Time Management: Running—but getting nowhere fast?

14 May 2018

Written by Jennie Bayliss

Time is making fools of us again—J K Rowling

We think of time management as a business term—but it equally applies to our everyday lives too.

Perhaps it has always been so, but over the last few decades there has been an ever-increasing expectation of what we have to achieve in an ever-shorter period of time. Human creativity and ingenuity has brought about new technology and solutions designed to save time; but whilst they may do a job in less time, the time ‘saved’ isn’t given to us in the form of more leisure time—instead we are asked (directly or indirectly) to do more than we used to do.

We are so, so, SO very busy at work and home. There is very little time to just think, to be still, and to have a sense of inner peace. Demand on our time is likely to increase in years to come: not decrease, so improving time-management skills is important with our desires and needs to achieve more. We need to find ways of claiming back time for ourselves, because our health will not withstand this ever-increasing demand to do-do-do when we so desperately need some time just to be.

Time management skills – focus on what is important

In Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he asks people to to identify what is important in life and work by categorising it as:

  • Important AND Urgent
  • Important BUT Not Urgent
  • Not Important BUT Urgent
  • Neither Important Nor Urgent

Our natural instinct is to deal with things that are urgent instead of focusing on the things that are important. And we are also easily distracted into pleasurable activities that are neither important nor urgent. Here are a few examples:

Important AND Urgent:

Crying baby, crisis, medical emergencies, deadline projects, commitments, making and taking some calls, writing and replying to some emails.

Important NOT Urgent:

Exercise, nurturing relationships (both at home and at work), family time, friendships, planning (work and at home), holidays, looking at new opportunities and having fun.

Urgent NOT Important:

Interruptions, distractions, taking and making some calls, many ‘pressing’ matters, and some business/life meetings.

Neither Important nor Urgent:

Social media activities, watching mindless TV, writing and replying to some calls and emails, escapism activities and gossip.

When you are considering your TO DO list, highlight the things that are really important to you and focus on these. Then manage those things that are urgent and try to avoid the time wasters as much as possible. This process will make you more effective and give you back some valuable time.

The Master List

I have been using my Master List time-management tool for many years. It helps me stay sane when life gets hectic! It works like this.

Take a pen and paper (yes, even if you do everything else on your computer/laptop/tablet or mobile phone—still do this by hand) and under the title of MASTER LIST (or give it your own name: as long as it’s not called a TO DO LIST) write down everything that is in your head to do, today, tomorrow, next week, next month and even further ahead if it’s in your mind. DO NOT try to rationalise it, organise it, or separate out work and private stuff. Simply write everything down. You might fill several sheets of paper. This is cool. Notice that even the act of writing it down makes you feel slightly more in control. Mark the ones that are important to you in some way (high-lighter pen, asterisk, red circle). Keep your MASTER LIST on your desk or on your fridge, or anywhere you can easily see it and access it regularly. Add to it any new ideas as they pop-up into your mind.

Now on a daily basis, review your MASTER LIST and decide what you are going to achieve today. Now create a separate TO DO list—on paper or electronically. Only put things on this list that you can actually complete by the end of the day. In this way you will get a great feeling of satisfaction of completing everything on your TO DO list on a daily basis.

After about 6 weeks or so, your MASTER LIST will have become tatty, with new things added and many things crossed off. After this amount of time, I find it’s time to start this process again. Isn’t this a good reason to have it in an electronic format? No. There is something quite different that goes on when you write by hand, as you reach a different place within yourself. And, if you were updating your list electronically, it’s easy to just let things ‘sit’ on your list for months or even years. Doing it by hand means you have to think about everything you rewrite. When I write a new MASTER LIST and there is still an item that has already been on several MASTER LISTS before, I have to question why it’s still there. Is this an ego entry on my list? Is there a fear about doing/completing this thing? Is it me being somewhat pathetic about it? How would I feel if I didn’t add it to my new list? These questions alone help me focus on what is really important to me, and makes me manage my time more effectively.

Are you allowing others to steal your time?

Does your boss ask you to do more work than is possible than the hours you’re contracted to do? Do you, because you are a conscientious, kind-hearted soul, stay on for another half-and-hour or an hour to finish your work? Does this perhaps make you feel important, but actually it isn’t important to your own life? Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a ‘jobs-worth’ mean-spirited mentality: sometimes we all need to do a little more to help one another, BUT this should not mean doing unpaid overtime everyday.

Are you the one who always organises and plans your family and social events? Do they rely on you to do this, letting you spend hours of your time on these events without them helping you?

Finding a balance between being helpful and kind and having your own time is tricky, but if you allow everyone else to take up your time, you will be the one who is time short and stressed because of your lack of time.

How to slow down to speed up

It is paradoxical that we can actually do more in less time if we remember to slow down. There is a lot of wisdom in the old saying: ‘More Haste, Less Speed’. When we run around, physically and metaphorically, we are likely to miss the blindingly obvious and are far more prone to focus on the parts of the job that are urgent rather than what is really important. In a ‘hamster-on-a-wheel’ state, more errors are likely to occur and the putting them right takes more time. So, if time is running away with you in this fashion, stop. Go for a 10-minute walk: you will surprised the difference this makes. Try a few deep belly breaths to calm your racing mind. Drink some water: your brain functions better when you are fully hydrated.

What can you give-up doing?

My grandparents didn’t have as many choices as I have today. They couldn’t drive a hundred miles at the weekend just to see friends or family for the day, or make a video, or a photo album and share it with friends on Facebook, or answer 50 emails in amongst your regular work, or take their children to 5 or 6 different after-school activities a week, or even choose from over 100 TV shows to watch. My grandparent’s lives were not necessarily better, but they were definitely simpler. Just because we can do all of these things, doesn’t mean we have to do them—no matter what the media, family or friends lead you to believe. You can step off the hamster wheel and simplify your life. What makes you happy? What would life be like if you stopped doing a few of the things you don’t really like doing? Some of the manic activities in your life may not be easy to change, but SOME things are definitely within your control. Drop a few things and get more time back into your life. Notice how it feels when you have more time.

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