by Denise Berger
Seinfeld, features an episode called The Stall, wherein Elaine asks a woman next to her in the bathroom to pass some toilet paper. Do you remember it? All you can see on the screen are the stalls and their feet. The woman guardedly replies, “no, I’m sorry. I can’t spare it. There is not enough to spare.” Elaine pleads with her, “just 3 squares will do it,” to which the woman replies, ‘I don’t have 3 squares. I don’t have a square to spare... I can’t spare a square!” Absurd, insane and silly, but not if the toilet paper is a metaphor for TIME.
I recently ran my own little experiment to determine aptitude of individuals to spare 5 minutes of their time, my hypothesis being: even the easiest of task being requested is viewed as too burdensome and ends up going ignored. I sent a simple request to 200 people: read a 1-2 page article, go online and add a one-sentence comment about it, and then pass it along to one other person to do the same. (Think the tag-line from an old shampoo commercial, “And they’ll tell two friends… and so on… and so on.) Instead, only 19 people responded.
These results are completely what I anticipated. Whether you work full-time, work part-time, don’t work, raise a family, take care of an elder or simply have no responsibilities, people don’t have the time AND energy to deal with all the information gathering, data collection, knowledge sharing. The Families and Work Institute wrote in Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much, “there is little question that the way Americans work and live has changed in recent years. The fast-paced, global 24/7 economy, the pressures of competition, and technology have blurred the traditional boundaries between work life and home life. Furthermore, this new economy calls for new skills—skills like responding quickly to competing demands and jumping from task to task. In response, the topic of being overworked has become a hot subject of discussion in workplaces, in the media, in medical journals, and in homes.”
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported almost a decade ago that stress is a threat to the health of employees and the World Health Organization reports that by the year 2020 clinical depression will outweigh cancer and follow heart disease as the second cause of disability and death globally. Medical costs associated with health conditions related to stress and depression affect financial performance as companies bear greater self-insurance / retentions on corporate medical policies. Research from momentum2execution.com  cites, “$300 billion, or $7,500 per employee, is spent annually in the U.S. on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses, and employee turnover.”
In addition, the more overworked the employees, the more they are likely to make mistakes, costly from at least the standpoint of creating double work and inefficiency, let alone the mistake itself. Employees are asked to gather, collate, analyze, revise, update, input, output, renew, amend, augment systems that are meant to actually make individuals’ lives easier and make us all more productive by narrowing our scope of deliverables through understanding where output is best served. Have we gotten off-balance by relying too heavily on systems?
While we can’t turn back the clock to simpler times, we can control how we deal, cope, prioritize and balance our activities to maximize our own efficiency and productivity and accuracy on the job. Here are some tips gathered through years of research on time management:
1. Take your vacation time. Research indicates that more than 7 days of vacation are associated with better psychological outcome, despite assumptions that work “piling up” causes more anxiety and less vacation satisfaction.
2. Learn how to pace yourself. Analyze the length of time it takes you to complete different assignments on your plate. Leave “free time” to allow for flexibility to handle the unexpected interruptions (estimated at 50 per day).
3. Have a system. Choose only one type of calendar program. Don’t rely on your memory.
4. Avoid E.A.A.D.D – Email Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. The Wall Street Journal cites that people receive on average 125 emails per day. You can’t afford to be interrupted and distracted each and every time one arrives.
5. Manage the paper: Read it then file it, Pass it on or throw it away. According to academic studies, 80% of paper should be in the throw away category. Otherwise, “paper clutters up the office, and clutter, by its nature, reduces efficiency. Save documents online (and be sure to back them up); not only does this create better organization for you but it is the “green” way to go. Good for our environment, good for our economy, and good for your soul.
6. Say “no”, appropriately. Better yet, practice saying, “not now” and scheduling a better time for you.