We’re all aware of how we use resources; how we reduce, reuse and recycle and are being more thoughtful on what resources we truly need. Too often we don’t think about time, yet it’s the resource which is finite. So, what would you do if you had more time? 

How often do you hear someone say: ‘there’s just not enough time in the day,’ or ‘time is not on my side?’ These phrases and others like them are commonplace in our society. There seems to be a general thought that time is of the essence and that we could all do with more of it.

However, there is an argument that people with more time can be less productive and effective. Let me give you a scenario. It’s a workday and you are set to be at your desk for 7 hours but the to do list is small. You only have three things that need completing today and on average, each thing will take half an hour.

What would you do? Would you get into work, complete these things by 10.30 and have the rest of the day to do other things? Or would you, like a lot of us, drag these tasks out and waste time – making yourself feel busy?

My point is that it seems to be that the most productivity comes when you have limited time. This is why the flexible working model is such a success. It’s why people work in a more focused manner if on a deadline to get a lot done.

The problem with the typical 9-5

I see a lot of people who work in the typical 9-5, Monday to Friday. They have ingrained habits that they don’t even realise that impacts their productivity, general work/life balance and happiness at work. I feel there is a lot to be said about being seen to be sat at a desk all day rather than be judged on output.

Having a static environment can often breed lethargy and procrastination.  People often have an attitude that if they have to sit there until 5pm, they’ll drag it out as much as possible. This means that productivity levels are low.

Most productivity comes when you have limited time which is why the flexible working model is such a success. And it’s why people work in a more focussed manner if on a deadline to get a lot done.

Flexible working is on the rise

But I am pleased to see that there is a rise in flexible working which comes with it a desire to work smarter. This is why there is such a rise in apps and tools to help manage our time (see my recent LinkedIn post). There is also a need to tackle procrastination and set ourselves up to be our most productive selves.

Nearly all procrastination resides in fear; we are avoiding doing that thing because it frightens us in some way. This could be fear of failure, fear that it simply won’t work or be good enough. It can be a fear of what people might think or that we may get ridiculed or fear of our ability: can we actually do it?

I think we all can be guilty of procrastination at times and you know what, sometimes it’s fine and needed. We can’t all be ‘on’ 24/7. However, when chronic procrastinating sets in, this is when it needs addressing as it’s impacting our lives.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome procrastination and free up more of your precious time:

1.  Recognise when you’re procrastinating

A good exercise here is to write down what you’re doing and what you should be doing at allotted times. Did you really need to watch the whole box set? This can begin to help you understand why you’re putting things off.

Also write next to it what impact you not doing it will have on your life (e.g., I will miss my work deadline and get into trouble. Or I will have to stay up late now to finish this task and will be tired and stressed tomorrow.) Seeing things in black and white has a huge impact on us as it becomes obvious where we’re wasting our precious time.

2.  Give yourself a strategic task a day

Every morning I write my ‘three things I need to do today’ list and I try to stick to it (I sometimes only do two, granted – life can get in the way). Start with just one, e.g.: today I need to arrange that call with a new client. Make sure your ‘to do’ list is filled with activities which support your goals and not huge tasks which are too out of reach.

Make sure you tick it once done as that is so satisfying!

3.  Divide and conquer

If you have a large task to do that is just too daunting, break it up into chunks and tackle one at a time. Think about how strategic this work is and whether you should be focusing on it first thing in the morning when you’re most alert. Try not to set up large or complex tasks when your energy is dropping.

4.  Associate feelings with end goals

By this I mean that if you did a few laps around the park a few times a week, how would that feel? I bet you’d feel great and your confidence would rocket too. Try to dig deep and ask what’s really stopping you and make it easy for yourself. Set out your trainers at the end of the bed so you’re ready and raring to go in the morning. Taking out the decision making reduces procrastination so you’re more likely to complete these activities which support your goals.

5.  Set yourself a goal (and reward)

Make goals and update them often and associate a completed task with a reward. So, if you have a crazy week, set yourself a target to have all your work done by midday on Friday. Then treat yourself to a having Friday afternoon off! This gives you something to look forward to and work towards.

6.  Give yourself enough time

We all leave things to the last minute and that’s when the risk of things going massively wrong is at its highest. It’s when the printer runs out of ink, the car doesn’t start or the outfit we want to wear is at the bottom of the wash bin. Give yourself a break, write a list and plan tasks – you will be so much happier, have more time and feel in control. And if you’re not in control of your life, nobody else will be.


Emma Mills-Sheffield is a strategic business advisor and coach working with clients in London and Brighton. Having spent 15 years in industry she now helps businesses become more efficient and productive to get the best from their organisation. By reviewing business operations and investing in people, this encourages business growth with a more productive and happier workforce. In short, helping businesses get shi*t done.

In January 2020 she was named as one of 100 female entrepreneurs in the UK as part of the small business campaign f:Entrepreneur. The campaign including #ialso Top 100 is a collection of women who inspire their peers and communities through their businesses and wider activities.