4 Simple Steps to Taming Your Work

Taming the Big Beast

One of (if not the) biggest obstacle to life balance comes from our Professional life area. More often than not, our work goes on a rampage, destroying all the precious time we set aside for family and fun. The most common approach to handling work is throwing more hours at it, in the hope of satisfying its insatiable appetite.

But spending more time doing work doesn’t translate to getting more and better results. In fact, the more time we spend working, the less efficient we become and the greater the damage we cause to our lives, our well-being and, paradoxically, our work.

The idea that you need more time to get more things done makes sense in theory, but performs terribly in practice. It’s best to abandon this worn-out idea and look for a better theory that truly reflects the reality we live in.

Below are 4 very simple steps that can help you tame your work and get more done at the same time!

Yes, life is good. ๐Ÿ˜€

1- Set a limit to the number of hours you work a day

How many hours do you currently spend working?

Now, I want you to take a deep breath and set your daily limit 1 or 2 hours less than the time you currently spend working.

Sounds insane? Well, it gets even weirder as you progress through the steps below.

In her fabulous book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam points out that the time we spend “working” isn’t fully packed with actual work. A great deal of our work day is wasted doing things inefficiently. I’m willing to bet that your approach to work can be improved, and shaving an hour or two from your work day will force you to consider ways you can improve your approach, rather than default to the ineffective approach of working more hours. (I’m doing Laura’s book a grave disservice by mentioning it briefly in this post, but I’ll be offering a full review of the book once I finish reading it!)

Do you have to attend every meeting you’re asked to attend? Do you have to check your email account every 3 minutes? Can you limit the distractions that pull you away from your work and out of your “zone”?

Once you set a daily limit to the number of hours you will work, use a stopwatch to record how long you spend working each day. When you reach your daily limit, you must stop working and tend to any of your other life areas.

It may feel painful at first, but you’ll adjust to it. After all, spending more hours working is a losing strategy. There’s no need to cling to it any further.

2- Set realistic daily goals

The reason why work doesn’t seem to finish is because it never does!

There will always be things for you to do. You cross off a couple of items from your to-do list, and 5 new items make their way to the list. That’s a fact you’ll have to accept and fully embrace. There’s no need to fight against it, in the same way you wouldn’t stand on the shore and demand that the tides change their direction. Fighting against facts of nature is another losing strategy.

So what’s the solution?

You set realistic daily goals for you to achieve. Once your daily goals are met, you can call it a (work) day.

You can choose to do more work if you still haven’t reached your daily work limit. But even if you leave those extra tasks incomplete, you have succeeded in completing the tasks you set out to complete for the day.

Without setting daily goals, you may feel that there’s more to be done, and you won’t feel satisfied with your work, no matter how much you do and how long you work. That’s because you’re trying to fit an unlimited amount of work into a finite number of hours a day. A losing strategy, indeed.

3- Break work time to short sessions of focused work

Having an 8-hour chunk of time a day will go to waste if you don’t break it down to shorter sessions of focused work. You can’t remain focused for 8 straight hours without risking brain damage or physical exhaustion. To make the most of your work time, set a specific task to work on, then focus on it completely for 25 to 30 minutes, without any distractions. Have a short break that takes your mind off the task for a bit (2 to 5 minutes), then continue working on your task if it’s not completed, or work on a different task if it is.

If you want to do a few tasks that won’t take you more than 10 minutes, make sure you set a time limit for them, so that you don’t spend more time than you need to, and you can learn to do things more efficiently, without succumbing to distractions or mental numbness (where you stare blankly at your computer screen or papers, not knowing what to do next).

4- Redefine “work” time

OK, this deserves another deep breath and an open mind.

Now that you’ve set your daily work limit, your daily goals, and are tackling your tasks in short bursts of focused work, you need to be aware of what constitutes “work” time where you keep your stopwatch running, and when to stop it.

You took that deep breath, right?

I think another deep breath is in order.

You keep the stopwatch running during your work sessions, while you plan what to work on, in the breaks between work sessions, when you’re distracted, during your commute to work and whenever you think and worry about work!

Take another deep breath if you have to!

It sounds crazy, I know. But it makes sense.


Because when we consider how we spend our days, we don’t realize how much time is wasted without us making the most out of it. What do you do during your commute to work? And if you were to consider it as part of your work time, how will you make the most of it to advance your career?

We tolerate distractions because we think we can take time to compensate for them. If we get distracted for 20 minutes, we’ll just add another 20 minutes to our work day.

We can prepare a cup of coffee in 5 minutes, but we choose to spend 20 minutes walking to the kitchen in slow motion.

