A colleague once told me there’s “a special place in hell” for people who don’t return emails. Yes, it’s frustrating, particularly when projects are held up. It’s easy to see these people as blockers, but it may well be they are actually managing their time much more effectively than you……
Modern wisdom would have us believe that our time management has a direct impact on our personal and professional success.
People who know their priorities and have the discipline to work their way down their to-do list from top to bottom definitely seem to win the day. But for us mere mortals, it often seems impossible to juggle all of our commitments at once.
How to get your priorities as a priority on others’ to-do list is a blog for another day. Today I want to ask how well you are managing your time? Do you know which aspects of your life should be an absolute priority? And offer five tips on how to make your time work for you.
The time bomb that always ticks
In her Walt Street Journal article, “Are you as busy as you think?” Laura Vanderkam reminds us that although we all think we’re very busy, we spend long stretches of time lost on the Internet or puttering around the house, unsure exactly what we are doing.
As Vanderkam says, “We all have the same 168 hours per week, but since time passes whether we acknowledge it or not, we seldom think through exactly how we’re spending our hours.”
Are you a priority?
We all make time for what we feel is important in our lives – but have you critically thought through what is REALLY important in your life? That’s our priorities become clear and we can more deftly make decisions about the use of our time.
Being blessed with three businesses, two children, an amazing bunch of friends and a husband who constantly travels the world, one of the skills I pride myself on has been my ability to manage time. I may rarely “be on time” (a glaring and embarrassing fault)….but I do manage to “make the most of my time”.
How? Because I plan just about everything (including doing nothing!) down to the day and almost a year in advance. I don’t always get it right, but feel confident enough to share with you four pieces of advice.
1. Make time to plan your time
It sounds like double dutch, but we need to make time to plan our time. There are so many people who don’t actually invest the time to think through how they want to spend their time. Once you now your priorities, it becomes easier to allocate how much time you want to devote to work, rest and play. My husband and I literally have face to face formal meetings and teleconferences during work hours to co-ordinate and plan our time well in advance.
2. Map your plan on a page
Now this is very nerdy…but over the years we’ve perfected an A3 colour coded six-month calendar. Our friends and colleagues laugh at us, but it’s the best method we know to get a high level overview of how we are going to spend our time whether it’s business commitments, travel, school holidays or social plans. Most importantly, this allows us to identify when things are just “too crazy” and where we have to say no and change what we had originally planned to make sure we don’t push our family to breaking point.
3. Record it all into one place
Your diary is your friend, not your foe, when it comes to freeing up time. Once again it sounds basic but having all of your commitments in one place, ideally electronically, saves a lot of discussion, confusion and potential marital disagreements! For some people it works to have every single commitment in Microsoft Outlook, with all the details for each event included. It is a one-stop shop – school holidays, children’s sporting commitments, parties, as well as all the business stuff all in one spot. This can help to identify potential clashes immediately and makes it clear to everyone who is doing what, when.
4. Plan to do nothing
The only real luxury in life is time. You can’t get time back.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you have to make sure you include “doing nothing” in your schedule.
Many years ago a friend gave me some priceless advice on how to decline an invitation: “Tell them you have plans. If your plan is to do nothing, then that’s your plan. You’re busy, you can’t go.”
Having “plans” to do nothing doesn’t mean catching up with friends, hitting the gym, doing a cooking class or going shopping. It means literally doing nothing. No commitments, no appointments, the freedom, if you choose, to absolutely do nothing.
5. Allow for some flexibility
I speculated at the beginning of this article that the elusive person who doesn’t return your emails may actually be managing their time more effectively than you. It’s possible that they’ve made a plan, they’re going to stick to it and they’re not going to let your request, however urgent, de-rail their day. Flexibility is of course vital – there are some issues (and people) that you simply can’t afford to ignore – but better time-management will grant you a level of flexibility that you otherwise would never have.
One thing I learnt early on in my time management journey, was that by scheduling everything, even my social life, down to the last minute, I was still left with the feeling that I had no free time. It’s important to have a lot of days in the year where you have the luxury of waking up and saying “what will I do today?”. There’s real freedom in that, which takes the stress away. Career and life resilience is about building in, and enforcing, some circuit breakers to help you cope when life becomes overloaded with the inevitable unexpected, unanticipated events.