• Dr. Jill Bakke

Working Smarter

In a world which seems to move faster and faster, it is essential to carve out time for self. Our body and mind require relaxation as well as exercise. We need time for our relationships and things which give us joy, but our pace is often geared to achievement, accumulation, chores, and the plethora of things we think MUST be done. We lose our emotional balance and sometimes our health. Looking at and changing the way we handle tasks is one way to deal with time issues.

Big tasks used to weird me out. I recognized I didn’t want to start a task that would take days to complete, especially those where I had no idea where to start. Thus, I found myself procrastinating. My solutions in the past to this overwhelmed feeling were to escape into computer games, do the laundry, which could have waited for a few more items, or worse yet, scatter myself among half a dozen chores completing none.

Now I am not against multi-tasking. It works wonderfully to clean out the dishwasher while waiting for the coffee to brew in the morning or to check your email while holding on a telephone call. And a book or paper and pen while waiting for an appointment is marvelous. In fact, working on several projects at the same time is fine IF your focus is only on one of aspect of a project at a time.


That word “FOCUS” is one of the most important keys to time management and getting things done. It may not be possible to finish a task in one application. Information may be needed from someone, or you may be unsure what to do to take the project to the next step. However, if even a small segment of the work is done, the pressure associated with the project is lessened. We have only so much energy, and if we use it to escape, we don’t have it to apply to the work needed to be accomplished. In the end we are more tired, more stressed, more frustrated, and further behind in our task. Do what you can and let it sit. Simply letting the material gel in your mind and on the page often opens the door to the next step. As you wait for the material to firm up, turn your FULL attention to the next item at hand.

Focusing full attention on what you choose to proceed with is a great tool for freeing up time in completing projects. It unclutters your mind and makes whatever task you are facing more enjoyable. This simple act of focus has often been termed “mindfulness.”

And the action of being mindful has a specific gift; it can turn a chore into a pleasant one. Try washing dishes by hand while deliberately focusing on the feel of the warm water, the smell of the soap and its texture as you scrub the dishes. Some of my best ideas come when I am focusing on (and enjoying) a mundane task like weeding the garden or scrubbing the floor. When you truly focus on the task at hand, whether it is house or yard work or a professional product you are creating, you can easily slip into the flow where time escapes you and is no longer of importance.


Breaking tasks into segments and scheduling also helps tame the demands on our time and energy. Doing the simplest pieces first helps feeling in control of the project. And the trick is to place segments into your day at the time when you are at your best.

I am not a linear, sequential person. I am far from that organized ducks-in-a-row personality. In graduate school I was introduced to the class by a professor who knew me well as the “token” graduate student, indicating that I was not cast in the usual mold. Most students working on doctoral degrees are digging deep into their subject. I was unusual because I have to see how things connect to one another, and I don’t work in a sequential manner. I often start in the middle and work to both ends. In fact, a course in creativity was my favorite class that semester. When I read a quotation attributed to Bonnie Goldlberg, it helped me to be comfortable with my unorthodox method of working a problem

Goldberg said: The creative mind doesn’t require logical transitions from one thought to another. It skips, jumps, doubles back, circles, and dives from one idea to the next. That was exactly the way I worked. I tasked myself to learn how to make my type of personality efficient, but it also works for everyone.

Start by looking at your biological rhythms. For example, I do not work well in the early morning. I am a night person. But, if I structure my day to use mornings for myself and work afternoons and evenings, things perk up. I can do that now because I am self-employed, but I haven’t always been that fortunate. I had to find other ways of working within the time that fit my biology.

When I was working as a financial counselor for the army, I found blocking out “admin time” in the morning benefited me. Here I established a space where I was uninterrupted by phone, clients, coworkers, and other distractions, and I could easily avoid the multi-tasking the rest of the day might produce.

Of course, if an emergency occurred, I was flexible, but most of the time I could move from coffee and preparing monthly statistics or a new seminar into a client mode with ease once the administration duties were complete. The task of switching administrative time to a period when I was still slow moving allowed me to focus on details more closely and gear myself up for the more fast paced and wide-ranging issues of my clients.


Developing a functioning work area without a lot of clutter is another big step to eliminating procrastination and scattered energy. I seem to collect piles of paper and usually have two or more projects going on at the same time which demand lots of writing, research, or plain paperwork. There are several ways to solve the problem. I took what I felt was simplest for me. Only completed work goes into the file for the project. Unfinished papers, idea slips, and such are placed into a large envelope (or separate file). I bought a separate file box or container for the work in progress files and pull out only the unfinished file when it is time to work on a project. Segregating the materials made life simpler for me. Find what works for you to reduce visible clutter, eliminate obsessive pencil sharpening, the need to do all the filing immediately, and keep your desk as uncluttered as possible.

Things like pencil sharpening, obsessive message and email checking, and daily rearranging your desk is hidden procrastination. Being busy does not equate being with being productive. But focus, time management to fit your biological clock, and structure immediately give beneficial effects. You stop spinning your wheels feel more in control, experience less stress, and have more enjoyment in the tasks at hand.

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