There's no such thing as time management. You can't manage time as it is not scaleable. It can't be expanded, only how you use it can.
Time hacks are useful when they provide ideas that help us figure out how to be more productive. This means considering our relationship with time, tackling some root causes of our time thieves and finding what are called 'multipliers'. A multiplier leverages your effort (a good example of a multiplier is team work).
1. Understand time
You don’t need more time in your day, you need to make more use of the time you have. Three things to do:
- Set limits
- Set goals
- Tackle barriers
You can’t increase or decrease, speed or slow time. We all get 24 hours in a day, no more, no less. What you need to do is pay attention to managing yourself carefully, putting your effort and focus to the best possible use. People often talk of 'spending time'. “Time is money” is a common phrase; and just notice how most of the words used commonly about time are money orientated – we talk of buying, losing, making, saving, spending and wasting time. Making the most of your time means making an effort to plan, organise, review, rearrange, sort and think. Spend your time on actually doing things that achieve goals you have set, not 'being busy.'
You need to set limits because no one can fulfill all the demands on them plus have a full life/work balance and when you don't, then everyone will just keep making demands of you, invading your time and physical and mental space. Setting limits is not about saying no, rather it's being realistic about what you can and can’t do. Without any limits, we end up over stretched.
Limit your availability. Don’t stop everything whenever an email floats into view, the phone rings or someone walks in. These interruptions aren’t necessarily more important or urgent than what you’re being asked and do what is enabling you to meet a goal. You don’t have to have a reason for not reacting immediately. Say you'll get back to someone. Say when you are free and when you are not. Limiting availability prevents you stopping constantly to deal with interruptions.
Limit the time spent on a task. Some things take more time than is reasonable and so you end up doing a lot of work for little results (the 80/20 rule says we spend approximately 80% of our time doing work that produces only 20% of the result). Set sensible limits on how long you will spend on something. If it takes longer, evaluate whether you really need to finish it, considering what else you have to do.
Limit priorities. I have heard people say to me that when they ask their manager what is a priority, the answer is "everything". This is rubbish! Everything isn’t important and everything can’t have equal priority. Check how important something is when you receive work instead and get a specific answer. Spend your time on the most important work first.
FOMO? Limit your involvement. Saying "yes" and getting involved shows commitment and perhaps you do need to be involved - or perhaps it's more being kept in the communication loop. You have good intentions but consider where you can limit your involvement to what affects what you should be using your time on. Being involved feeds our sense of belonging, of feeling important but it's also about FOMO (fear of missing out). Curb your enthusiasm!
Do what is good enough, not perfect. For most things we do, there is an acceptable standard, and if there isn’t we mentally set one. Are you setting sensible ones or are you going for artificially high standards and putting pressure on yourself? These take a lot of time to achieve, often for little or no reward. Do things well enough.
Limit your sense of urgency. Not everything needs doing today, but often we over emphasise a task’s urgency, like its level of importance. We feel we must do things now and that they can’t wait – think of it as a hurry sickness. It only leaves us rushed to deal with the really urgent matters.
Set goals (NOT TASKS)
Set specific goals. Be precise. Give dates, times, amounts, numbers, rather than woolly goals. If you don’t, you can’t tell progress and check achievement, e.g. 'reduce cigarette smoking to 8 a day', not 'cut down on smoking'.
Set realistic goals. Base them on what you want to achieve, not other peoples’ expectations.
Stretch. Don’t make your goals too easy – stretch yourself! Have well formed outcomes.
Keep them manageable. Break goals down into small ones so that you can achieve them and see what you have to do next.
Write them down. Once you have decided on your goals, write them down. Seeing things 'checked off' as you achieve them gives you a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to do more.
Tackle the barriers
A big mental barrier is believing that other people and circumstances control our time. This is partly true but there is a lot which you can do to keep control of your own time. Try not to be manipulated by people/events. Saying 'no' is not the same as refusing to do something. Learn to say no.
"Procrastination is the thief of time. And so are a lot of other big words". Mark Twain
Delays and postponements are part of life, but procrastination is deliberately putting off things which you ought to be doing and because distraction in the now is more interesting. Things won’t disappear if you ignore them. Eventually you will end up with too much to do in one day. Do things now. Have a bigger game plan. Break things down into bite size pieces. Do the big thing first. Ask for help.
Key strategy: plan the time to plan. Here's a rule of thumb:
- Half an hour per day
- One hour per week
- Half a day per month
- One day per quarter
- 2 to 3 days per year
2. Get help and support
Time is something people say more and more that they have less of as the world of work and the workplace changes rapidly and exhaustingly. Not feeling we have enough time is often linked to experiencing stress and if not tackled, can lead to 'overwhelm'. And then you will have to stop, because it has stopped you!
Your employer has responsibilities to help you cope if aspects of your job have become stressful. This should include access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as well as learning opportunities to help you cope better.
Your manager is also responsible for stress management and helping you make the most of your time is a practical way they can support you in your job. Talking and getting help and support is a good use of time.
Photo from Unsplash by Heather Zabrinski