan to accomplish that hour. Then, work as diligently as possible to finish those action items. It’s a lot easier to get where you want to go when you know where you’re headed.
  • Make yourself accountable to someone else. If you have a colleague or buddy who is game, tell her you want to be finished with a task by a specific time. Then, when that time rolls around, the person checks in with you to see how it went. Be kind and return the favor when the other person needs your assistance.
  • Race a colleague to see how much work you can both get done in 30 minutes or an hour. Set an alarm, and go. Make the prize something small and fun, like the loser is responsible for refilling both of your coffee mugs.

18 Comments for “Are you losing time?”

  1. posted by Anita on

    All good tips. I would add one of my own, which is to go back to the source and figure out why you’re zoning out and losing focus. For me, it’s usually one of two things:

    1. Whatever I’m working on is mind-numbingly dull or just not in tune with my interests. In this case, playing little games with myself (such as the ones Erin suggests) works, because it gives my mind something to focus on (a time limit, a competition etc) which makes the task seem less tiresome.

    2. I’m too tired to be able to focus properly. In this case, giving myself incentives is less effective, and only rest can remedy the lack of focus.

  2. posted by Shalin on

    Thanks for this list.

    A simple alarm clock app I like too keep track of my tasks and time usage is this one:

    http://www.online-stopwatch.com/

    –S

  3. posted by Cherri Porter on

    Food. If I haven’t fed myself, which is often, I’m all over the place and no place at all.

  4. posted by Rae on

    Great tips. I used HourGuard (http://www.nchsoftware.com/timesheet/index.html) to track my time.

    Another thing that works well for me is to set the iPod Touch timer to ring in one hour. I can focus for that long (barely) and I’ve gotten enough work done to warrant taking a 15 minute break.

    If I have an insanely busy day like I did this pat weekend, then I make a list of little things that I can do during my breaks that will get me up and away from the computer. I pretty much worked from 9AM Saturday morning through to 3AM Monday morning with just 8 hours off to sleep and I somehow managed to clean my entire house during those 15 minute increments, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d planned a whole day for it.

    I agree with Anita that sometimes rest is the only answer. If I find myself unable to focus for an hour, then I go take a brief nap.

  5. posted by Charlotte on

    Love these tips! The competition with a coworker is especially a great idea. When I’m working from home or in an environment where there isn’t anybody else around to help motivate me (or hold me accountable) I like to put a little ad out on Twitter or Facebook. I say I’m looking for a productivity partner for, say, 30 minutes. Usually there’s someone else out there guiltily playing on the Internet and also in need of some inspiration, so we team up, tell each other what our tasks are, set a time limit, and go! It helps to know somewhere out there there’s a friend being productive too. Then you can get back together and talk about what you achieved afterward, which makes for a little break.

  6. posted by priest's wife on

    …thanks for the kick in the pants!

  7. posted by April on

    Ugh, this is me all the time. I simply cannot keep track of time on my own. My best guesses are almost always way off (either less time has passed than I thought, or more than I thought).

    I have at least one clock (usually multiples) in every room of my home. I use timers and alarms. I have a few clocks set just a wee bit fast (a fact which I remember if I’m calm, but forget and assume it’s the correct time if I’m panicking/I’m running late). My husband constantly helps me with reminders, too.

    Even with all of this, I struggle to get to places on time (I’m usually just barely on time after rushing, and occasionally about five minutes late) and it’s tough to get tasks done with time to spare (rarely happens).

    I’ve always been this way. I remember in high school pulling up a blank document on the computer and noting the time, then trying to think of how to begin writing my paper and whatnot, and then glance again at the time only to be SHOCKED that hours had passed. And my document was still blank.

  8. posted by Jo@simplybeingmum on

    Good Advice – as always! I recently read ‘Tell Your Time’to try and increase my focus. I find when my routine changes I start losing time. each night I am listing what I need to do and when for the following day. I’m not completing it all, but at least I have some structure to my time and have split into slots.

  9. posted by Lisa Kanarek on

    These are all good tips, especially the second one about working in blocks of time. Another tip is to bribe yourself. If you work for an hour, take a 10-minute break. Grab a snack, take a walk or call a friend. Then get back to work. You should take breaks throughout the day anyway, but this is a good way to “earn” extra breaks.

  10. posted by Suddenly Susan on

    Great post!

    I have a timer in my kitchen and one in my home office. I used to tell myself I didn’t have time to do this or that (you can fill in the blank with any chore) and then started timing various jobs and discovered they don’t take nearly the amount of time I thought they did. For instance, I hand-wash my dishes. It takes me no more than 7 minutes to wash them. So, I can make a pot of coffee and actually have the dishes done before the coffee is. I also know it takes less than 7 minutes to fold a basket of laundry.

    So for me, it’s the knowing that things can be done in little spurts of time that I used to think I just didn’t have time for. Timers have made my time a lot more manageable.

  11. posted by Lisa Zaslow on

    Great tips. Also – turn off social media, computer games, blogs and email! That’s where so much “lost” time goes. There are great programs that will block you from these sites when you need to get stuff done.

  12. posted by Kristin on

    This sounds a bit like the Pomodoro technique, and there are Pomodoro apps that have a timer for 25 minute increments with 5 minute breaks.

  13. posted by Frances Conroy on

    This is a great post – working to a timer can often work really well as you can end up having a race with yourself and working with more impetus.
    Also, I would recommend getting specific with your task list/plan – don’t simply put make phone-calls down. Take time once a week to think about who you are going to phone, what you want to say and what you need from them – you’ll enter that job on the list with much more drive and working days will run much smoother and be more satisfying!
    Also love your comment Charlotte – another fab use for twitter!

  14. posted by Brookie_d on

    Sometimes I face a task that seems so daunting and overwhelming that I don’t even want to start it. To get going on it, I’ll tell myself “I’ll just work on this for 15 minutes”. I’ll set a timer and jump in. Usually, 15 minutes later, I find the task much less difficult than my mind built it up to be. In fact, there are times that I find that task that I thought would take “forever” almost complete after only those first 15 minutes!

  15. posted by Will on

    I like Dave Seah’s Emergent Task Planner and Task Time to keep track of stuff (I print them myself from his site). When I’m losing motivation or time, it forces me to track progress in 15 min. bubbles that are a visual depiction of how I’ve used my time. Irritating to keep up to date, sometimes, but really helpful for evaluating myself.

  16. posted by Tim on

    I use timertab.com. I pin the site as an app tab at the top of Firefox. It has an alarm clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. It even shows the amount of time left on the tab as you work in other browser windows.

  17. posted by Haim at IQTELL on

    Great post.

    I want to add something to “Make yourself accountable to someone else” :)

    It’s better to do it with a mentor figure. they tend to drive you to accomplish things.

    I add a few more on my blog http://www.iqtell.com/2011/07/.....stinating/

  18. posted by Candace Davies on

    Love this post. I like setting a timer to get things done, if works great for me, both in my business and with housework/organization, etc.

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