How to Improve Time Management by Taming Your Impulses
Imagine that we have two parts of ourselves who work together or against each other. One in the impulsive side of us wants to take the easiest path, and the other that wants what is best for us in the long term. This is our self-control. Brain science tells us that there are two distinct parts of our brain that function like that.
Know that all parts of us have a purpose and value, so be respectful of their role.
To support you and your relationship with both parts, name them. I know it sounds silly but you will be able to better recognize them when they show up.
Since this site is dedicated to helping you improve your productivity, reduce stress, and provide time management tips, let’s look at a day-to-day challenge such as email.
Email is the perfect example of impulse-driven behavior. A study from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s annual Internet Trends report., showed that people are checking their email 150X a day. No wonder productivity and engagement are at an all-time low. In my coaching practice, people come to me all the time with this very basic and very real productivity drain in how they handle email. As we all know technology is a blessing and a curse depending on how you use it. Such flexibility, access, and reach, lead us to need more process and self-control to make technology work effectively and efficiently for us.
Constantly checking your mail is being driven by that impulsive part of you. Checking your email is benefiting you in some way. One of the biggest culprits is that every time we check our email, our brain is releasing endorphins (a drug hit) to your brain to make you feel good every time you go in and find a new email. This is how we are unconsciously training ourselves to check more often.
I started to recognize this impulsive behavior in myself both with email and text messaging. Because I was now on the alert, I would recognize it when I was scrolling through my mail. It made me crazy! It was affecting my time management and productivity. Why am I doing this! I don’t want to keep checking my mail, I know this is not productive but I keep doing it. We often know that things we are doing are not good for us but we often continue them anyway.
Impulsive Checking of email and Text Messages Is An Addiction
Another area that afflicts many people is texting and driving. It is bad and we know it, but we still do it. I wanted to understand this better so I did a test with my phone in the car. I put it in the trunk so I couldn’t reach for it at stoplights or while I was driving. In a 7-minute ride, I had more than 20 impulses to grab my phone. I felt real discomfort not being able to reach for it or see it. The discomfort grew as the impulses continued and the impulses kept coming. This was the realization that this impulsive checking of email and text is an addiction.
This checking email/text impulse isn’t only an issue in personal distraction; safety and productivity drain but it can also affect your relationships. It is extremely annoying to others who happen to be sitting with you for a meeting, a meal, or hanging out to see you constantly break the connection with them and pull out your phone to check email or text messages.
The unintentional signal that you are sending them is that they are not as important as your messages. It signals disinterest and a lack of focus and attention on that person. Parents sit with their kids and help them with homework but are constantly texting, the children don’t remember them helping with homework only that they were constantly checking their messages and NOT present. You might even be telling yourself it is productive, That is the impulsive side of you rationalizing your behavior. The other part of you will tell you that the long-term consequence is your children, your spouse, your co-workers won’t feel connected to you.
I’ve got to get control over this, I thought to myself. I mean I’m a productivity expert for goodness sake. I’m just subject to human behavior and habits as anyone else but I have to help myself and help others. How can I apply my training in NLP and behavioral therapy?
How Do Wrestle Back Control?
Here are a few tips from my program.
- Recognize the behavior in others and see how you feel about it and how it reflects upon them. Sometimes when we see the behavior we don’t like in others it is a deterrent for us to recognize that is not who you want to be.
- Start observing your behavior. After reading recognizing these behaviors in yourself and others will happen automatically. At first you won’t recognize it until you are already doing it, then focus on recognizing it earlier and earlier in the process.
- Control your environment and anticipate situations where this impulse will arise and be ready. This means shut down notifications and other obvious triggers.
- When you catch yourself in the behavior stop it immediately. Maybe playfully call out the name you gave that part of yourself and say “Got ya!” or raise your hands in the air, snap your fingers, laugh or do something with your physiology to break the pattern. Physiology changes are the easiest and most effective way to break a pattern. Once you keep breaking it, it is like scratching a CD it won’t play anymore.
- Ask others to help you. Give them permission and call you out in a professional safe way if they see that behavior.
Managing your impulses is part of time management strategies that are often not utilized as a way to improve time management. Time management skills aren’t only about planning and scheduling although they can help reduce impulsive behavior because they set up a structured environment to support focus.
Your self-control has to overcome the desire to do the opposite. The more you practice self-awareness the greater your self-control.