There is no such thing as time management. Think about it. You cannot manage time. Time does not change. It does not speed up nor does it slow down. In spite of that, I can almost guarantee that there was at least one time in your life when you were convinced that it had. When you are engaging in exciting activities on the holiday of your dreams and the time just seemed like it flew by. Or alternatively you were engaged in some activity that you really did not want to have to do and it seemed like it was taking forever.
Well, I don’t really know how to tell you this but sadly, the issue is not with time. The issue is with you. As it is with me. As it is with any of us who hope to be able to find a way each day to get done the things which are on our to-do list. I fully understand that. I am motivated and excited by the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you can tick an item off of your list. Yes! One done. However, what I have learnt to do is rather than worrying about time and my perception of its inconstant speed, I had to start focusing on me. I had to start figuring out a way to manage me.
If any of us hope to succeed at getting things done we need to focus not on cramming everything into our poor to-do list until it is extra long and we are overwhelmed just looking at it. Instead we need to become more specific, more focused. We need to be deliberate about what we give our energy to. On any given day, you know the reality is that at most you can really only commit to getting one thing on your list done. And you know that things are going to come up that were unplanned. So why are you always so surprised and upset when they do?
I would recommend instead that you start planning the tasks that you want to get accomplished over a week rather than a day. Be realistic about how much time it is going to take to get something done. Also where possible break larger tasks into segments and list out the segments so that you can tick off each one as you complete it. That way you can feel like you are making progress.
In your plan include time for interruptions and unexpected meetings. You know they are coming. You just don’t know when. So leave enough space in your day to get them in. This therefore should allow you to be more precise with your deadlines. Do not promise something in a time frame that you cannot deliver given what you have planned and the interruptions that are going to come up. This helps you to reduce that feeling of stress that you are not going to make it.
Also stop stressing about the things that are not on your list to get done today. If you are scheduled to do something on Wednesday you should not be worrying about it on Monday. Let each day’s worry be enough for that day. But write it down. We all know that a mind is a terrible place to store important information and it also becomes even more stressful when you are constantly worrying that you will forget something that is important.
Your planning system can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be. But I suggest that you look around and get one that will be interesting and easy for you to use and to maintain. I use the reminders list on my phone. That way it is always handy and I can write down anything that pops into my mind and I don’t have to worry about remembering it. Before that I used to use a small notebook and a pen that I carried everywhere. Simplicity works best for me.
Now as you are trying to better manage you, I ask that you be gentle with yourself. Relax. You got this. Please remember to take a break. Your mind needs to focus on something else sometimes just so you can get the energy to be creative and tackle what needs to be done. I have to play rock music when I am really trying to be creative. That’s just how my brain works.
To really get the most out of this approach to getting things done, you need to focus on managing your energy. You therefore need to know yourself well enough to know when your energy is highest and what it takes to help you feel re-energized. So you may be tempted to respond to all your emails first thing in the morning but if you know that this is your most energized time period, I suggest that you use some of that time to tackle some of your big tasks. You might not be able to complete it but you could be pleasantly surprised at what you could accomplish in 30 minutes of truly focused effort.
Last point and this is a big one. It is not up to you to save or carry the whole world. You therefore cannot do everything. Learn to say no, or not now or I know the perfect person who could help you with that and pass it on. I understand that you don’t want to leave people hanging but sometimes just listening for a minute or two and then asking some variation of what would you suggest or what were you thinking about doing, can take the pressure off of you and inspire the creativity in someone else.
So, if we really want to be able to get things done, we need to be better at managing ourselves, our energy and our ability to engage in focused and concentrated effort. Leave time alone. It can take care of itself. You need to take care of you.
Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados.