Are you at max capacity? Why we perform best with less and how to build free space into your day
As a productivity author and speaker, people constantly tell me they are tired, exhausted and overwhelmed. They can’t keep up with the pressures of modern-day living. In Australia we work 3.2 billion hours a year in unpaid overtime, we have 134 million days of accrued annual leave, and 3.8 million of us don’t take lunch breaks. And 7.4 million Australians don’t get enough sleep. We seem to have become ‘rest resistant’. We are addicted to being busy and it’s preventing us from getting the rest we need to perform at our best.
It’s time to take back time and spend it wisely
Before you tell me that’s not possible for you, I would challenge that thought, and instead as you to consider, “What would it take for me to build more free space into my world?”
The more we become conscious of our own working styles and the volume of work we need to complete, the more we become conscious of our capacity and what our margins are, and the less likely we are to fall for the planning fallacy (underestimating how long things will take). Your capacity is a product of your time, energy and attention. While energy and attention are a little harder to quantify than time available, it’s your margin that will have the biggest impact on them. As little as a 15 per cent margin gives you the space and additional resources to avoid burnout and take care of yourself.
What if you were to focus 100 per cent on fewer things? Imagine if you were able to fully complete one project or significant piece of work every day for 30 days. Whoa! Would you be in a better position than you are in now? Deadlines are useful, but it’s your capacity that will drive your projects.
Build in time and space
When it comes to finding time, we need to look at both our mental and our physical capacity — our brain space and our living space. And we need to find balance in both our professional and our personal lives in order to access more capacity. We need to apply techniques across four aspects of our lives:
- Thinking space. We need to take time out. Protect at least one hour of your day for a meeting with yourself. Use this time to catch up if you need to, or plan. The idea is that over time we move our activity horizon into the future.
- Breathing space. We need to let go. What activities, things or people are consuming disproportionate amounts of space and time either in your head or in real life? Do a “not to do” list and clear your slate of things that aren’t a great return on your time investment.
- Living space. We need to free up our resources. Where is there friction in your professional and personal life? These are things that take longer than they should, or you can never get your hands on them when you need them, eg car keys, sunglasses and items of stationery. Choose one thing that you are going to focus on so that you create more flow.
- Working space. We need to level up. As managers and leaders, we sometimes get dragged down into the weeds. Who in your team is ready to take on more responsibility in the interest of helping them level up? Take the time today to think about how you can distribute some of the things you are in control of and give yourself, and your team the chance to level up.
These four aspects are interconnected; each has an impact on the others. For example, if our living space is not conducive to thinking or breathing, then that’s a great place to start. And without the thinking space to clarify our vision of our working space, our living and breathing spaces will also feel constricted. Creating a buffer of capacity for your future self will enable you to handle not only the day-to-day but anything unexpected that comes your way.
Donna McGeorge is a best-selling author and global authority on productivity. Her book series, It’s about time covers meetings, structuring your day, and doing more with less is available in bookstores around Australia or can be ordered online via Donna’s website. www.donnamcgeorge.com