How to manage time in a distracting world | Fin24

How to manage time in a distracting world

Apr 16 2018 06:43
Amanda Visser

Technology and new inventions have freed up people’s time so they can do other things – but this progress has also made life more frenetic.   

Technological advances are occurring at an exponential rate. Our ability to keep up with the changes and to remain relevant is being challenged on a daily basis.  

According to Randy Milanovic, CEO of Kayak Online Marketing, we are expected to do and be more than at any other point in history. 

“Even though each new development is in itself time-saving, people tend to be busier and busier from one generation to the next,” he writes in an article published by SocialMediaToday.  

This has made people aware of the importance of better time management and decision-making.   

Debbie Craig, founder of Catalyst Consulting, says the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the way we see time.

“Our linear perspective of time, as in past, present and future, and our perception of how long things take, have to be challenged.”  

She explains that individuals have to ask continually how they can change their thinking and their perceptions and perspectives to be “exponential”.

This means we have to reinvent how we perceive the world and concepts such as time, money and relationships, she says.   

The ability of people to fast-track their learning in an exponential world is going to be critical, she believes. Recent studies show that individuals have only 1% of their working week available for learning. 

People require three essential skills to keep up – the ability to focus in a distractive world, the ability to manage our emotions and stress, and the ability to plan and prioritise, she says.  

1. Focusing in a distractive world

Individuals are struggling the most with the ability to balance deep learning or thinking with the need to scan and keep up to date with everything else that is going on.   

People need at least 45 minutes if they are to obtain deep learning or a “concentration space” to be able to do their best work.  

“If we are continually distracted, we never get into that powerful thinking and learning space that we need to actually transform a system or process or to create or innovate,” says Craig.

“People need to find or craft out spaces for themselves to be able to do that.”   

2. Managing emotions and stress

People are beginning to feel increasingly overwhelmed. More and more people will start feeling this way as life continues to speed up. 

Often, we hear our colleagues uttering phrases like, “Life is chaotic”, “It’s crazy”, “It’s becoming unmanageable” and “The demands are way bigger than my coping resources”. This is a sign that they ?are distressed.

According to Craig: “The stress puts us into flight-or-fight reaction. This fundamentally limits our ability to think cognitively and compassionately.”   

3. Planning and prioritising

People battle to plan and prioritise because they struggle to balance what requests or tasks to say yes to, what to say no to and what they will be able to get to, but not right now, she says. 

This is a process in which people need to be able to manage stakeholders and their expectations. This is starting to become a very important skill. 

“I am finding people are not as skilled as I thought they might be, perhaps because it has not been as important before,” says Craig. 

“These skills have become absolutely critical – not only in terms of health and survival, but in terms of remaining relevant.”  

Learning these skills requires individuals to be committed and to set goals so that they can become a part of our daily lives. 

Milanovic says that as we spend more and more time online, it is also necessary to be mindful of how we spend that time. 

Most people have experienced those moments when they realise they have revisited the same web page two or three times. It is a waste of time, says Milanovic. 

“Devise a filing and bookmark system that is consistent throughout your devices to be able to reach and access details when you need them.”

He also advises individuals to become good at scanning information: “The fact is that most of us get more information and detail than we can realistically deal with on any given day.”

Milanovic says many busy professionals tend to think that spending time learning a new application or skill is a waste. But educational time is never wasted, he believes. 

The working environment is also changing and employees are becoming more creative in managing their time, says Craig.

Home days: Executives are using “home days” to do focused work without distractions. 

This may mean they go into the office later, leave earlier or take a whole day away from the office. 

Desk signs: Those who are not fortunate enough to have home days put up signs on their desks that may read: “Deep focus required. Please come back at 12:00.”

This is especially helpful in open-plan offices, where managing your space can be challenging. 

Mindfulness practice: This trains the mind to quickly shift from a highly excitable, distracted mode into a calm, focused and aligned (mind, body and soul) stage to allow for new thoughts and ideas. 

Being mindful also reduces blood pressure, stress levels and negative hormones, so that people can manage their time and reduce stress.

Some blue-chip companies are teaching their leaders about neuroscience and mindfulness. Says Craig: “Make a commitment in your mind that you are not going to be distracted by beeps, inboxes and people coming and going.”   

Time is truly like water. If it runs out, there is no substitute. Use it wisely.


1. Rescue Time: This app sends weekly reports indicating what things are stealing your time and how much time you are wasting. 

2. Remember the Milk: An app that helps manage your to-do list across devices and other applications, such as Gmail, Google calendar and Evernote, another productivity tool that allows you to capture your ideas or lists in pictures, voice notes or attachments.

3. Pomodoro Technique: This was developed by university student Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. 

He found that the best way to manage time is to break work into focused blocks of at least 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. After four consecutive working blocks, you can take a 20-minute break.

Focus Booster is based on the Pomodoro Technique, where you set yourself an alarm when it’s time to go into deep focus for a specific period. 

4. Universal Password Manager: It keeps all your passwords on one encrypted database, protected by one password. This is a real time saver for people serious about their ?digital security. 

5. Focus@Will: This app combines neuroscience and music to boost productivity. It is helpful for those who find it difficult to focus when they are reading, working or studying.

This story originally appeared in the 12 April edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

time management  |  productivity

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