So often, when people decide that they want to become more productive, they rush straight into it. They are enthusiastic and eager and, they want to make quick improvements. Unfortunately, their focus tends to be solely on getting more done which might seem like the right focus but is actually a major obstacle to high productivity levels. When you are focused solely on the quantity of work that you can get done, you lose sight of the importance of your work. In getting more done, you don’t necessarily get your most important tasks completed. In addition, by consistently pushing to complete more work, you leave yourself starved for time and you pack your day beyond capacity. You might get away with this for a very short period of time but eventually the quality of your work will start to suffer, as will your health. The solution is to include some buffer time between your activities.
Buffer time is the simple act of allowing a little extra time between your tasks. It’s not being lazy; it’s being intelligent. Researchers for time management have noted that those who rush from one task to another don’t feel good about how the new task was begun. The main reason for this is that they have not made the mental transition from one task to another. We live in the era of the knowledge worker and a great deal of thought, focus, and mental activity is needed to complete our daily tasks. When switching from one task to another, you can do so quickly on a physical level but on a mental level this does not occur so quickly. Instead, you need to allow a little time for your mind to make the switch i.e. to shut down its activity on one task and begin to focus on the next task. Adding a little buffer time to your schedule allows this to happen naturally and easily.
Implementing buffer time
Buffer time is not time wasted; as long as you make the effort to use it properly. The following are some simple tips for introducing buffer time into your schedule.
- Use buffer time to stay organised
Almost every task involves the use of documents and materials. To ensure that you can work smoothly, you need to ensure that these documents and materials are stored in a manner which allows you to know exactly where they are whenever you need them. This level of organisation is one of the most important but often forgotten components of effective time management.
Take time to gradually move from one project to another by putting away all the old files and information and preparing for the new.
- Add more buffer time after bigger tasks
When I worked in New Zealand, it was the first time that all of my work was project work. There were many mini-projects within each project. I realised that a small amount of buffer time between each project was not enough. Instead, I needed to increase the amount of buffer time as the size of the mini-projects grew. I started taking a walk around the harbour in Wellington each time that I finished a mini-project. This allowed me to switch off from the completed work and start to think about the work that lay ahead.
Taking a walk between tasks or meditating/exercising can make a big difference in the way you begin the new project. You’ll likely be able to jump right into it because you’ve taken the time to rid your brain of the old thoughts.
It’s not a waste of time to clear your mind after completing a large project or task. In fact, it will serve to put you on track and waste less time when you do decide that it’s time to begin.
- Use low energy tasks as buffer time
If you want to keep moving with work rather than take breaks, you can use low energy tasks as a form of buffer time. Low energy tasks are tasks which do not require a great deal of mental or physical energy to complete. In essence, as you complete these tasks you are actually recovering both mentally and physically from your previous exertions. Organising and filing, as mentioned earlier, are some examples of low energy tasks which can be used as buffer time but there are many more.
At the moment, I am volunteering with my local GAA Club (Native Irish Sports) where I am creating a new website for the club. Part of this project is capturing the 131 year history of the club online. As you might imagine, there are a great deal of photographs which need to be scanned on to computer so that they can be added to the website. This is a great example of a low energy task. I am adding a little scanning at various points throughout my day to serve as buffer time. This way, I will get the work done over the course of a week without having to stress about it. In the meantime, the work gives me some precious recovery time from my own work.
- Use buffer time as a contingency
Things don’t always go to plan and your first task may take a little longer than expected. Having a little buffer time built into your schedule ensures that these delays do not cause any major problems or stress. You get to make a realistic schedule whereby if you get the task completed on time, or ahead of schedule, you can start your new task in good time. If you run late on a task, the damage is minimal as you have allowed extra time in your schedule.
This form of buffer time is absolutely essential. It may go under a different name e.g. contingency planning, padding etc. but it is regularly used across all industries. In fact, if buffer time was not commonly used, there would be absolute mayhem every time that something ran the slightest bit late.
The determination to become as productive as possible can lead to the temptation to pack as much as possible into your day. On paper, that sounds like an intelligent idea i.e. get as much done as possible. However, life is not lived on paper and stuffing your day full of activities is actually a recipe for disaster. You end up without time to think effectively or recover from the mental and physical exertions of the working day. Allowing buffer time between each task is not lazy; it is an essential component of a high productivity lifestyle. There are too many benefits of buffer time to mention here but the ideas above give you a good idea of how it can be implemented to improve your working day.