The Myth of Time Management

The Myth of Time Management

So many of us talk about time management. Countless articles have been written and tools have been created to help us manage our time. There are time management gurus, tutorials and classes. Half of our working day is spent juggling our calendars in a never-ending attempt to “manage our time.”

But, what if we cannot manage time? Consider that this may just be a completely useless exercise. If you think about it, no matter what we do, time will always continue to tick forward. We cannot rewind it and we cannot fast forward it. It just is and just continues according to the plan – each second, every minute, the next hour and then into the next day.

That said, it should be obvious that time itself cannot be managed. I would propose that instead we rethink what we’re trying to “manage” and reorient our focus to the things that we can and do control:  our priorities, energy and attention.

PRIORITIES

Each day we all have more to do than we can handle. We know what needs to get done and we constantly make choices about what’s most important and what needs to be prioritized. Setting clear and deliberate priorities is the single most critical factor driving our productivity and future success. We can and do control how we spend our time even if we cannot control time itself.

ENERGY

We can also decide how to spend our energy. Energy is finite and to optimize output, it’s imperative that we focus our efforts and our energy on the most important priorities. This is harder to do than it seems these days due to the countless distractions that get in our way. So often, we expend more of our energy on the things that are seemingly urgent but not all that important.

ATTENTION

Focus seems to be a lost art especially for me. With countless dings, pings, alerts and notifications, it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one thing for an extended period. I personally struggle with this constantly. Research has shown that multi-tasking is not possible and simply does not work. To be most productive it behooves us to focus our full and complete attention on one task at a time. I have found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me since it forces me to focus for a set amount of time and reward myself with a break.

TRY THIS OUT: Do you spend a lot of time trying to manage your time? Does it work for you? Do you spend any time managing your priorities, energy and attention? If not, pick one and try to focus on it for a day or two. Do you find that you’re more productive?

The Time Paradox

The Time Paradox

We’ve all heard it and said it ourselves many times: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.” And, through my analysis over the past year, I have found that this is indeed the case. Not having enough time is not just a feeling, but an actual reality that we all face every day.

In my research on productivity, I consistently find that the most productive people don’t just work hard but they take care of themselves as well. So, I decided to experiment with my time each day to try to find the optimal use of every hour but, I haven’t been able to figure it out. Why not? Because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

It’s a basic and very simple math problem. Let’s start by looking at the two “big rocks” which basically account for two thirds of your day right off the bat.

  • 8 hours for a good night’s sleep
  • 8 hours at work

Next, let’s add in the necessary things that we just must do every day:

  • 5 hours to prepare and eat three meals
  • 1 hour to get ready
  • 1 hour to commute
  • 30 minutes for household activities

That leaves us with less than 4 hours to take care of everything else that we should be doing to be healthy and productive including the following:

  • 1 hour to exercise
  • 1 hour to spend with family
  • 1 hour to read
  • 30 minutes for mindfulness (meditation, yoga or journaling, etc.)

But now there’s no time left for the following fun activities which we would rather and often do spend our time doing including:

  • Watching TV
  • Checking Social Media
  • Entertaining
  • Shopping
  • Playing Games or Sports

So, to get it all done, we skimp on the amount of sleep we get, we avoid taking mental breaks and limit exercising to just a few times a week. To make time for the things we like to do, we neglect the things we should be doing simply because there are not enough hours in the day.

Here’s a visual breakdown of how we should ideally spend our time compared to how we end up spending our time:

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One of my favorite TV shows is “24” and each season they save the world in 24 hours because they don’t sleep, eat, rest, socialize or even go to the bathroom! How’s that for being productive?

TRY THIS OUT: For the next few days track how you spend each hour of your day. How does it compare to the ideal breakdown of time? What are you spending more time on than you should and what are you not doing that you need to find time to do? Are there ways to adjust your schedule to find that optimal balance?

The Three List Assessment

The Three List Assessment

The leaves are changing colors. Football is being played across the country. Signs of the upcoming holiday season are popping up everywhere and then you suddenly realize that there are only a few weeks left in the year. It’s the perfect time to assess progress against your personal resolutions and business performance goals.

What did you set out to do this year? How are you faring against those goals? Do you even remember them? At the end of the year, many employers ask you to assess your own performance as an input to year-end reviews which may impact bonuses or salary increases. Take the time NOW to see how you’ve done so far and what you can do over the next two months to make sure you hit all of your goals.

First, figure out where you stand against your goals. Then, use this easy exercise to make any needed adjustments: simply identify the top three things you should STOP, START or CONTINUE doing. Periodically I use this three list methodology to assess progress against an individual deliverable, team project or a personal goal.

STOP

Start here because this is the hardest but most critical piece. Think about which activities take up a lot of time but are not helping you achieve your goals. Consider time spent in meetings, writing reports, responding to emails or time spent with a particularly needy colleague. You will quickly realize many of these can be eliminated, delayed or delegated. Pick three of these that you can stop doing without impacting your goals.

START

With the time you have just freed up, what three things can you start doing that will help you achieve your goals. Did you resolve to exercise more, try skipping a meeting a week and get outside and walk during that time. Instead of responding to every email, is there some research or other deep work that you can focus on doing instead? Come up with three solid tasks that will get you closer to achieving your goals and prioritize them over everything else for the next two months.

CONTINUE

What have you been doing that has been successful in helping you achieve your goals. Make sure you identify three productive activities and keep doing them. Being aware of these will help you to continue to make time and prioritize these activities. You may even think of ways to increase or improve these tasks.

TRY THIS OUT: How have you done achieving your resolutions or goals?  If you’ve been keeping a Done list, this will be easy to assess. Once you understand the gap and know what is left to do, schedule an hour this week to create your STOP, START and CONTINUE LISTS. Once you have created these lists, make sure you adjust your calendar to eliminate the things you are going to STOP and schedule in the ones you are going to START.

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

We all struggle with prioritizing the big and important things in life and making time and finding the focus to tackle them. For several years, when I was working in the corporate world, I printed this out and hung it up in my office.

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It often caught people’s attention and got us started on substantive conversations about their work, identifying priorities, choosing how to manage time and about focusing on the big rocks versus the little rocks.

When faced with a big long list of tasks, most of us naturally gravitate to the quick and easy ones first. And, why not? Finishing off a few things quickly makes you feel good and accomplished in the short term, but is this the right approach for the long term?

You might recall Steven Covey’s story about life’s bucket and if you fill it first with sand, then gravel, you will run out of space for the bigger rocks. However, if you start with the big rocks first, followed by the gravel and finally the sand, there will be plenty of room for it all since the smaller items will fill in the gaps in between the bigger ones.

Seems to make sense in the physical world but how do we apply this to our real life tasks? How do we make sure we are putting the big rocks first when it’s so easy to get side-tracked by the gravel and sand? Nowadays it’s more difficult than ever with so many constant dings, pings, notifications and alerts all constantly clamoring for our attention.

Simply start by prioritizing your daily top three tasks, or BIG ROCKS, for each day. You don’t have to prioritize the little things; they will just naturally fall into place. You don’t need to put eat lunch or check email or go to the bathroom on your list of priorities because you will naturally make the time to take care of those things. It’s the big, important and hard things you need to identify and then find dedicated time to focus on getting done.

TRY THIS OUT: First, evaluate what you are spending your time on? What are the big rocks that you need to tackle? How much time are you currently dedicating to the big rocks versus the little rocks? How can you adjust your schedule or your priorities to make time for the big rocks?