Thursday 24, May 2018 by Jessica Combes

How buying a stopwatch changed my life


“Boundary setting is really a huge part of time management” –Jim Loehr

Articles and motivational quotes are rife on the internet about how we all have the same 24 hours in a day and what separates the successful from the not-successful is what we do with that time.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has been quoted saying if you put in 100-hour work weeks when everyone around you is putting in 40 hours, you’re bound to reach your goals a lot sooner. Nice for a man sleeping in his office while single-mindedly focusing on building his business, but not entirely realistic for those of us with traditional nine-to-fives who would like to achieve more outside the office.

There are countless articles about the importance of striking a proper work-life balance, but the key points that are missing in most them is that first, this balance has to be a company priority in that management and employees alike need to realise its importance; and second, while the company should encourage it, the employee actually has to take the steps to implement it.

Until the beginning of 2018 I struggled to set proper boundaries with my time, allowing work to consume me for the better part of a decade and making it my go-to excuse to put other activities off, to the detriment of my health and my professional performance. It didn’t make me more productive, and it left me almost burnt out and a less well-rounded person than I would have liked.

The biggest hurdle was clocking off at the end of the day. I would always stay behind ‘just a little bit later’ to do ‘just a little bit extra’ in a vain attempt to get ahead of the next day’s work load, only to look up and realise it was anywhere between 7pm and 9pm when I walked out the door (and, plot twist: there would be just as many tasks to get through the next day). Obviously, special circumstances arise that require the overtime, but if the essentials have been met, the laptop gets switched off and I walk out the door.

The problem was when I did have time off, I didn’t know what to do with it—I was left so skewed towards being at the beck and call of the office, I completely disregarded my goals and hobbies. I lost sight of the difference between filling my free time with activities merely to eliminate boredom or activities that would help me expand my knowledge and improve my life in fulfilling ways.

My best friend in Dubai gave me some of the best advice when he said, “Every minute that you waste now is robbing you of your future potential. Everything you do now will determine who you will become. You need to fill your time with purpose, not just stuff to do.”

I decided the best way to be more efficient with my time was to block it off in chunks, and the best way to manage it was by using a timer for different tasks. Cue a trip to Daiso in Oasis Mall and the purchase of a stopwatch for a few dirhams. I only allow myself an allotted amount of time per task, whether it’s folding my laundry, taking a shower, or spending time on social media. My rule is when the timer goes off, if the task is incomplete, it is paused until I have a free moment later on. It took less than six hours on the first day for me to ensure I beat the clock each time because I cannot stand loose ends.

Restricting tasks to tight deadlines meant I was freeing up more time for my studies, and the stopwatch got carried over to that as well, taking me back to my university mind-set of blocking of amounts of time for prescribed reading, and having set breaks in between.

All of this, in theory, seems obvious. But the practical application has meant having a lot more time to do the things I enjoy—I make time to exercise, I read what I enjoy and not only what working in financial journalism prescribes, I picked up a paint brush for the first time in nine years, I’m furthering my education, and most importantly I’ve started writing for myself again, stripping my website down to nothing and starting over from scratch. I'm sleeping better, and I no longer walk around with shoulders up to my ears with stress.

But the biggest improvement I have seen is satisfaction in my work. By being firm about putting the boundary between my job and my life in place, I now enjoy both a lot more.

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