Time management. One of the basic skills you are required to master when moving up the ladder to management positions and in fact in any professional role at all. There are hundreds of books written on the topic (only on Amazon when searching time management you get more than 100.000 references), and there are countless leadership programs and seminars focused on time management you can attend. And yet, you cannot manage time. Time flows and there is nothing you can do about it.
What you can manage are your priorities and your attention. Each of us gets allocated 24 hours of time a day and it is just up to you to figure out how to use it in a way that helps you achieve your goals. And by that I don’t mean just spending 20 hours a day in the office getting 100 tasks done. What I’m talking about is to spend time doing things that help you reach your life goals based on the value system you have. It might be getting the project done on time, getting a promotion, building a house, raising your children or traveling the world.
So if you are a person who is constantly overloaded and never have time to do all the things you want to, there are couple of things to consider.
Don’t manage time, manage priorities
Stop blaming lack of time for not being able to deal with everything on your plate. Learn to prioritize and learn to live with the fact that there are some things you will simply not do. There are tons of tips and tricks on how to set priorities. My favorite one is the concept of 4D as shown on the picture below. You can use this as a guideline for prioritizing your own work. The idea is to focus on things that are important to you and your goals. It may sound a bit selfish but that is the way to ensure that you are the one managing your priorities and you don’t let others to do it for you.
See the things in quadrant four? Ignore them! Learn to live with the fact that something will not be done and that it is completely fine not to do it. One trick that I used on numerous occasions with my team was to ask team members who felt overloaded to write down all the things they do ordered by priority and draw a line to indicate what they are able to manage. Everything below the line won’t be done. I would go through the list with them, agree on priorities and acknowledge that there are things that get postponed or canceled at all. That way I helped the team member to understand priorities and removed the stress that they will not manage all the things on the list.
Manage your attention
Priorities are nice, but most of us understand the priorities and still not get things done. Why? You need to learn to manage your attention. In today’s world with abundance of information, interactions, and tons of distractions it is increasingly difficult to stay focused. Find a system that will help you focus on what is important. Each of us is different so there is no such thing as best practice, but consider these questions
- Do you really need to be on email/skype/phone 24 hours a day? What is the worst thing that would happen if you switched it off for a while?
- Do you really need to know about every single thing that is happening in the world? What would happen if you switched of the internet for couple of hours and didn’t constantly look for news or tweets?
- Do you really need to say “yes” to any request you get? What is the worst thing that could happen if you said “no”?
- Do you really need to multitask and do ten things at the same time? What would happen if you started doing them in series rather than in parallel?
My favorite question to ask myself, and often get depressed by the answer is: “What did I achieve today / this week / this month?” Not what did I do, but what did I achieve. If you find yourself being constantly busy but not achieving anything that matters you need to stop right now and reevaluate your tasks, priorities and indeed your life.
Lack of time is just a mindset
Edward T. Hall came up with concept of monochronic versus polychronic societies. The monochronic time concept is derived from “one thing at a time” paradigm and the polychronic from idea of “multiple tasks at the same time”. The implications he raises lead to different views of time. In the polychronic culture interpersonal relationships are much more important than time. Things will still get done, but in their own time. In the Western world time is a rare commodity that is continuously running out. “Time is money” and “Time is wasted.” However, there are cultures where time is abundant and people don’t concern themselves with “not having the time” to do stuff.
Think about it! There are people and in fact whole cultures who live similar lives to your, do similar work, still have just 24 hours a day available and yet, they feel like having plenty of time. The implication is that in a culture where time is limited being late for a meeting is a big no-no. In other cultures it is a way of life, people are fine waiting or coming another day. There is nothing right or wrong with each of the ways, they are just different. Though I had to admit for someone who grew up in central Europe where time is limited it drives me sometimes crazy to adapt to living in the Philippines where apparently time is abundant.
What does it all mean? It is only up to you if you want to create a mindset that will allow you to have all the time in the world, spend your attention on things that have priority for you, and feel good about not doing bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be done anyway.
Twitter type summary: “It is your choice to get a mindset that allows you to have all the time in the world and spend your attention on things important to you.”
What about you? Do you manage time or time manages you? How do you ensure you focus your attention on the right things?