In cruising the internet – doing research for a speech – I stumbled onto this article Space-time Management: What the Heck Is That? It spoke to me on so many levels! I invite you to read Motta’s original article – or jump straight into my ‘take-home messages’ and reflections on it.
When you really want to get things done, don’t just think about time, also think about space.
He advises: Don’t engage in “kitchen table productivity.” When you need to get stuff done, consider your surroundings. Go somewhere quiet. Go somewhere where you are less likely to be interrupted. A plan and time is not enough. So instead of thinking in terms of time management, think in terms of space-time.
Motta differentiates between “Inner” and “Outer” Space:
- Inner space is inside you: your level of energy, amount of focus, and reserves of grit.
- Outer space is your external environment: your ability to guard your space-time from the outside world; your degree of organizational efficiency; and your extent of nimbleness, in dealing with inevitable interruptions.
We all have space inside us and around us, but we don’t all use it – or view it – in the same way.
Levels of Energy:
- Some tasks require more or less energy than others, and our energy levels ebb and flow in reasonably predictable ways (e.g. “morning people” versus “night owls”).
- It makes sense to proactively match the high-energy tasks for when our energy is high, and lower-energy tasks for when our energy is low.
- Good energy management is critical, for maximum efficiency and productivity.
Amount of Focus:
- If we aren’t focused on a particular task, we will accomplish nothing, even if we can have infinite time and infinite energy.
- The more focus we have, the more effective we are.
- Focus isn’t finite. We can take specific actions to proactively protect our level of focus.
- We can reduce the chance of disruption by:
- squirreling ourselves away and turning our phones off.
- keeping our workspace clear of clutter so our mind doesn’t wander.
- keeping the peace with our family members and friends so emotional drama remains low: a focus of higher level.
- In addition to these ‘top-down’ approaches, we can also improve our ‘bottom-up’ focus by precisely defining what our objective is before we begin a work session. If we fence in our mind, we give it less space to wander.
Reserves of Grit:
- Our levels of energy and focus exist before they are called upon.
- In contrast, grit is made in the moment.
- When we sit down to complete a task, we feel varying amounts of motivation and resistance, usually in inverse proportion to each other.
- Motivation is the desire and willingness to get something done.
- Resistance has many forms — procrastination, indecisiveness, anxiety, fear, among others.
- Motivation and resistance wage war in our minds — the proverbial angel and devil on our shoulders.
- Think of this as our “default” state when we begin doing a task.
- Grit is our ability to move the dial away from the resistance and towards motivation.
Ability to Guard
Protecting your precious space-time is where you will feel the full weight of the short-term world that seeks to grab our attention right now:
- Instant notifications.
- People thinking it is strange to put your phone on Do Not Disturb, weird to leave it in a different room.
- The trend towards open offices.
- The expectation that an e-mail will not only be answered, but acted upon, in mere hours if not minutes.
The best way to prevent these interruptions is to strategically use your space-times.
- Even if we do so brilliantly, the short-term world often finds a way to muscle in on our concentration.
- You must make the choice before you sit down that unless the interruption is high-priority or a code-red emergency, you won’t respond for the time you have set aside to do what you want to achieve.
- If you don’t proactively make the decision to say no, then you are leaving the decision of yourself. Trust your present self, not the future version who will be dreaming of an excuse.
Degree of Organizational Efficiency
Organization comes naturally to some people, but not everyone.
- An explicit organizational structure is really helpful.
- Trying to remember where you left off, looking for papers from a pile stacked on your desk, or a file somewhere on your computer, all of these waste resources.
- If we spend just 10 minutes a day shuffling the same papers around to clear our desk, that’s 3,650 minutes a year, or about 60 hours, or about 1.5 work weeks.
- Don’t waste your resources. Get organized.
- It is difficult in a world where spam crowds our inboxes and possessions accumulate like dust in an attic. But it can be done.
- Small changes reap disproportionally large benefits.
Extent of Nimbleness
If we are nimble, then we are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise:
- Ten or fifteen minutes here, ten or fifteen minutes there.
- It happens throughout the day. On the train, when a coworker is late for a meeting, when you are waiting for class to begin.
- You can either check Facebook or Twitter on your phone, or you can do something productive, like quickly replying to emails or organising a bag or drawer.
- Added up over time (as explained with the maths of the last point), that’s a nice chunk.
- If we aren’t prepared to do something in those in-between moments, then we’ll spend 4 of the 5 minutes deciding what to do.
- When other resources are lacking, nimbleness can really help.
- Just be prepared for when the opportunities come.
- I personally treat such interruptions or delays as small ‘gifts of time’ from the Universe, and use them to re-set, internally. This helps me recharge throughout my day, maintaining my energy for when I need it.
How does your outer space and your inner space work together, and in opposition to each other?
Which parts of this tension are you in control of?