A few months ago, I was speaking at an event for women entrepreneurs and the topic they wanted to learn most about was time management. Whether you work for a company or run your own, I think this is a topic that resonates with most of us because time is something we never seem to have enough of!
The Truth About Time
One of the most important distinctions I can offer you about time management is that it is…impossible. No matter who you are, or where you are in the world, we get the same amount of time in the day – only 24 hours. We do not have control over time.
The clock continues to tick whether we are active, or inactive. Whether we are productive, or not. So really, in that sense we are all equals.
If that’s the case, how come some people seem to achieve so much more and with so much ease?
Well, it’s because they understand that the real issue is not around time-management, but around self-management. Because really, we can only control ourselves.
Isn’t it a lot more powerful to think of it this way? We are powerless to control time, but we have all the power we need to take responsibility for managing ourselves around time.
Are You Busy Or Are You Productive?
We tend to assume the only way to get more time is to speed up. Let’s be honest, next week I want you to walk around your office, with your cellphone in your ear, holding a stack of papers and start running. People will think, “wow, she is really busy!” That’s our perception and it’s almost like a badge of honor we wear, to be “busy”.
Unfortunately speeding up can actually slow us down, as anyone who has rushed out of the house only to realize their keys, wallet or important office papers get left behind on the kitchen table.
It’s not just our efficiency that’s reduced. The quality of experience suffers too. Have you ever eaten an entire meal without tasting any of it? Read a book without remembering a word? Hurrying up doesn’t give us less time, it can also drain the pleasure and benefit from the time we do have.
The only way to do more, is to actually do less. You have to believe that:
- Doing something unimportant well, doesn’t make it important
- Taking a long time to do something, doesn’t make it important
In a previous blogpost, 10 Ways To Say No Without Feeling Guilty, I wrote about how to say NO so that you’re not over-burdened and over-committed and have more free time to do the things you really want to do.
Planning is Key
To further manage time and increase your productivity at the office, I suggest starting your day by planning first and asking yourself these questions:
- What are the most critical things to accomplish today? You should never have more than 2-3 big things to accomplish in a day, and these should be the activities that will really move your goals forward. Try to do these first thing in the day, when you’ll have the most energy and before interruptions set you off course.
- If you could only work 2 hours a day, how would you do it? Have you ever noticed when you’re on a deadline you manage to do it somehow and are intensely focused? You don’t tolerate interruptions, go on Facebook or waste any time getting things done. Bring this focus into your daily routine and watch your free time grow – just don’t be tempted to add more to-do in the extra time you free up!
- What are you avoiding doing? When you avoid something it’s draining your energy always thinking about it. Find a way to do it, delegate it, or dump it (decide whether you really need to do it at all).
Mono-Task, Don’t Multi-Task
Once you have a plan on what your priorities are, it’s time to get to work. If you’re a mom, you are a natural multi-tasker – how many of us have made dinner while helping children with their homework and carrying on a conversation with our husbands at the same time?
However at work, multi-tasking may not be the best way to get things done. Tim Ferriss in the book The 4-Hour Work Week talks about a set-up time for all tasks, whether large or small in scale. Just think of printing as an example. Whether the printer runs a batch of 1000 business cards or 100, the set-up time is the same. That’s why they give discounts on large volume orders.
There’s a momentum that’s gained in doing a task repetitively and when you are interrupted by a phone call for example, while writing a report or other more intense tasks – there’s a psychological switching of gears that can take up to 45 minutes to reset.
The solution is to “batch” or group the same task (cold calls, reporting, client meetings) and do it once a week instead of five times a week, for example, to gain that momentum. Make sure and enroll others in your team so they know to minimize interruptions when you’re on a roll.
Check out my previous post on Time Blocking.
Stop Complaining And Take Action
Instead, use that obsessive energy to start ‘doing’ things. You’ll often find that when you start to take ACTION on something – anything – that feeling of helplessness lessens.
Of course, you can choose to complete your project in one go, just remember to take a few minutes break here and there. That way you focus on your end goal without overtaxing yourself mentally and physically.
Another variation is to work on a task until you achieve a specific output – laying out two pages of your product catalog, finishing the week’s expense report, or contacting 10 potential customers.
Don’t worry too much about finishing projects so you don’t get overwhelmed. Focus instead on giving undivided attention to each and every step.
Time Well Spent
There are many other time management techniques out there, as this issue has been around…well, since the beginning of time! While having ‘enough’ time may be an unreachable goal for most of us – what may be worth seeking in the end, is satisfaction with time, or even better, spending time on activities and with people that delight and bring us joy.
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
- William Penn*This article first appeared in my column for Working Mom Magazine
Image from Crestock Stock Photo
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies.
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