We spend time with family, but we’ve kept our attention on our work. How does that make you feel, knowing that you can’t do your work because you’re with your family? How does it make your family feel, knowing that you’re not truly present with them?

We allow ourselves to worry about work, when there’s absolutely no reason to (it doesn’t help our work progress, does it?). But by considering “worry” time as part of “work” time, we will be forced to stop worrying, or else we’ll run out of hours to work in!

You need to be realistic about the time you’re spending at work and the time you spend getting to work. What can you do to reduce the amount of time you spend commuting? Can you negotiate days where you work from home? Can you spend the time commuting more constructively, by listening to an audiobook, for example?

If you can genuinely spend your commute on a recreational activity (e.g. reading/listening to a novel) or to strengthen social bonds (e.g. if you commute with a family member, friend, or colleague) or to keep fit (e.g. you cycle to work), then you don’t need to keep the stopwatch running. Otherwise, it forms part of your work time and comes out of your daily limit.

The steps above are simple, but they’re not necessarily easy, because they demand that we break out of an ineffective mold that’s preventing us from leading a balanced life and making the most out of the time we have. It forces us to think of creative ways to make the most use of our time. It’s uncomfortable to walk outside the safe confines of that mold we’ve grown so accustomed to, but it’s worth it.

Set your daily work limit, begin to define daily goals, work through them in focused sessions, and account for all the time you spend on work, so that you can realize where your time goes, and what you can do about it.

Photo credit: Manish Bansal


Productivity Woes Over Google’s Pac-Man Game

Google's Pac-Man Game: Hero or Villain?
Google's Pac-Man Game: Hero or Villain?

Mashable, one of the top blogs for social media and Web 2.0 news, recently announced that Google’s Pac-Man game cost the world 4.8 MILLION hours of lost productivity! If you didn’t manage to catch the Pac-Man game, it was introduced on Google’s homepage on the day of Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary.

The startling number was computed by RescueTime, who shared some other interesting numbers about Google’s jab at global productivity.

While RescueTime is sobbing over all those wasted hours and dollars, I am quietly admiring Google’s creativity and – you guessed it – playing Pac-Man.

It’s not because I don’t care about productivity or that I’m too addicted to video games to admit the damage Google has caused.

It’s because I don’t believe that:

  • Productivity is measured by time
  • Recreational activities compromise productivity (on the contrary, they help boost productivity, when used properly)

We do not become more or less productive based solely on the number of hours we spend tapping away at a keyboard. The more time we spend working, the more our need for recreational activities grows.

It’s healthy to break focused chunks of work time with short, playful breaks, where our minds aren’t engaged in serious tasks.

Pac-Man is a great way to enjoy such breaks. It’sย simple, fun and risk-free, where you get to enjoy the excitement that comes with being chased by ghosts and trying to make split-second decisions, without suffering any real-world damages.

To make recreational activities work for you and not against you, please bear the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Choose how long you well spend doing focused work (you might find 25 to 30 minutes to be a healthy option)
  2. Choose when to spend time on a recreational activity, and how much time you will spend on it (5 minutes is good when taking a short break between sessions of focused work)
  3. Never use recreational activities as a method of evasion: trying to avoid thinking about an issue, or working on a task. Even if you do get to enjoy the activity, it is compromising your overall well-being
  4. Make sure your expectations for a day’s work are realistic, so you don’t feel guilty about not getting enough work done (which you will most likely blame on the time you spent playing)

Now that I managed to write a blog post, I will celebrate this accomplishment with a quick game of Pac-Man! ๐Ÿ˜€


The Truth About Distractions

It is very common to blame distractions for getting in the way of our goals. We play the victim role, because distractions are obviously the villains in the story of our lives.

“I was innocently working on my dear novel, when all of a sudden a big, ugly, hairy distraction came and pulled me away from it!”

“I was writing my report when I heard a chirping noise from my computer. It was getting louder and louder that I could no longer focus on my work. I went through all open windows to see where the noise was coming from and discovered that it was my Twitter client informing me of new tweets! I had to go through them so I can get back to my precious work.”

“I uninstalled all chat programs from my computer, but was shocked to discover that they have miraculously reinstalled themselves on my computer! Not to be rude or anti-social, I had to start a few conversations to see how my friends were doing, and replied to a few messages I received. I feel pressured by my social obligations that I can’t seem to get anything done.”

You may notice from these fictional stories that they have a high dosage of fiction.

The truth is, distractions don’t usually get in our way. We put them there to distract us!

