“Time management” is such a mind-less expression. Do you think we can actually manage time; the clock keeps ticking no matter what we do. There is only self-management. How we spend every minute is our choice, and all of these choices add up to become our life. That’s quite a scary thought. Even now that you are reading this article, these 5-10 minutes will unknowingly become a part of your life.
Sometimes we are totally free to make a choice. We think to ourselves, “ I have a free half hour, should I go for a run, read my book or watch TV?” Often we are not totally free to make a choice, but it is still our choice. We tell ourselves, “I need to support my family and I choose to be at work by 8am” or “I would like to play cricket with my friends, but I choose to spend the time at my relative’s birthday party.” Some-times our freedom to make a choice is taken away, like when bad weather prevents us from having a day on the beach and we choose to use that time differently.
There are 8,760 hours in a year. Most of us use about 2,550 of these sleeping, another 920 bathing, dressing and eating and 370 of these hours travelling to and from work. That leaves us with 4,926 hours a year. The question is: how well do you prepare for and plan the 1,960 normal working hours? And, what choices do you make with the rest? If you do the arithmetic, you’ll see that you still have to choose what to do with 2,966 hours per year and that’s a third of your life!
So your life is the sum of all your decisions about how to spend your time.
When we say that someone has a full life that really means the person is making choices to do many different things with his time. When we say that my life is boring, we are really saying that I have made the choice to do the same things over and over again. What is it that causes us to make these choices and why do some of us seem to be better at using our precious hours than others?
Two major factors distinguish the good time users from the rest.
The first is that effective people define themselves. They have thought deeply about who they are, what they want to accomplish and what roles are most important in their lives. When faced with a choice of what to do with their time, the decision becomes easy. Having defined themselves as a parent, they rearrange their schedule to attend their child’s school play. Having defined themselves as a healthy person, they exercise regularly. Having defined themselves as a spouse, they schedule time for communication and activities that renew the relationship.
Unfortunately, when it comes to defining ourselves within our work life we can easily fall into a trap. Our work is very important. It provides our livelihood, it gives us a sense of purpose and we can find meaning and satisfaction in developing our skills and using our talents. We take our work seriously because we value the opportunities it affords us and we have an obligation to do what we are paid for. We also give our best and do more than is expected in the hope that our contribution will result in improved remuneration and career prospects. This is where the trap lies. It has become fashionable to boast about how hard we work and to use work as an excuse for us “not having enough time” to devote to other equally important parts of our life.
The reality is, however, that our success as businesspeople will be determined by how effective we are and not by how many hours we work. Our results (outputs) matter much more than the hours we work (inputs). Generally, no management is impressed with workaholics, but they are impressed by results and accomplishment. Of course there are times when we simply have to work long hours, but if this continues for too long we have to question our efficiency.
This leads to the second factor that all good time users understand. To be efficient you have to plan your day. All of us can think of something we need to do urgently in our working lives. But planning will help us to distinguish between the urgent and the important. And the undisputed truth of work life is that the more we focus on the important things, the less urgent things will take up our time. Dealing with customer or client queries requires us to be urgent. But unless we tackle the important task of fixing the cause of the queries, they will continue to waste our time.
Giving a decision to one of our direct reports may be sufficiently urgent for it to disrupt our day. The way to prevent this is to undertake the important task of teaching that person to make the decision themselves. The urgent report takes less time if we invest in the important task of learning to type.
So the next time you feel you are overburdened with work and you know that the problem for this is your time management, ask yourself two simple questions: have you defined yourself clearly? and do you plan the use of your time?
Your answers to both will determine whether you are on top of your job, whether you and your spouse can enjoy some time alone together this weekend. ITS YOUR CHOICE.