by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
For my parents’ generation, work was very clear. You travelled to a particular place e.g. a factory, and you performed a set routine i.e. your job for a set number of hours. You were expected to produce a certain amount of whatever it is that you produced. Back then, individuals did not have to think about time management and productivity. The employer ensured that the jobs were designed in a manner which would allow the employee to perform to the optimum level and remain highly productive. We are no longer in the era of the factory worker and labourer; we are now in the era of the knowledge worker and the knowledge worker is more often a mobile worker.
Being a mobile worker does not mean that you are constantly travelling like the traditional travelling salesman. It simply means that you move regularly and often work from different locations e.g. office, home, client’s office or even the local coffee shop. The knowledge worker is more mobile because we are given more freedom to determine how our role should be performed. Where once people were hired to be trained in a specific role; we are more and more often being hired to bring our expertise to a role so that we can change the role to perform better. While this change has brought greater freedom, it has also brought greater pressures as our jobs are no longer defined for us. We must define and design our work to enable us to do the best job possible and make best use of our time.
If you are a mobile worker or a knowledge worker, it goes without saying that there are times when you must be away from your office, whether you work from home or in another setting. Usually, you are just away for one thing e.g. a meeting and the remainder of the time that you are away becomes dead time i.e. you are not putting it to any constructive use. You do not have to spend every minute of your day working but you can use a lot more of this dead time to get valuable work done. Imagine if you were away for the day and, because you used this dead time constructively, you are able to switch off work as soon as you walk in the door and focus on your personal or family life. This does not have to be a dream. Even if you do need to perform some work upon returning to the home or office, you will have greatly reduced the time required because you used your dead time more constructively.
How you use your dead time can influence many of your decisions. In my earlier career, I spent 5 years commuting from my home in the Irish Midlands to Dublin. During this time, I met many people who chose to use public transport for the journey rather than drive. Most of them did so because they could work on the train rather than having to focus on driving. Although they arrived home a half hour later in the evening; when they arrived home, they were finished for the day. If they drove, when they got home, they still had to do the work that they would have done on the train.
How effective mobile workers use dead time
During the times you’re on the go, you can take your work with you and cut down on the time wasted during waiting for flights, for a meeting, having a coffee or other dead time. The key to doing this successfully is being organised and having a full record of all the commitments that you have made. You are then in a position to review your tasks and see what needs to be done.
You can then preview how you expect your day to go and identify where you are likely to have dead time. A good mobile worker will be able to identify where these dead times are likely to occur, how much time will be available and what type of tasks they will be able to complete. For example, if you have 30 minutes between 2 meetings. In this instance, you may feel that it is not really enough time to perform a task on your laptop but you could catch up on some valuable reading. You would then ensure that you have sufficient reading material either physically or on one of you devices. That is a very simple example but it should give you an idea.
Essentials for a mobile worker
Here are some items that a good mobile worker should consider having when on the move. A lot can depend on the amount of time that you will be away:
1. Notebook and pen
It doesn’t matter how long you are going away for; be it 5 minutes or 5 days; you should have some means of taking notes. Anything that is asked of you or that pops into your head can be jotted down and stored for later review and processing.
You will rarely need to act on it there and then but you will need to record it so that you can act on it later.
2. A collection bucket
This does not have to be an actual bucket. The word just helps people to remember what it is used for. A collection bucket is used for capturing anything that you gather while you are out e.g. receipts, notes, business cards etc. Even if you just have an idea; write it down and tear the page out of your notebook and place it in the collection bucket.
When you get back to your desk, you can empty the collection bucket into your in tray for processing.
A folder or envelope will often suffice as a collection bucket when away from your normal place of work.
3. Task lists
Your task list(s) should always be available to you. When some time becomes available, you need to be able to review your options and choose the right task to perform at that time. This allows you to keep moving.
If you do not have access to your tasks, you cannot possibly make the best choice as you are relying on your memory. In this instance, you are likely to just choose the first task that comes into your head, the easiest task or most often, you simply won’t do anything and the time is wasted.
Because I move about so often, I keep my lists contextualised, which I recommend. This means that I have lists created based on the circumstances that I find myself in and the resources I have access to. For example, I have a phone call list which means that if all I have access to is my phone, I can still get some work done.
4. Mp3 player
Even if you don’t generally work with audio files, an MP3 player can allow you to use dead time more constructively. There may be courses, seminar notes, language lessons etc. that you can listen to and use to educate yourself further. Audio meditations are another option for your personal development.
Even at its most basic, you can use your MP3 player to listen to some uplifting music which will boost your mood and confidence.
A mobile worker usually requires electronic devices e.g. phone, laptop. If you are gone for any period of time, you will most likely have to charge these devices. So, make sure you pack them. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get some good work done because you forgot your charger.
For more great time management and productivity tips, check out Quick Fixes for Your Productivity.
With some of the items above, you may find yourself saying ‘But Carthage, I do all of this stuff on my phone or online’. So do I ! The important thing is that you have some means to perform the function that these items perform whether it is in physical form or on a device. If you only implemented the first 3 pieces of advice, I would have every confidence that you could save an hour or more each week. Organisation is critical and if you want to remain organised, you need to be prepared. It takes a little more effort to be organised and prepared but when you are, you will find that you save far more in the long run. If you are a modern mobile worker, you need to ensure that you are prepared when you are on the move. The 5 points outlined above will help you to get started.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.
Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.