Many employees complain about not having enough time to focus on retirement planning or on keeping up with their retirement accounts. While no plan sponsor can be a genie granting magic wishes about adding a 25th hour to the day, there are some tools sponsors can give their plan participants about how to mind their time, both from an efficiency stand point and from a holistic standpoint.
How do mindfulness and time saving techniques relate? Mindfulness is most known as a stress-reduction technique that helps those with anxiety settle down. However, the same mindfulness techniques that a high-strung employee uses can help those battling their calendars for breathing room. The goal of mindfulness is to stay present. For those with anxiety, mindfulness helps them refocus on what is happening, rather than what could happen. For those with time management troubles, mindfulness can help them focus on what’s happening to see where their time is going, rather than what they think their time is going (or where they think it should be going). The idea behind using mindfulness to help employees get more time in their calendar to focus on retirement readiness isn’t that the employees meditate or OM their way into inner peace, but rather that they are able to stay present during their work day and focus on tasks, rather than get distracted, tired, or create mistakes that then eat up time by needing to be fixed.
Mindfulness at work experts suggest paying attention to the Who, What and How of work tasks. As to the who, employees may find more time in their days by paying attention to whom they are responding. Not every email or text requires and instant response. As to the What, mindfulness experts suggest that employees see how they work as a process to be noticed. That means, paying attention to when they work and when their attention drifts to social media, texts or office chatter. Most people need a wave of work, breaks and work again to be most productive, so breaks for social media or office chatter can be beneficial, so long as they are noticed as breaks. More than the who and the what, mindfulness helps employees be more productive, and find time in their schedules for important tasks like retirement readiness by focusing on the How. That is, by observing how they work. Here are a few tips to suggest to employees who want to use mindfulness techniques to improve their time management.
- Positivity: studies show that focusing on positivity (and the security that engenders) allows for better decisions, better work relationships and better results. Better work relationships can mean more help from colleagues to prevent a crisis which can mean less time cleaning up crises or putting out fires, which means, more time in general.
- Address the distractions now: by being present to what in a work environment is distracting an employee, from a neighbor chatting too much on the phone to a constant whoosh of an elevator coming and going, employees can get time back by being more productive once those distractions are tackled (headphones, seat placement, etc.)
- Never ever multi-task. Research shows that doing two things at once takes twice as much time as doing one of the things at a time.
- Time track to time block. Just as some nutritionists suggest that dieters keep a food journal to find their weak spots, business coaches suggest that employees keep a time journal to find the things that are surprising time wasters. One employee at a retail store recounted that the process of checking out with a manager to leave the store could take as long as 10 minutes – sometimes causing her to be late to appointments. Once realized, she could plan on the checkout process being inefficient, and schedule appointments for later times.
- Distinguish urgent from important: mindfulness can help employees see which tasks are important from which tasks are urgent. Constantly interrupting important tasks to chase down solutions to urgent tasks can result in big mistakes rather than small delays.
- Time block: Employees that can determine when they work best may find that they work well on group tasks in the morning, and busywork right before their departure time. By grouping similar tasks into blocks of time, employees are more productive. This also helps employees learn when they are getting distracted. Another tip includes using a playlist as a time cue or timer; music changes when tasks should change.
- Take Breaks: Mindfulness can help employees learn when they need to take breaks. When employees can tune into when they’ve hit a cognitive break or are no longer focused on their work they can then adjust their schedules and task flow to allow for quick breaks. But to be effective, breaks from task work need to be limited to ten minutes or less. Plan sponsors can work with employee wellness programs to encourage healthy behaviors during breaks like filling up water bottles, taking a walk around the office or getting a healthy snack.
- Batch or block activities: Not everyone has a schedule that allows for batching activities, but most employees can benefit from combining busywork into 30 minute sessions. That could include sorting mail, answering non-urgent emails, or preparing paperwork.
- Find your “sweet spot”: Employees can use mindfulness and work tracking techniques to find the timing (hours of the day) and process (work and break balance) so that they operate with ease but also the most focus and clarity. Asking employees to use mindfulness to focus on when they are operating at their best times, when they make the least mistakes, and when they feel the most plugged into their work can help them find their own individual sweet spots.
- Limit Priorities. The answer to rushing lies in what’s on your calendar. Business coach turned lifestyle guru Danielle LaPorte has an incredibly successful planner system. It has only 6 entries under the “to do list” area. Her suggestion is to be ruthless in cutting back on what ends up on your plate, and on your calendar. Mindfulness at work experts suggest only having three priorities set for each day. The idea isn’t that the employee only perform three tasks, but that they focus on key tasks and allow for surprises or interruptions.
- Don’t be a perfectionist: Small unimportant matters can be done quickly, leaving large important tasks more time. A secretary doesn’t care if her boss’s grammar is imperfect in a two line text asking for a headcount on the event.