In 1956, George Miller wrote a paper entitled, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.” He had discovered that people can only focus on five to nine things at a time – anything beyond this has to be held in the unconscious mind. For most of us, it would be a dream come true if we only had to focus on five – or even nine – things.
Unfortunately, in today’s work environment we often have too much to do, in too little time, with too little energy and focus. One study by the Families and Work Institute found that a full third of Americans are overworked; more than 50 percent of those surveyed said they are either handling too many tasks at the same time or are frequently interrupted during the workday – or both. In short, we are overloaded. Is it any wonder, then, that we have trouble managing our offices, time and projects in a way that feels sufficient?
In the face of these time traps, it’s critical that we learn how to beat back the bad habits of procrastination, multitasking, and distraction and become more time literate. Are you a time-tamer or a time-waster? To get an idea of your current level of time literacy, answer the following questions using the guide below:
1 = Almost Never
2 = Once in a while
3 = Frequently
4 = All the time
1. I create a daily to-do list and then prioritize it. ______
2. Whenever possible I do my most important tasks early in the day. _____
3. The state of my desktop inspires me to get work done. _____
4. I have specific, written goals, for my business and personal life. ____
5. I arrive at meetings on time and prepared. ____
6. I delegate whatever I can. ____
7. My in-basket is under control and I process the work in it regularly. ____
8. I close my office door or take other measures to prevent interruptions when I need to focus. ____
9. I know when and how to say no to other people’s requests. ____
10. I meet my project deadlines. ____
11. I can find any information I need within 5 minutes. ____
12. I spend less than 30 percent of my day putting out fires. ____
13. I keep my email inbox organized and up-to-date. ____
14. My office files are neat, organized and up-to-date. ____
15. I tackle difficult or unpleasant tasks without delay. ____
Total Score: ____
50 – 60: Congratulations you are a time literacy superstar! You obviously understand the core principles of time literacy and have been able to translate them into everyday actions. To move to the next level, choose one area above that you would like to enhance and find a book, teleclass, online workshop, seminar, coach or mentor that can help you further develop that skill.
35 – 49: You have a good grasp on your time, but are losing energy and focus because of a few bad time habits. Review the questions above and focus your attention on the areas where you scored a 2 or lower. Consider reaching out to a friend, family member or someone you work with to help you identify when you are caught in non-productive time behaviors.
15 – 34: Your time literacy could use some education. You may be experiencing procrastination, overwhelm or burnout due to poor time management. Pick one item from the list above and work on it daily, until your score in that area has increased by one point.
This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.