In a digital world reeling with a steady diet of noise, Quiet Time is one of the most important time management techniques.
Too many tasks and too little time? You are not alone in feeling so. We all try to schedule our way to time management and then wonder where our day went. Until two years ago, I was in the same boat as you.
My work calendar was always full of appointments, and I used to run from one meeting, and during the pandemic, from one MS Team call to another. My work hours often began early and lasted till late evening. Often I fell asleep exhausted on my bed, sometimes with the laptop at my side. My family was not sure about my availability, even during the weekends. I used to work and only work, not having the time for much else. I was submerging deeper and deeper into a cesspool of busyness.
Until the afternoon when the annual promotion list came out in the company where I worked then. It was only late at night, when the lights in my home were dark, that I had time to check the email. Guess what? I felt indifferent seeing my name on that list. I realised that not having the time to enjoy my success was not the right way to live.
I wasn’t working in a high-profile job at a marquee company for being busy all the time.
That was when I decided to control my time rather than let time control me.
It took a series of small steps and considerable self-awareness to arrive at a stage where I now feel I have all the time to enjoy and savour my life. I deploy a few structured tools and techniques in my life and support my clients to take control of time. But the one tool that stands out with its simplicity and the impact it creates on one’s personal and professional life is Quiet Time — the most potent weapon in the time management arsenal, in my opinion.
Let us understand the problem in more detail before arriving at the solution.
The Steady Diet of Noise and the Great Resignation
Much of today’s digital economy is designed to distract us and remove downtimes from our lives. Surrounded by technology and prone to multitasking, the world is on a steady diet of noise.
And here’s one of the problems with that: if we do not make time for quiet reflection, we will repeat the frustrations of our current existence.
The constant clamour to schedule our way through the day, checking emails as soon as the notifications ting, and looking at our phones the moment they buzz are all distractions interrupting our working day. They lead to a loss of focus hours which are imperative to be productive.
A study reveals that each employee spends at least 1 to 3 hours daily on distractions. Considering 8 hours as the standard, a quarter of the working time goes towards non-productive tasks.
The diet of noise has only increased after the pandemic with overflowing inboxes and back-to-back meetings, and the incidences of ‘work-life’ breakups have risen in the corporate world.
In a quest to find a solution to these work-life breakups, many prominent companies examined the productivity data of their employees and customers. One such company was Microsoft, which studied the anonymous productivity trends of millions of its customers worldwide in 2021. The study revealed that one year into the pandemic, weekly time spent in Teams meetings more than doubled, and the average person sent 42 per cent more chats after work hours. Employee satisfaction with work-life balance dropped by 13 per cent during the same period.
After more studies on the data, the company discovered that over-collaborating, lack of uninterrupted focus, and skipping time off are the three significant drivers of the decreased work-life balance it was investigating. Employees who spend the most time collaborating — attending meetings, writing emails, and sending chats — rated lower satisfaction with work-life balance than those with fewer hours of collaboration time. On the other hand, employees satisfied with their work-life balance attended 25 per cent fewer meetings and spent six fewer hours per week collaborating compared to those with neutral or unfavourable work-life balance sentiment. These employees also sent 29 per cent fewer emails in general and 36 per cent fewer emails after working hours.
The Microsoft study is nothing but an aggregate outcome of individual work experiences. Every employee, every team in every company and every company has some habitual practices that make the work take longer, fray nerves, and drain performance, making employees feel overwhelmed.
Emotions drive people, and people drive performance. An overwhelmed and drained employee has no positive emotions to drive her and breaks one day. At a cumulative level, the compound effect manifests into the ‘Great Resignation’ that we are witnessing around the globe.
Quiet time is a key solution to this individual issue of overwhelmedness and the collective organisational concern of ‘Great Resignation.’
What is Quiet Time? Why is Quiet Time Important?
Quiet time is a block of time with no physical and digital interruptions during the day. It is an interruption-free zone of dedicated focus time that you keep for yourself- to work on matters that require your individual attention.