I’m not talking about interruptions beyond your control, or circumstances where it is more appropriate to deal with an issue before getting back to your work.

I’m talking about distractions such as checking email, surfing the web, shuffling papers, going through Facebook pages, checking for new tweets every 3 minutes, etc. We’re not forced to do any of these things, but we choose to do them.

But why would we do such a horrible thing to ourselves and our goals? Don’t we want to see ourselves succeed?

We resort to distractions to avoid discomfort that our work (or any situation) makes us feel.

This “discomfort” comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, and spans all the seven life areas. To understand why we go crawling to distractions, it’s important to understand the many different motivations that make distractions more appealing than getting work done.

Let’s look at some examples of “discomfort” now…

Examples of “Discomfort”

Spiritual: A clash between your spiritual values and your work tasks can lead to a physical and mental standstill. Rather than sit there staring at a blank screen, or acknowledge this clash, you resort to distractions.

“Let’s see what people are saying on Twitter…”

Intellectual: Learning a new subject can test your learning abilities and lead you to question your intelligence. Rather than persist in pursuit of understanding, you look for the closest exit.

“I’ll get back to this after I watch that YouTube video everyone’s talking about…”

Psychological: We approach every task we undertake with an impression of ourselves and our abilities (mentally etched as a self-image). When we have a positive self-image, we do everything within our powers to avoid circumstances and experiences that may prove that our self-image is a self-deception. It’s best to think we can do it, rather than discover that we can’t.

“I wonder what Digg has on its front page…”

Social: There’s a reason why public speaking is one of the biggest phobias people have: other people are scary. They judge. They mock. They can do things better than we can. What will they think of me? How can I approach my colleague with this request? What if he turns me down? How will I react?

“Oh, let me check my emails before I make that phone call…”

Professional: If the quality of your work matters to you, and you feel that the last product you produced is in need of improvements, how enthusiastic would you feel about promoting it? My guess is you won’t be all that enthusiastic. You could work on your product to bring it to a level of quality you’re happy with or promote it as version 1.0 of your work with an upgrade to come in the near future. Or, you can look for distractions to take your mind off the difficult decision you have to make.

“I think my sister added photos from her latest trip to Facebook…”

Recreational: If you’ve been working for 6 hours straight, without any mental breaks or recreational rituals to replenish your mind, body and soul, don’t be surprised if you gasp for distractions to bring you a sense of pleasure and relief you’re depriving yourself from. We may wrongly think that working for many hours on end is necessary for success and the symbol of productivity, when in fact it diminishes our productivity and sense of joy.

The danger here is that we mix work and play in an extremely unproductive way by constantly oscillating between work and distractions in the name of getting work done while being too afraid to acknowledge that we need a break from work.

“What movie am I gonna watch this weekend? Let me check out a few trailers before I decide.”

Physical: To stay focused and attentive your body needs to be supplied with the right nutrients and a healthy dosage of activity. If your body isn’t getting the attention it deserves, or isn’t making progress towards a healthier lifestyle, then your brain will look for less taxing activities to deal with.

“This desk is a mess! Let me tidy it up before I write that report.”

How to Deal with Distractions

While closing your favorite Twitter client or disconnecting from the Internet can help you face your work, you are only dealing with the symptoms of the problem and not its root cause.

The root cause is that you find it suitable to evade reality – and avoid dealing with your own feelings – in the hope that the problem you’re facing will somehow go away.

If this is your life strategy to deal with discomfort and difficult decisions, then you’ll resort to mental distractions when your handy browser and trusted softwares aren’t there to distract you.

Don’t blame the tools for your decision. Instead, pick a new life strategy.

When you face a difficult task, don’t look away. Stare at it with eyes wide open. Determine what’s to be done and do it.

If a thought is troubling you, acknowledge the thought or feeling, accept its presence in your psyche, then ask yourself:

How can I resolve this feeling? What can I do to move my project forward? Which life area is in need of my attention, and what can I do to alleviate the problem that exists there?

By confronting your problems rather than escaping from them, you will no longer resort to distractions as a coping mechanism. Only by changing your attitude towards life and its challenges – and never resorting to evasion – will you be able to deal with distractions on a root level, so that they can never come between you and your work.


Efficiency and Effervescence

I have two types of Berocca multivitamin tablets: the effervescent and the film-coated.

The effervescent tablets take more time to consume. You need to put one in a glass of water. Wait for it to dissolve. Then drink the entire glass.

The film-coated tablets, on the other hand, are extremely efficient. You pop one in your mouth and take a sip of water after it. There’s no preparation to it. No ritual.

