I always chuckle a little to myself when a client asks for a workshop on Time Management, You know, there really is no such thing as time management. We can’t manage time.
Each one of us gets the same 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds in a day. You can’t save up time from today to be used tomorrow or borrow from next week for today. Time is external to us – we have no control over it. It ticks away, a second at a time, and when it is past, can never be reclaimed.
How we choose to use that time, however, is very much within our control. Time is a precious resource and one we must use wisely. While we can’t manage time, we can manage ourselves in how we use our time. Time management is a misnomer – it is actually self management we seek.
Time Management Best Practices
There are many books and articles on the art of time management. However, those desperately seeking better time management skills usually don’t have the time to read them! The Cliff Notes version, the absolute best of best practices I know, are contained in just three deceptively simple steps:
1. Recognize the difference between urgent and important.
We often respond first to the people or tasks that make the most noise, those things that are urgent because they are most proximate (in our face). The phone rings – we answer it. Someone approaches our desk – we leave the task at hand to respond to their request, regardless of its importance.
I once saw a small sign posted next to the librarian’s desk at a university which said, “Lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Don’t you wish your cube came with a sign like this?!!
Too often we allow urgent things to take such precedence that we have little time, if any, left to focus on truly important things. Things like coaching a high performing employee, spending time creating a strategic map of your career, or even ensuring all your files are in order so information is easily accessible.
Know the difference between urgent and important – and choose important whenever possible.
2. Recognize the difference between good and best.
Choosing between good and bad is easy. None of us have to think very long to decide to spend our day either a) robbing a bank or b) going to work. It’s choosing between good and best that is often difficult. Whether to get the project adequately out before the deadline or taking a little extra time in perfecting details to present a really great product.
“Don’t get caught up in the thick of thin things,” is solid advice from one time management expert.
3. Act accordingly.
Take the time to make deliberate choices as to how you will spend your time. Choose important over urgent and choose the best over the good. Once your choice is made, follow through and do what you’ve planned.
Make changes in your approach to work, if necessary. Turn off the tone that notifies you each time an email arrives; instead, plan to check email periodically during the day. Let the coworker who interrupts you to discuss the implications of the stock market know that you’d enjoy meeting over lunch.
Time management is not really about minutes and seconds. It is all about self management, the self discipline of choosing to distribute your time in ways that the most important, the best, receive your focus.