BEING ON TIME FOR work or an important meeting with a client or friend is something that is valuable. not only shows respect for someone’s time but also helps you organise your day so that you have enough time to complete your tasks and feel a sense of achievement. And living in the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg means that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the demands of professional and personal life, and, therefore, learning how to manage time becomes essential.
Below are some life hacks and apps that I have started to use to help me maximise my time and get the most out of the day.
GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP: To get up on time for work or meetings, it’s important to get enough sleep the night before in order to wake up refreshed and ready to start the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the appropriate hours of sleep one should get each night is an average between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep per night. Maintaining good sleep regularly helps with your circadian rhythm, which is basically your internal body clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Off-course with the modern lifestyles that we lead, with high-stress levels and so much to do, the circadian rhythm can be disrupted, causing you to feel tired and less attentive. I started out, as an experiment for 28 days, to get into bed at the same time every day, ensuring that I sleep for 7.5 hours. At the end of the experiment, I found that my body naturally felt tired around the same time every night and I naturally woke up, without the help of an alarm, just after 7 hours of sleep. I felt more refreshed and ready to take on the day. Avoiding caffeine (tea and coffee) before bedtime and spending time on my phone to quickly browse through social media and my emails also helped with turning in for the night. Exercising also helped me in regulating my sleeping patterns, and also helped me better manage stress and anxiety. I’d definitely advise healthy sleeping patterns as a way to get back into being on top of your game.
LET YOUR BODY WORK WITH YOUR ALARM CLOCK: Along the way, with all the demands of work, school and, of course, the vibrant city life that Johannesburg has to offer, I derailed in my goal to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night. This resulted in stress and fatigue, and I relied on my alarm to help me get up on time to start the day. I took all opportunities to tap the snooze button, which makes fatigue even worse. According to scientists, the snooze button is your worst enemy as your body needs some time to get you ready to wake up, so when you hit the snooze button, it resettles back to sleep, leaving you with sleep inertia when it goes off again. The best alarm is your circadian rhythm, but every now and again, I do need some help in getting started on the day. Alarmy is a great app to use for Android and iOS. The app’s alarm only stops ringing once you’ve taken a photo that matches one you’ve already registered. You’ll be awake by the time you’ve located the designated object and framed it correctly. But be warned – don’t use it if you’re truly exhausted, and the frustration of having to walk and take a picture evokes feelings of wanting to bash your phone. Rather, take a day off to sleep and recuperate.
CHOOSE WHAT TO WEAR THE NIGHT BEFORE: Have you ever found yourself wasting a good 15 to 30 minutes deciding on what to wear? I used to do this every single morning, much to my frustration and time wasted. Being a professional in Johannesburg requires that you not only talk the talk but also look the part so that you present the best version of yourself. To minimise the amount of time I waste in the morning trying to figure out what to wear, I started to put my outfits together the night before. This took off 20 minutes every morning from the time it took to get ready for the day. Another hack that I found useful was to design a work uniform for myself, comprising of black tailored trousers, a white shirt, and a pair of black or nudecoloured heels or pumps. I got this idea
from professionals like Mark Zuckerberg, who wear the same outfit to work every day. The thinking behind this is that you rather use your willpower to make important decisions instead of wasting it on smaller decisions that you can get out of the way through proper planning. If you need some ideas to spark your professional fashion sense, Pinterest is a great site and app to use. You can search professional wardrobe ideas for both men and women as well as for all seasons.
BEAT THE TRAFFIC: Traffic in Johannesburg, like in most African cities such as Lagos, Nairobi and Cairo, is a nightmare. A 20-minute trip can take close to two hours, meaning that if you need to be in the office by 8:30 am, you should leave home at 6 am. Also, being stuck in a traffic jam first thing in the morning and on your way home after work is stressful. According to various studies, traffic causes major headaches for motorists, including road rage, as congestion results in frustration among motorists and high expenditure on fuel. To try and minimise stress associated with driving in traffic, I’ve started using services like Uber to get around the city during the week. That way, I’m able to get started on the day on my way to work by going through my emails and rest while on my way home. If I must drive, using Google Maps to check congested routes and find alternative ones, helps to navigate my way through the city. The app is also available in Kenya and Nigeria. Sometimes, alternative routes are difficult to find, which simply means I must brace myself for a traffic jam. The only way I can work around this is to leave home early, at 6 am, which is usually before traffic picks up, and get home after 7 pm, when during the off-peak time for traffic.
PREPARE FOR MEETINGS: Being a professional in Johannesburg means that I attend lots of meetings during the workday. The only downside to meetings is that they take up lots of time from doing actual work. This requires that I try my best to keep meetings within their time frame so that they are useful, and so that everyone can get back to work as soon as possible. A great hack to use is to arrive at least 15 minutes before the meeting to give yourself time to prepare. Activities for preparation include going through the agenda, setting up projectors, and ensuring refreshments are available. Although there are great apps that help with agenda-setting and minute-taking, I find that the best preparation comes from proactively sending the agenda to participants or requesting it from the person who set the meeting up ahead of time. This helps to get everyone on the same page and minimises time wasted to get everyone on board.
USE A TIMER FOR TASKS: Going through the workday isn’t complete without distractions from everywhere. It’s easy to lose track of the task you’re busy with if colleagues ask for help with small tasks or calls that come in. I find that I get easily distracted, resulting in requiring additional time to complete tasks. A good hack that I use is that I block out time for each task on my calendar. That way, my colleagues can see when I’m available, and I’m able to keep myself accountable for each task that I need to complete during the day. I’m also easily distracted as my mind wanders off as I’m busy on a task. An enjoyable hack that will help with concentration is listening to nature sounds and music. According to various studies, playing music can enhance your efficiency, allow you to be more present, and can cause your brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter often referred to as the brain’s pleasure chemical, which can improve your mood. A great genre of music to play is classical music to help with focusing on a task, but playing your favourite kind of music, preferably with no lyrics as those can be distracting, works just as well. Studies have also shown that focusing on a task for 52 minutes and taking a break for 17 minutes is the most efficient way to work. I’ve started to use the 52/17 rule, which is helpful in making sure that I focus on tasks and take adequate breaks to make coffee or take a quick walk outside to rest.
HAVE A TO-DO LIST: Not only has the 52/17 time rule helped me with being productive and punctual, but having a to-do list is just as helpful. It helps me to map out my day so that I know what to focus on as well as to prioritise tasks in order of importance. The quick pace of Johannesburg means that it’s easy to lose track of things that need to be done in the day, and this can affect your work/life balance. Having a to-do list helps me feel more efficient as I get important things done during the day, making me feel like I’ve succeeded in working towards my goals. I mainly use Google Calendar, as it has my meetings for the day, and I can populate tasks that need to be completed, as well as set a timer for tasks and breaks. Another great app to use is Google Keep, which includes virtual sticky notes where you can add images, text notes, and lists. Individual lists and notes can be shared with other Google users for easy collaboration on small projects.
SET UP REMINDERS: With having an efficient to-do list on my Google Calendar, I can easily set up reminders for tasks or meetings. This helps me to keep track of each task so that I’m on the ball with what needs to be done. Something which is equally as important to add in is lunch time and gym time. I find that it helps to take an hour away from my desk to either have lunch with my colleagues and unwind or go to the gym to get fit and reduce my stress levels.
HAVING A TO-DO LIST HELPS ME FEEL MORE EFFICIENT AS I GET IMPORTANT THINGS DONE DURING THE DAY, MAKING ME FEEL LIKE I’VE SUCCEEDED
UNWIND FROM ELECTRONICS: In a forever-moving city like Johannesburg where information comes in from all angles, I find that it is helpful to take a break from electronics. This helps me take some downtime from the world with all its business and stresses, and to reconnect with loved ones and have a life outside of work. Being off email and social media at a specific time during the evening, usually when I get home, allows me time to relax and to focus on other things such as reading a novel or spending time with loved ones. Doing this helps me feel more refreshed the next day, allowing me to be punctual.
ENJOY YOUR DOWNTIME: Life gets busy at times with back-to-back meetings, deadlines and juggling career and family life. According to various studies, the best way to be punctual and productive is to achieve a healthy work/life balance, which includes getting adequate sleep, exercising as often as possible, and taking frequent vacations. After a few bouts of exhaustion, I found out the hard way, of course, as it sometimes is the case with millennial professionals, that my energy is a finite resource that needs to be replenished often. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is have a to-do list and work diligently to achieve my set daily tasks and to have some downtime.
MONITOR YOUR STRESS LEVELS: With Johannesburg being a fast-paced city, it’s easy to fall into the trap of stress. Stress can cause problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and social withdrawal. This is why I decided to prioritise a healthy lifestyle through having a good work/life balance. Also, a great app to use to monitor stress and receive tools on how best to deal with it is Stress Check. The app, which was developed by psychologists, provides an overall stress score that describes your current level of stress. You can also purchase tools such as yoga exercises to help with reducing stress. Overall, being punctual goes back to realising that living in a city as vibrant with activities and opportunities, as Johannesburg does come with stress if a healthy lifestyle is not maintained. To operate at my optimal best to make sure that I successfully seise the opportunities and fun that the city has to offer, I make an effort to plan my day and lead a healthy lifestyle proactively. With the above hacks and apps, you too may find yourself being more punctual and healthier.