If you’re looking for ways to be efficient, the film-coated tablets would be the option to go for.

I, for one, would choose effervescence over efficiency.


Because I enjoy the ritual that comes with preparing my Berocca drink. There’s no other reason for it than that.

We often seek efficiency to the point of compromising the things we enjoy, even when we’re only shaving off seconds from our routines.

The obsession with efficiency doesn’t always make us more efficient.

It can cause more worry and stress than we would like to live with, simply because we’ve made efficiency an end unto itself, instead of a means to an end.

If we’d like to cut down on the time we spend doing routine tasks so we can get to spend more time doing the stuff we enjoy, wouldn’t it make sense to go for options that make routine tasks more enjoyable?

Whenever you’re facing two options, don’t make efficiency your only criterion.

Think of the levels of joy each option brings.

Joy is an important criterion in life.ย At least in my book.


Weekly Update #2: Firsts Steps

Last week was a very eventful week, with a lot of lessons learned and a few slaps in the face from good ol’ reality!

In this week’s (albeit late) update, I’ll give snippets of my plan for each project I’ve committed myself to and what lessons I’ve learned from last week’s events.

Spa Business

So far, the only established business I’m involved in is the Spa Business, which I’m working with my sister on. Our aim is to focus on offering quality service, and helping other spas establish quality standards to improve customer experience and to enhance their business.

I learned three key lessons from last week’s activities:

1) Have your agreements in writing: You never know to what extent people are committed to their verbal agreements. They might seem very enthusiastic about doing business with you, and you end up taking steps towards fulfilling your part of the bargain, only to realize that they weren’t serious, they changed their minds or they had financial difficulties they thought would go away if they didn’t bring them up.

2) Never assume: As the famous saying goes: “Assumption is the mother of all ‘screw’ ups.” (yes, I toned it down a tad)

You can assume you understood people correctly or they understood you correctly. You can assume a process is going to be simple, but ends up taking longer than expected. Of course, there are things you can never know beforehand, but many, many problems in life can be avoided if we stop assuming. If you’ve heard (or used) the expression: “but I thought…” then you know what it means to face a problem that could’ve been avoided if you hadn’t “thought” (i.e. assumed) something without getting confirmation first.

3) Make sure there’s no red tape: My sister has come up with some great ideas for our business. But when we tried to execute them, some silly policies got in the way that we didn’t anticipate. It’s always important to know what’s legally required (or permitted) when it comes to doing anything in your business.

We were on the verge of recruiting a therapist from abroad, but after reaching an agreement with her, it turns out that new work visas aren’t being issued at the moment in Kuwait. Although it’s very difficult to anticipate such restrictions, it’s important to at least be aware of potential red tape to avoid these hurdles.

Customer Experience Consultancy

Customer experience is a fairly new field, and not a lot of companies have heard about the field, or consider it important for their business. After all, they already have a customer service department, so that should do the job (or so they think). To convince companies that they need a customer experience consultant, I need to prove the need for them to focus on customer experience and that I am actually able to help them realize the benefits a customer-centric approach will bring.

Since I don’t have any credentials in this field, I decided to contact companies I’ve dealt with before, or employees I know that can convince management that I can be a valuable asset to their company. I’ve already had a meeting with one company, and I managed to get my foot in the door. I will now have to follow up with them, and be more proactive in establishing a working agreement. The manager I spoke to saw the potential in what I was offering, but still wasn’t clear on how we can work together. This is something I need to clarify in the next meeting.

I have also been advised by my friend Robert Matney to set up a blog to establish my expertise in this field. When I asked Jonathan Fields for advice, he reiterated Robert’s suggestion, and stressed on the importance of being a “thought leader” in the field we pursue (to all twitter users: when Jonathan asks “who he can help today?” take him up on his offer. He actually means it!)

The main lessons I learned from this project are:

1) Be proactive and take initiative: No matter how useful your services can be to a company, don’t rely on them to take initiative. If you want to move your career forward, it’s your responsibility to take action. Find out what obstacles you’re facing in reaching your goals and look for ways to overcome them.

2) Be clear on what you’re offering: Although the company I spoke to understood the importance of customer experience, they weren’t clear on how I’m going to help them with that, and what specific services I’m offering. I didn’t go down to that level in the meeting and, to be honest, I wasn’t too clear about that myself. Not because I don’t know how I will help them, but I don’t know how to structure my explanation. It’s not something I’ve thought through completely. For me to move my agreement with this company forward, and to be able to achieve more success with other companies, I need to be able to give as much detail as is required by the company. They have to be clear on what working with me will look like, so they can get a better picture of what they’re getting themselves into and what to expect as a result.

