There’s no such think as time management. Time marches on whatever we choose to do with it. The only thing we can manage is ourselves.
My list of un-listened to podcasts used to stress me out. I used to be one of those people who would always finish a book, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. I have never walked out of a bad movie, and I have to admit I do like to be up to date with all my favourite podcasts. And every week when lots of new podcasts appeared in my “up next” list I would get a little jumpy! Not to mention the podcasts that I’ve only found recently and that I’d love to go and listen to the back catalogue. Where on earth was I going to find the time?!
The reality is, there are always going to be more things to do than we have time to do them. It doesn’t matter how efficient we are, how productive we are, how many time management courses we go on, how early we get up or whether we’ve nailed our 5am miracle morning. No matter how much we squeeze into a day, there will always be more that we could be doing.
Realising this has been a revelation. That there is no point stressing about “finishing” my to-do list – because there will always be more to do. It’s never going to be finished.
What are your non-negotiables?
More recently, rather than focussing on time management, I’ve been focussing on my non-negotiables. The things that I know make my days better. The ones that make me feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Some examples of my non-negotiables are my yoga and meditation practice. Whatever else I’ve got on, I will make sure I’m up early enough to create space for that. I know that when I spend 30 minutes in the morning doing yoga and meditating, my days feel much more productive, and I have more energy.
Another non-negotiable is walking my dog. I can kill 2 birds with one stone here by multi-tasking. Often, I’ll take calls while out walking, listen to podcasts or audio books. And in fact, I’m out walking along the River Dee right now using the transcription software otter.ai to write this article!
A long to-do list can feel so overwhelming. More recently I’ve started getting clear on my three big things for the day and just focussing on them. Having spent some time at the end of last year getting clarity on my aspirations for 2022, I know my big ticket items that I want to make sure I’m focussing my time on. Each day I ask myself “What’s the next small action that will make that goal a reality” and bingo – I have my three most significant tasks for the day.
The Focus Funnel
How can you figure out your most significant tasks? I’ve been using the process from “Procrastinate on Purpose” by Rory Vaden. I’ve spoken briefly about it before, but here’s a little more. He has created the concept of the focus funnel, which leads us through 5 permissions to determine if we are focussed on the thing that is the next most significant use of our time.
Get things off your todo list
- Eliminate – permission to ignore. What are the things that you can just say no to? This might not come easily if you are a people pleaser. If that’s you look out for my upcoming article on saying no with compassion.
- Automate – permission to invest. Consider the cost of your own time. Would it make sense to invest (e.g. in software or automating regular processes)? Figure out your hourly rate (whether you are employed or working for yourself) and ask yourself how quickly an investment would pay back.
- Delegate – permission of imperfect. Delegating well is an art. Whether that’s within an organisation to your team, or outsourcing a service when you’re self-employed. Many of us don’t do it because we are attached to something being done the way we would do it. Ask yourself if that really matters. Work out the value of your own time. And then ask yourself if this is something someone else could do.
Your next most significant thing
These first three choices effectively take everything off our to-do list that we don’t need to be doing. The next two help us decide what we need to be focussed on write now.
- Procrastinate – permission of incomplete. There is an ideal time to complete a task. If we do something too soon, then circumstances might change. For example, I typically know that I will be running a workshop about three months in advance. If I create the session plan then, and a month before the session the client calls me and says “actually, we’ve got sone feedback and we want to change the focus of the session” then all that work is obsolete. If we leave it to the last minute then we are often rushed, stressed and perhaps don’t to as good a job as we could. For every task on your list ask yourself when the optimum time for completion is. The latest point you can complete this task to the desired standard without compromise because you’ve left it too late. You might find by the time you get there, that one of the first three choices now apply and you can take it off your list.
- Concentrate – permission to protect. These are your next most significant tasks. The ones that need focus right now. The key here is to make yourself “indistractable”. Block out the time in your diary for these. Turn off your notifications. Switch on your do not disturb. You’d be surprised by how productive you are when you remove all the other distractions. A recent study showed that office workers switch focus on average every three minutes (for college students it’s every 65 seconds). And every time we switch focus our brain has to start from scratch again to catch up with where we left off (see this great article by Johann Hari for more on this). Protect your time for your next most significant tasks.
There’s no such thing as time management
Remember there is no such thing as “time management”. Time will march on at the same speed no matter how effective or ineffective we are. The only thing we can really manage is ourselves. I’d love to hear some of your strategies for getting the most out of each day.
If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out my post on finding balance as a leader.