“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs: founder Apple Inc.
It’s a no brainer that people who attained a certain level of excellence in their area of pursuit made it possible because of their ability to use their 24 hours in the most effective way, each day.
Managing oneself in the given time is one of the first and foremost effort that one needs to put in to unleash ones potential towards a purpose/goal to make their life successful.
In my discussion with several people across organizations and levels ranging from middle management to top leadership, time management has been a constant challenge, despite them making sincere effort with various time management tools available.
The reason for failing time management strategies is not that those tools are ineffective. Most of the tools are quite effective. It’s the way we approach time management often times leads to its failures. Below, I am capturing some of the approach challenges that are most predominant and sharing my thoughts on how to address them based on things that have worked with me and people I work with.
- Challenge 1: Approaching time management as a personal pursuit vs a social pursuit: The moment we have to plan for our time, a lot of us start by writing down our goal(s), things we want to do, things we want to achieve so on and so forth and often times we discount the realities of our life situations e.g. family situation, social obligations, personal health, randomness in the type of work in organization etc. This happens also because often times we define our success based on what is acceptable in the society and not what really success means to us. Without knowing our life situation and what success means to us, when we approach time management, it naturally fails as our conditions and situations drive our activities more than our planned time management process.
What can be done?
- Assess what is success for you. Often times we are pursuing a borrowed definition of success e.g. since so and so has this, I must have it too. Does your definition of success means a big bungalow with a chauffeur driven car or you and your family are good with a decent car and a decent flat with more time with each other. Defining your success will give a realistic assessment of how you want to spend your time and what all things you can stop pursuing. This will also lead to a much joyful life than a life of constant stress.
- Realistically assess life situations by making a list of time that is really in your control vs that is dependent on others. Make a weekly chart of activity, with rough estimate of time they take and categorize them “In my control” if you get to plan for them and “Dependent” if it’s dependent on others. Then start by planning for only managing that chunk of time first which is in your control slowly moving towards other things which require longer and sustained effort. This will lead you to curtail voluntary distractions first.
- Installing rituals is a way of making sustained effort just for the sake of doing it without looking for any immediate gain from that. Once we see a certain activity as a ritual, we are free from the results of that tasks and it becomes easy for us to adopt that in our daily routine.
- Challenge 2: Approaching time management tactically i.e. managing/shuffling priorities using to-do lists and not strategically: Time management is not just about listing down your to-dos and prioritizing using urgent-important matrix, scheduling and then following it. This approach will fail in the very first week most of the time. The reason is that most of the time we succumb to our automatic responses to a situation, sometimes to our habits and sometimes to our environments resistance leading to failure in time management. Process of time management is about personal transformation and it is not just a tactical process.Transformation that entails installing new habits and rituals, giving up some old habits, changing patterns of sleeping, fitness regimes, consuming knowledge and information, communication patterns etc. If I want to increase my family time on daily basis, I may have to change some patterns of my life and those changes may not happen in a day’s time. It requires a sustained effort which is transformative.
What can be done?
- Acknowledge that the time management will take sustained effort to succeed. Just by acknowledgment, we are tuning our brain to not look for instant results and that relieves us from the performance pressure in time management pursuit.
- Plan to fail in your time management efforts instead of planning to succeed. E.g. If you want to carve time for family on daily basis, to begin with plan to fail in this effort for more than 50% of times. i.e. you do this activity only on 3 days out of 7. This leads us to keep trying and success comes in the form of more attempts that eventually leads to habit building.
- Cheat instead of giving up: In case you planned for a certain activity in your week e.g. 30 mins of daily walk and for some reasons today it’s just impossible to find time to walk for 30 mins. In such a situation, reduce the time to 10 mins or 5 mins but still make it a point to do that activity. This way, your mind still registers a success instead of a complete failure and keeps you on track. Multiple failures leads some of us to a psychological phenomenon called “learned helpless” where we stop attempting if we have not been able to see a success in a particular activity. This technique does not let the “learned helplessness” develop
- Postpone instead of cancelling – in worst of the cases if you have no way out to continue a certain activity on a particular day or in a particular week, postpone it to later day instead of cancelling it again not letting “Learned helplessness” to happen.
- Challenge 3: Approaching time management as managing “chunks of time” vs combination of “time, energy & focus”: Most of the times, we plan our day by estimating time that is required to do a task and put it on calendar based on urgency of delivering it and importance of it to be completed within a time frame. However, we are not always able to achieve it because some of the tasks demand high focus and high energy state, while others may just require us to do something as a routine task. If we plan our tasks based on time, energy and focus required for it, then the chances of being productive and better at management of time increase manifold.
What to do?
- Identify your high energy time frames in a day. We all have energy cycles that we are tuned to and knowing those energy cycles helps us to plan our most important tasks more judiciously. Exercising and regular timely breaks are also an important part of rejuvenating energies.
- Identify triggers that puts us in negative state of mind and then plan to avoid them on your most busy days. Negative states of mind leads us to negative energy state and overrides our high energy times of the day. Identifying the triggers that may put us in negative emotional state will lead to eat up our most productive hours of the day.
- Consciously develop the faculty of focus by allocating time for meditation and other focus developing activities.
With our unique situations, purpose and pursuit a one size fits all solution doesn’t work most of the time and hence using the right approach, creating ones own framework for managing self in the given time could deliver much more success.
I sincerely hope you found these ideas useful in some ways. In my consecutive blogs I will focus on some of the above points and discuss them in more detail and depth and try to share some frameworks we have created. Until then, do share your thoughts on things that have worked with you in your time management pursuit which can enrich lives of others. I thank you for your time you spent reading this blog post.