Time.. we love to talk about it don’t we?
“I don’t have time”, “I had the time of my life”, “How long will it take?”, “I want to make the most of every moment”, “I feel as if I am running out of time…”.
If I asked you to decide whether you would say time was ‘on your side’ or ‘against you’, which would you choose?
Whichever you choose, it is the reasons for your answer that are the most revealing.
I have met many people over the years for whom the concept of time was changed exponentially as the result of an event, a near death experience or the loss of someone close to them. Those conversations always give me pause for thought because without that catalyst most of us continue to treat time as something we have control over and yet we choose to spend it on all the wrong things!
Okay, so we don’t actually have control over time itself, seconds, minutes and hours will continue to pass and we can’t change that. Neither do most of us know how long we have in our time bank, or for how long we will have the physical and mental capacity to make the most of it.
Have you seen the film ‘In Time’
As Wikipedia puts it:
In Time is a 2011 American dystopian science fiction action thriller film written, directed, and produced by Andrew Niccol and starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy that takes place in a society where people stop ageing at 25 and each has a clock on their arm that counts down how long they have to live. The film was released on October 28, 2011.
Knowing how much time you have, and seeing how quickly it gets used up would certainly bring the way we use it into much sharper focus. So why don’t we start to change the way we think about it NOW and spend it on the things that really matter.
Some simple facts about time and how you manage it:
· There is no magic pill to ‘fix’ your time management issues
· It is your time and your decision how you spend it
· You cannot make time – there is a finite amount each day
· It is precious – once lost you cannot get it back.
· Even great Time Managers revisit their habits because we all get a little complacent sometimes
· Once you are aware of how you spend your time, you can control, change and modify your behaviour
· If tackling your time management seems overwhelming, take small steps, one thing at a time!
Here is a simple small step by small step guide to giving the way you spend your time a thorough health check and a spring clean:
1. Create a Time Log
Create a simple time log, something like this:
Keep your time log for at least a couple of days if you can. When you have enough average days logged, take a look at the log and make a note of the following:
· What time did you get started on your top priority task?
· What patterns do you see?
· What part of the day was most/least productive?
· What were your 3 biggest time wasters?
· What went well/not so well
2. Analyse your progress towards your goals
Are you spending your time on ‘progress’ tasks, or simply maintaining the status quo?
In other words:
If you did a time log for a couple of days and you looked at where you are spending your time, are you spending more of it:
Doing those little jobs that keep things ticking over (maintenance tasks), such as:
· Dealing with non business generating emails
· Updating your calendar
· Tidying your desk
· Buying ‘stuff you need’ and ‘stuff you want’
· Cruising Linked In for potential contacts!
· Surfing the web for ‘inspiration’
· Travelling to/from work and meetings etc
· Procrastinating (having a chat, writing lists, shuffling paper … etc.!)
Doing things which are making progress towards the achievement of your goals (progress tasks), such as:
· Learning new skills
· Having productive conversations
· Making contacts and connections
· Developing relationships
· Creating new products
· Advertising and marketing
· Delivering results for your customers/clients
We should be spending 80% of our time on ‘Progress’ tasks and 20% on ‘Maintenance’ but it’s often the other way around!
Once you are aware of the way you have been spending your time you will start to make much more conscious decisions about how you are going to spend it going forward.
3. Plan & Organise
Whether you work for yourself or for others:
· Do you have a structure to your week?
· A start and finish time?
· A number of days that you work?
· A list of things to do with priorities and deadlines?
· A Plan!?
Get into the habit of making to do lists and prioritising the things you need to do.
Making and revising your list at the end of your day will help you to feel as if you can forget about work when you go home.. for a start you will have a new fresh list and can see how many things you have ticked off. Secondly it will be waiting for you when you get back to your desk the next day and you can get straight to it!
4. Manage Procrastination
Mark Twain famously talked about procrastination by using the analogy of swallowing frogs.
His advice was this:
“If you have to swallow a frog, swallow it whole, if you have to swallow two frogs, swallow the biggest one first!”
In other words, get the horrible jobs (that sales call, that complaining customer, doing your tax bill..!) out of the way as soon as you can, the rest of the day will be a breeze..!
When you have a lot to do and it seems like too much, break things right down into bite sized chunks and then trick yourself by telling yourself that you will just do this bit and then take a break. Chances are once you get stuck into the task you will carry on until it is done. Getting started is 90% of the battle.
Think about ways to reward yourself when you do a great job and/or when you achieve your goals.
5. Get creative!
Think about other ways of getting things done. For example:
· Learning as you drive. Audiobooks are a fantastic way of learning as you travel from place to place.
· Making and taking calls as you sit in traffic or are driving (safely of course)
· Using your time on the train to deal with your emails or create your presentation slides instead of playing Candy Crush!
· Solve problems as you walk the dog/cat/guinea pig?
It has been proven that our ‘down time’ is also our most creative thinking time, so set that problem aside for now and get on with your progress tasks, let your mind tackle the problem when you are away from the source and thinking more clearly.
6. Manage interruptions and distractions!
There is a difference. An interruption is forced upon you, a distraction is usually something you have allowed, in some cases even welcomed..!
Here’s how to tackle them:
· Let people know when you do not want to be disturbed! Be polite but firm. Put a sign on your door and let people know when you will be free to speak to them again.
· When someone does interrupt by loitering at your desk, stand up, it creates a sense of urgency and they will get to the point more quickly.
· Don’t have a spare chair by your work space – then they can’t make themselves comfy.
· Say ‘no’ assertively, or if that makes you uncomfortable then say ‘not yet’, ‘not now’, ‘let me check my schedule’
· Allow time! (average 2 hours per day) for interruptions
· Always remember that customers are never interruptions
· Initiate contact ‘Can I call you back?’
· Again, if you know this is something that is going to happen, allow time in your schedule.
· Use your ‘down time’ – the time you established with your time log is the time when you are less able to concentrate, less productive.
· Plug in..! Stick your ear phones in your ears and listen to something which will not distract you but will keep external noise out.
· Relocate – is there somewhere you can take yourself to get away from it all? If you work at home, is there a coffee shop or a hotel you can go to for a couple of hours?
· WFH – if you work in an office and there is peace and quiet at home, can you do some of your work there?
· Again – use ‘Do not Disturb’ so that your distractions are reduced.
In real life….
In my world my biggest issue is procrastination. I get bored very quickly so if there’s something I don’t much enjoy I will avoid getting started for as long as I can.
My solution is to give myself small step goals towards a bigger goal. A quick win is much more likely to motivate me than the long game.
For example, I am writing a book. The process of writing a WHOLE book seemed like too much for me, so I decided I would just write write the title and the summary. Then I decided I would just write the introduction. Then the first chapter.. you get the idea. Some days I tap away for hours and get much more done than I set out to. On other occasions I will only do what I set out to do. Either way, progress is now being made!
Give it a try – the time it takes to do these things will pay you back in more time than it takes you will save more time in the long run than you spend doing it!
Best of luck, let me know how you get on.