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The Time of Your Life

Posted by tom
Published on 21 January 2020

managing time

Admit to yourself that there is enough time to do what you want or need to do - you just probably don’t know how to get the most out of it.

Time is finite. We all have 24 hours a day and seven days a week to achieve our goals whatever they are. However, it seems like some people have lots of free time and others never have ‘enough hours in the day’. If you’re constantly struggling to find the time to get things done, you probably need a little more discipline in your life, some more management of time.

Like the majority of people, you probably procrastinate, even if not always. Most people do just that - particularly with tasks that are seemingly time-consuming, painful or difficult. You convince yourself that there's just not enough time in the day to do what you need to do, but tomorrow you promise yourself (and others) to get it done. When tomorrow turns into today, the same thought takes over again and, eventually, it becomes a last-minute rush and you find yourself wishing for more time. Then panic sets in with a rush and the result is that you blame someone or something. Rarely yourself.  You mostly blame time. Which is pointless of course. The thing is, you more than likely had sufficient time but not enough discipline to make use of it.

Some would advise that we should stop waiting for tomorrow if possible. Even if you can't finish something today, you can still get started. Start breaking down your tasks and goals into smaller, more manageable steps that you know you can accomplish each day.

If you’re constantly wishing that you had more time, but are not taking advantage of a) talking to your boss/colleagues, b) taking advantage of (mostly free) online tools if they work for you or c) getting involved in some form of training, then you're missing out. If there is no in-house c) then ask if you can go on a good time-management course. However, and this a big thing, no matter what tools you adopt, the tools can’t make time-management work. Only you can do that.

One of the easiest ways to improve your time management is to start off the day in the right frame of mind. A morning routine can be tough to establish, especially if each morning is different,  but this is important because it’s easy to find that what we wanted and planned to do is totally derailed by emails, messages, phone calls, your boss wanting to see you or colleagues needing to chat - all demanding immediate chunks of your time. And that’s key. Your time is not always your own, but much of it is. Manage the time that is your own. Most or at least some emails, calls, meetings and so on can often be put to one side until you agree to engage with those things. Prioritising is essential in time’s management, which is your management.

It’s strange isn’t it how there's never enough time for some people to do everything, but there's always time for them to see that new movie, go for a drink with friends or shop? That's just human nature. We make time for the fun things because they’re fun. However, we can't really therefore justify saying we don't have enough time. Of course, we all need to make time to relax and wind down (although some people regard that as wasting time), but a proper balance will give you better results and will actually make you feel better. And, incidentally, many subscribe to the view that wasting time is a mindset to which you don’t need to subscribe. If you watch TV, you watch TV because you want to. If you watch TV, but should be writing an urgent report, well then that’s poor use of your time and you may be letting yourself and others down.

Disorganisation can really eat into the time you have available throughout the day. And here’s an obvious statement: this problem can be eliminated by getting more organised. Before you laugh because it’s an obvious statement, think about it. Think about being organised and planning ahead. Know where you’re going and where you’ve been. In other words, know what you need to do or must do and what you’ve completed or must complete and by when. Sort out your emails and get the inbox empty. File emails that you need to keep and discard others. Tell people that bcc’ing you is a waste of time. Hang your keys in the same place. Make lists on your phone, but ensure that you wipe each one away once the item is done. And so on.

One huge problem of managing time is that of being obliged to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Again, this suits some people, but creates havoc with others. A little multitasking here and there is fine. However, when you decide that the best way to get everything done is to attack it all at once, you're going to run into all kinds of problems. First, your focus is divided between considering several tasks at the same time and that will mean each job is only getting a fraction of the attention it deserves. More than that, each job possibly requires different sets of skills which you may have of course, but it’s not always easy transferring attention and skills from one to another. You may therefore need to be in a different mindset to do each job.

Mix-ups and mistakes also often happen when you're juggling a whole range of projects, plus you can feel so overwhelmed that, in the end, none of the jobs get completed; or if they do, they're half-baked. That’s common. And the excuse? ‘I didn’t have enough time.’