You keep off from meetings, phone calls, and emails during that block of time and focus only on the tasks to get done. And you will find that you will accomplish your work much faster without browsing the net and looking at your phone.
Unlike the temporary digital detox where you keep off your phones and mobile for an extended number of days, quiet time is a permanent adjustment of behaviour you incorporate daily.
As a personal example, there are two blocks of quiet hours—9 AM to 11 AM and 3 PM to 5 PM— where I work with no interruptions- every day. I don’t check emails, keep my phone on silent, and don’t permit myself to browse the net during this block. Instead, I use this time to finish my important tasks. During the rest of the day, the interruptions continue as usual.
As a result, I don’t remember working beyond 7 in the evening on the busiest of days. I don’t recall switching on my laptop during the weekend for a long time. My productivity has increased during the interruption-free focus hours, allowing me the time and leeway to deal with the distractions during the rest of my day.
This simple behavioural adjustment has made a big difference in work-life integration for my clients and me. It is also a much more sustainable way to work. The Microsoft study showing employees satisfied with their work-life balance had 30 per cent more focus hours than employees less satisfied with their work-life balance corroborates this. Another global survey revealed that ten minutes of quiet time improved employee productivity by 27 per cent.
It is not without a reason that they say silence is golden!
How can Organisations Establish Quiet Time?
It is easier for entrepreneurs like me to decide their block of quiet time and stick to it. In the high-pressure corporate world grappling with the ‘Great Resignation’, organisations must institutionalise quiet time to enhance employee productivity and well-being.
How can organisations do that? First, they need to create a work format where employees are not distracted by their surroundings for a common period.
Here are four specific strategies for organisations to institutionalise quiet time:
1. Build breaks between meetings.
Shift focus from maximising meeting time to maximising meeting effectiveness and set a company-wide default in their intranet settings to build in breaks during meetings. A small breather between collaboration sessions allows employees to grab a glass of water, prepare for their next call, or mentally transition to a new topic.
2. Avoid bookending the week.
Time at the beginning and end of each week helps employees transition. Monday morning meetings can pressure employees to prepare over the weekend, contributing to that overwhelming feeling. Instead, designate Monday mornings for focus and preparation to successfully set teams to collaborate throughout the week. Similarly, embrace no-meeting Fridays for employees to wrap up critical work and fully unplug before the weekend.
3. Formulate policies to respect and encourage quiet time.
Having a standard company-wide block of quiet focus hours during the week will allow employees to engage in deep work and dive into projects without apprehensions or possibilities of distractions or interruptions. Use technology to communicate these quiet hours to employees, vendors, and clients and block these quiet hours permanently in employee calendars and other office tool settings. This will also provide an element of predictability to focus hours.
4. Make quiet hours a real deal through leading by example.
During the initial implementation, leaders should not only propagate the concept but also tom-tom about their achievements during quiet hours. This will encourage other employees to follow suit.
How can I have the Quiet Time I need for Effective Time Management?
Busyness is too ingrained a behavioural problem to be addressed fully by a top-down approach.
People are the heart and soul of any organisation. Each one of us reading this piece can contribute to positive work culture.
So, what can you do today to stave off this steady noise diet?
Plenty. You don’t need a beautiful chair to enjoy some quiet time. Start by permitting yourself to stop. Be still. Switch off from all the external noise and stay in the moment.
That will be the first step to incorporating quiet time for time management in your life.
Is your work not leaving you with enough time for a personal life? Are you always too busy making a living to enjoy your life? Take the Free 'My Time Management Style Assessment' to take the first step to getting more work done in less time.
Smita Das Jain is an Executive Coach, Personal Empowerment Life Coach, and NLP Coach Practitioner. After more than 14 years in leadership roles in the corporate world, she knows that it takes more than strategies for people to succeed. Smita’s Empower Yourself Programs help executives emerge leaders faster than envisaged. She is also a writer, a bestselling author and a TEDx speaker. Visit https://www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com/ to learn more about Smita’s Empower Yourself Coaching Programs and book a complimentary coaching consultation with her at https://www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com/booking.