3) Have confidence in your ability to offer value: The thought of: “how can I convince companies to work with me when I don’t have the credentials?” keeps popping to mind, but I have to remind myself that, regardless of my credentials, I’m able to offer value. I just need to figure out how to prove this to the companies I wish to work with.

Personal Growth Map

I’m working on several fronts within my Personal Growth Map project: redesigning the site, adding new site features, writing reports, writing posts, marketing and coming up with a strategy to manage all these activities at the same time.

I decided to outsource the site redesign, and I’m currently looking for a designer. This has been my main focus last week, because I’d like to re-launch the site and want to mark the event with a new look. ๐Ÿ™‚

I had several blog posts I wanted to write, but didn’t end up finishing. And this is where I learned quite a few lessons about getting my writing done:

1) Acknowledge the feeling that’s holding you back: The main reason why I would stop writing a post, or slow down at least, is a feeling that there’s something wrong with publishing the post. When I don’t resolve the feeling, I usually don’t end up publishing. The feeling can be that I haven’t done enough research, or I need to write another post to give the post I’m working on some background information to link to.

A common thought I get is: How will my readers use this article now, and will it benefit them in the long run?

I’m convinced that a lot of what we read – no matter how great it is – doesn’t end up producing results for us, because we haven’t created systems in our lives to be able to effectively act on the information we receive. If you don’t have a list of “writing guidelines” you refer to every time you write, there’s a possibility that you’ll forget the writing tips you read, even if they can take your writing to the next level. It’s impossible for me to complete an article if I feel that I’m not helping my readers integrate its message effectively into their lives.

This is a feeling I need to acknowledge and respond to be able to get back to writing. It can be by preparing a longer article on how we can process information more effectively, or to accept that I can still write my blog posts on a regular basis, while working on the longer articles in the background. But if I don’t acknowledge the feeling that’s holding me back, I won’t get any writing done.

2) Decide which article to publish next: Working on more than one article at the same time can blur the decision of which article to focus on and publish next. This leads to many, many draft articles, without any newly published material! So, deciding which article to publish next is extremely important to actually complete the articles I’m writing.

3) Stop editing yourself while writing: This is a great tip I learned from Ayn Rand’s fantastic book on writing: The Art of Nonfiction. If we edit ourselves while writing, we won’t be able to get our creative juices flowing, and will continue to stare at a blank page (or screen). I didn’t notice that I was actually editing myself until I realized that I’m not writing, and the screen is still blank! I wasn’t allowing my writing to flow because I was editing my thoughts before they could see the light of day.

4) You don’t have to complete an article in a single sitting: This is a crucial point to bear in mind. Dr Fiore in his wonderful book (The Now Habit) points out that a major reason for procrastination is our obsession to finish projects, rather than starting them. When you have only an hour to spare, you might avoid writing an article, because you know you’ll need at least 2 hours to complete it. But you can finish half the article in that hour and complete it in another hour. Obsessing over completing work means we overlook the opportunities to make small dents in a project in the short periods of time available to us throughout our days.

5) Become a prolific writer: I’m convinced, more than ever, that I need to make it my goal to become a prolific writer. This means that I should feel comfortable writing a lot, without editing myself or worrying about getting it perfect. I need to work on improving my typing speed and to write whenever and wherever I can. I have a lot to say, and by becoming a prolific writer, I’ll be able to write a lot more, without facing so many obstacles. Writing will become a natural habit, which can support me in getting my writing projects underway.

Online Shopping Site

I’ve completely neglected this project last week, which was bad of me. To say that I didn’t have time to work on it would be a big, fat lie. I had plenty of time. I just didn’t use it well.

I’ll be moving this project forward this week, so I’ll have a decent progress update by next week!

Even though I didn’t work on this project, I still learned an important lesson about getting it done. ๐Ÿ™‚

1) Face your fears: I suspect the primary reason for why I didn’t work on this project is that it involves a software package I don’t have experience using. To get the project going, I need to get comfortable with the software, so the anxiety that can come with a new learning experience doesn’t prevent me from starting on the project.


I would like to teach a subject that is related to customer experience, user experience or web development. That way I’ll help move my other projects forward as well. I didn’t work on this project last week, but will need to write a cover letter to express my interest in these subjects, and to arrange to meet with course coordinators, so I can argue for the importance of these subjects, in case their not available within the teaching curriculum.

That’s all for now. You’ll hopefully be hearing from me before next week’s update! ๐Ÿ˜€