So, the rule of thumb has to be that we should only take on what we can manage successfully and have the discipline to finish those tasks before attempting any more certainly at the same time. That may well mean that your discipline extends to saying to colleagues or even your boss that your plate is full for the time being. Not always easy of course that’s for sure. But they should hopefully realise that the whole idea of someone else piling on things for you to do - or for you to take on too much - is that mistakes are almost guaranteed to occur and that outputs will be below par. That defeats any objective and that’s wasted time.

When people rush, they inevitably make mistakes that have the exact opposite impact of what they set out to do. But, to some people just ticking off the task boxes equals ‘job done’ when of course that’s anything but true. While it may seem like going faster will get tasks done faster, that approach will probably just create problems for you. So, take a breath, slow down and work at a steady and manageable pace which you can sustain. That doesn’t mean being lazy or irresponsible. It means what it says, completing good work and sustaining the pace in which you can do it, provided that the pace is acceptable.

People who are on top of everything know exactly what they want to achieve. So, they say. Usually, their goals are written down and planned out, weeks or months in advance. Not only that, but every goal is crystal clear. Well, many people love the planning stage of doing something and often plan to their heart’s content and don’t like the doing part and therefore put off the start of the doing part thereby leaving themselves too little time to deliver what is required. Others like the planning and then delegate the doing but don’t allow for the fact that those to whom the delegation is made may have too little time to succeed.

Forward planning of how we spend time or ask others to spend time is fraught because so many things in life will impinge on that time – meetings that we couldn’t foresee, changes to staff which require project alterations which you couldn’t foresee, activities in the organisation which require your attention that you also couldn’t foresee, organisational change (which is of course a constant) and so on. There are myriad issues that can derail planning and if we’re not ready for it time allocation suddenly becomes not our own to use. Any planning of time has to have a ‘what if’ consideration built in.

Recently I had to clear out a garage – a dull, dirty task on the horizon that I’d kept putting off. I set out some goals and dates:

  • Day one, go through all old paperwork in the garage, shred, file and throw away. Focus on the latter.
  • Day two, isolate items to donate.
  • Day three, choose items to sell.

And so on. Breaking the goal into clear steps with deadlines makes the process easier. Still not fun necessarily, but certainly easier – and, importantly, more easily achievable. I had four days available. If I’d only had one day, then I would have had to change and limit my objectives and would have planned the tasks differently. I would then have had to establish what could have been achieved in one day.

Often of course, as with planning time, too much of it may be spent on decision-making. If that’s the case, then the doing part will be affected, of course. Again, the solution is simple. Get into the habit of making decisions more quickly. Yes, some issues are problematic and others are difficult in the extreme, but overthinking can be damaging and a waste of time. Get advice, sure. Get help certainly, but make decisions within a reasonable and acceptable time period to make time for you and probably others to get it done.

Always identify what is both pressing and important, as opposed to focusing on something that can wait. Eliminate distractions. Only say yes to time requests that serve a purpose (if you can). If you can, choose to be part of an organised productive team or discuss your project delivery and its time limitations or targets. If you keep finding (time and time again) that time is hard to allocate to tasks – and, if those tasks are hard to deliver because of time allocation to them, then maybe it’s time to discuss the matter again with your boss or team leader and, if that comes to nothing, it’s time maybe to look beyond your current job.

Many people hide the fact that time is too short for anything.  Be honest with everyone including yourself about your progress on a task, even if that puts you in an invidious position.  It’s not bad at all to confess to having insufficient time to deliver something provided of course if what you’re saying is reasonable and true. But don’t wait until the day or hour before the task is due for completion.

It's a truth that, when you properly manage your time, you can alleviate stress. Just make sure that managing your time doesn't add to your stress. Some people follow a simple rule of: capture, clarify, organise, reflect and engage in everything they have to do. Their view is: agree what the task is, ensure that you are crystal about what you have to do, understand how you’ll complete the task, ensure that you have everything you need, think about the task and get on with it. Easy to say of course, but not actually that hard to adopt as a philosophy.

