Time well spent
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
I speak with a degree of confidence (and personal experience) when I say that the overwhelming majority of people, once given the opportunity to reflect, would admit that there is at least one aspect of their lives that they would like to be more efficient in. Some hints and tips regarding managing your time and increasing your productivity may prove to be useful; even if I don’t always manage to stick to them myself!
If you have an “anarchic” life where you are always late for everything or where you procrastinate over even the smallest of tasks, it can feel like an epic triumph every time you are on time (or even early!) or succeed in the completion of even the most minor of activities.
Some common objections to an orderly life that I hear from friends, clients and colleagues include “I’m a free spirit”, “My creativity will be stunted” “I’ll feel constrained or restricted” among many others.
Now, being disorganised and/or unproductive is OK (unless it happens to be making you feel unhappy or unfulfilled) when it’s just yourself who bears the brunt but when there are other factors in play; friends, family, work colleagues, employers, partners and children, for example, then it may be time to take a step back and consider that it may not be fair to inflict these behaviours on another human being.
So, with my preaching over 😊 the following are some tips that I have found to work for myself and my clients.
Divide your day into chunks
Stating the obvious, there is a finite amount of time in any one day. Of the 24 hours there are in a day, say you are asleep for 8 hours and commuting and working for 10. That leaves you with 6 hours to do everything else. It’s about being realistic about what you need to do, what you want to do and how long each of these things will take to do. If you plan to do things that will take more than this 6 hour “everything else” time, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Any items on your to-do list will be disregarded as you struggle to play catch up from the moment you wake up.
Try not to divide your day into chunks of urgency. Think hard about when you feel energetic, most creative, when you are able to carry out low thought, methodical tasks, etc Try to order and group the tasks you need to do accordingly and plan your day to match your mood. This may take some fine-tuning.
It’s a lot easier to say yes, if you know how to say no
If you don’t have at least a rough plan of what you should be doing and when, it is a lot harder to refuse things that may come your way. Come up with a phrase that works for you such as “I’m afraid I can’t do that right now, I’m working on x”. This is a very powerful mindset to have with the added benefits of demonstrating that you are someone who has a degree of control in their life and that you have the confidence to reply to requests that come your way quickly.
On the flip side of this, if you are clear on what you have planned for your time, it makes it a lot easier to be able to say yes when things come along that will benefit and/or interest you.
The concepts of time and space
One of the main barriers I have experienced with people who struggle with time management is in how they comprehend time. It’s often thought of as intangible leading to difficulties with quantifying and thus effectively managing it. It can be more useful to look at your available time as space instead.
Think of your day like your kitchen cupboards. The first thing you need to do (unfortunately) is to tidy them up; this may mean grouping related items together, throwing broken stuff away, making sure there is a degree of consistency in where you place items and (sharp intake of breath) getting rid of things that you haven’t used in a while or don’t have space for. I appreciate I might be stretching this metaphor a little bit and this all seems a bit abstract, so let’s start with organising a space. Make sure it’s one that you regularly use.
When I first did this, I started with the bag I take to work each day. Sunday evening came around and I took stock. Gym kit and laptop in the main bit, headphones and phone charger in one end pocket and shower stuff in the other. Everything else was removed. Nothing else needed to go in this bag for a normal working day. As long as I had these things I would be able to go about my working day in relative serenity and calm with nothing missing.
This proved to be a bit of a light bulb moment as I reflected that I had previously spent at least 15 minutes each morning searching for “something” I knew I needed; I now had those extra 15 minutes per day back. Research studies have found that the average person spends an hour a day looking for lost stuff. For the non-average person (~50% of us) it’s more than an hour. Think of what you could do with at least an additional hour a day!
Throwing stuff out does not equal organising your stuff
There will come a point when organising your bag, although a positive step in the right direction, will not lead to any greater benefit. This is the moment at which people become a little more resistant and afraid that the next stage is to throw lots of stuff away but is this is not the way to approach the problem; a better way to think about this is that it is very difficult (if not impossible) to 'de-junk' if you’re first not organised; you just don’t know if you have three copies of the same book and you don’t know which is the best of them and the one you want to keep.
Spend quality time with loved ones (but only in short bursts)
This may come across as mean-spirited, harsh and against expected wisdom, but it comes from many years of research into how much time the significant people in your life (partner, children, for example) need from you to allow them to feel cared for and assured. The answer is surprising (any may not be to everyone’s taste). Five to fifteen minute chunks of consistently focused attention are what gives the greater sense of comfort and wellbeing and not large chunks of unfocused erratic interactions.
There are several “checkpoints” that occur during a normal day - waking up in the morning, getting home from school or work, preparing the evening meal, getting ready for bed, etc – where you should be able to stop doing the other stuff and focus on them. Once this event has passed, then you can leave them alone to do what they want and you can get back to your own stuff. The relentless lingering over your loved ones, whilst at the same time trying to get on with other stuff, will inevitably result in irritation and a lack of focused beneficial interaction.
The importance of self-care
Try to find even 15-20 minutes, twice a day, for an activity that you want to do and enjoy – listen to a few of your favourite songs, have a cup of coffee whilst staring out of the window, reflect on a favourite holiday from years ago, whatever it may be. You will likely experience a positive, mood-enhancing feeling. This conscious decision to do something you enjoy because you want to and because you are in control of your own situation can do wonders for your wellbeing. This is in sharp contrast to previous feelings of wasting time because everything has got on top of you.
The road is long and (unfortunately) never-ending
There is every chance that you will follow the above hints (and some of your own) and you will see improvements reasonably quickly. It is also likely that you will manage to sustain these habits and enjoy the benefits they bring. Alas, this will not last because change is inevitable; people change, work changes, your priorities will change, your children and/or partner will change (along with their demands on your time). This is a continuous, iterative process which will see you making small, incremental tweaks to your time management “system”.
So, why bother?
If you have more time, more tranquillity and you are clearer on what is important to you, it is easier to be more engaged in life. A wise person once said that how we spend our time is how we spend our life.