Philosophy is all well but what about the practical? A good course of action to begin with is to track your time for a couple of weeks. You can do this by jotting down your daily activities and calculating how long each will (and then does) take and see if you’re being realistic. By having a more accurate idea of how you’re spending your days, you can better dedicate the right amount of time to specific activities.

There is something to be said that slower is better. Although too slow obviously isn’t. Large companies, like Google for example, welcome employees working not only in shorter bursts but slower and, they believe, better. It’s not a hideaway approach either and seems to work well. The idea of Aesop’s Fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ can apply to time-management; slow and steady sometimes wins the race. As mentioned earlier, there’s a misconception that if you get as much work done as quickly as possible, you’ll be more effective and productive. Such a notion can only work if it truly works. Don’t kid yourself. The other factor here is that doing more than you can manage to do will find yourself burning yourself out. Even machines need to be shut down and rebooted occasionally.

Another angle is to set boundaries - when it’s time to work and when it’s not. Keep to those rules. Only help others when you have the availability - if that’s possible where you work and often it is more than you may think. Accept meetings when they have a specific purpose that affects you and, if you already have plans, don’t try to commit to something else in addition to what’s already on your plate or in your calendar. Be realistic.

Be realistic when it comes to underestimating the time it takes to do one task, while overestimating another. That can cause us to not be able to finish either. This can cause conflict if one colleague’s task depends on your completion of another. If that first task isn’t completed on time, it could leave all ensuing tasks at a complete standstill, delaying the schedules of one or more co-workers. Guilt, blame, jealousies, feelings of unfairness all begin to have an effect, mostly bad.

And then there’s the issue of long-term conflict caused by the management of time not working properly or at all. Poor time-management skills are a psychological cause of stress that directly affects people’s mental and physical well-being, which can lead to other conflicts for individuals within the workplace, such as depression, negativity and loss of productivity. Employees with poor time-management skills - and that includes missing (agreed) deadlines set by the individual or others - might not be able to balance their personal life with a work schedule. That can result in not only failed deadlines but late arrival at work on a regular basis, what appears to be laziness, unproductive or negative behaviour and an overall sense of having given up.  The inability to manage task delivery (if it’s nothing to do with skill or job abilities) should be considered with as much importance to health as stress is regarded. In fact, the latter can be caused by the former.

The problem then is that, once we’re in that state of heightened anxiety, where our heads are beginning to spin and we can’t remember which day of the week we’ve made it to, it becomes more difficult to sit down and formulate a clear plan for our time. We have to remember that it is our time or most of it is and we can change our management of our time even a little bit to help make us feel more in control.

None of us want to feel out of control. And where we perceive that we’re lacking in control, we become stressed and short-tempered. We may start to resent others because we feel as though they’re doing better than we are.  We may resent work and colleagues because the pile of tasks being heaped on us for which we don’t have the time, is increasing.  People get angry. We do. Others do.

Anger (our own and that of others targeted at us) has all sorts of unpleasant effects on our physical and mental wellbeing, including digestive issues, headaches, sleeplessness, skin conditions and, most seriously, cardiac trouble. Of course, these things aren’t going to crop up overnight, but prolonged periods of anger will begin to chip away at our health, so one small way that we can reduce our risk of falling victim to ill-health is by taking better charge of the time we can manage. This sounds a little melodramatic perhaps, but the world in which we all live is governed by calendars, dates, times and commitments to each: bills to be paid, trains and flights to be caught, memberships to renew, insurance to settle, children to collect, meetings to have, tasks to be started or finished at work, at  home and all the parts in-between.

It’s the cause that needs to be treated, not the symptom. Maybe for you, for all of us, it’s time to think about our time and time to do something about our time and how we use it.

If you're striving for personal growth in your career, book yourself onto the 2-day Personal Development course from the College of Public Speaking London for just £950 + VAT. Take control of your life today!

 

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