Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them – Dion Boucicault (1820~1890)
Did you ever feel so overwhelmed with things to do that you wanted to study time management, but couldn’t find the time to do so? That’s the dilemma of a 22 year old reader who writes from Nigeria. He’s frustrated that he can’t get more done, learn faster, and remain focused on what’s important, so he’s asking for suggestions.
But to put things in perspective, he’s already doing far better than many of us. You see, he’s a student (who will graduate next year), lives alone, and works on a contract basis as a software engineer and system developer. He’s also interested in singing, programming, innovative thinking, technological gadgets, and giving motivational speeches. As you can see, he has his plate full and is accomplishing a great deal.
However, from his point of view, he’s frustrated that his busy schedule makes it difficult for him to find time for himself. And on those lucky occasions when he does have time alone, all he feels like doing is sleeping. “I just don’t know how to help myself,” he writes, “perhaps you can help.”
Thank you for writing, Charles (not his real name). One of the afflictions of youth is lack of patience. You will graduate within a year and at that time you will find it much easier to cope with the many things you wish to do. Continue working hard at school because it will pay big dividends in the future. As long as you regularly remind yourself that you will have more time available a year from now, your present situation will be easier to bear.
Also, to make the most of your present and future situations, you need to make a shift in the way you look at things. Your desire to accomplish much is admirable, but to avoid stress and frustration, it should be tempered with realism. You need to understand that we cannot do, get, or become everything we hope for. While you are dying to do many things, you forget that you are dying. I’m not trying to be morbid, but just trying to say you do not and never will have enough time to do everything. After all, our desires are unlimited, but life is not. So, we have to compromise by asking ourselves questions such as:
- Of the many things I wish to do, which ones can I realistically expect to achieve at this time?
- Since I cannot achieve everything I would like to, which ones should I focus on now?
- Which ones are the most useful and important?
- Is what I am doing now making the best use of my time?
You will find that when we focus on the important things, we will accomplish a great deal more. Isn’t the purpose of achievement to enjoy life? If we are not enjoying it, it is a signal that we may be trying to do too much.
You also seem to be anxious to achieve a great deal, but resent the fact that hard work is ‘robbing’ you of free time. Again, a shift in the way we look at things is called for. You see, hard work is not robbing you of free time, but giving you the opportunities to gain new insights, solve problems, gain experience, develop relationships, and sharpen your skills, all of which will help you save time and grow more successful.
By focusing on what’s important and willingly giving up unimportant goals, you will be able to create free time for recreation and rejuvenation. When you lead a more balanced life, you will be free of the stress that now causes you to sleep away your free time. Incidentally, there is no need to feel guilty during your free time, fun time, or recreation because they are major achievements as well, and necessary ones at that.
Although Charles must focus on what’s important now, I also wish to prepare him for the future because I can tell from what he’s written to me that he is destined to make a difference. So, I wish to encourage him to set his sights high. Charles, we don’t have to be satisfied with becoming good at everything we do. Rather, we can strive to become great at what we do. Think big. In this regard, I recommend the following book: DO MORE GREAT WORK: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters by Michael Bungay Stanier and others.
Also, becoming a great achiever is wonderful, but becoming a great person is better. What is the difference? A great person uses their achievements to help others and to help make the world a better place. That’s where I see you, Charles. And to inspire you on your journey, keep in mind these words of Eleanor Powell (1912~1982), “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”
Now, Charles, I would like to move on to a general overview of time management principles, followed by time management tips, and end with time management tools and systems.
What is time management? It is nothing more than life management. That is, it is self-management or self-discipline. It is the discipline to focus on doing what is most important. But what if everything is important and there isn’t enough time to do everything? Everything may be important, but everything is not equally important. If we wish to go on living, breathing and eating are important. Yet, we may be able to live for a week or more without food, but only for a few minutes without air. The point is, we should be focusing on what is most important at the time.
We do this by regularly reassessing our values, goals, projects, and tasks and prioritizing them. If we always do what is most important, when we run out of time, the most important would have been done. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, begin by understanding that it is impossible to do everything we would like to do. The knowledge available to humanity is expected to double within ten years, some say within five years. That means that as you grow older there will be many more things that you can do and learn. Yet, your allotment of time will not increase. On the contrary, as you grow older, it will decrease.
Charles’ problem is a valuable lesson for us. It reminds us that we need to regularly reassess our commitments and goals. We need to question ourselves. Is it time for a change? Have I already achieved my goals and is it time to set new ones? What is most important and best for me?
Sometimes we neglect to question our activities because we are afraid of the answers. After all, the answer may be, “Yes, it is time to move on.” But moving on involves change, and we find change uncomfortable. We tend to get stuck in our comfort zone. But if we wish to get the most out of life, we need to be more concerned about what is important than what is comfortable.
It is also helpful to reflect on the nature and value of time. They say that time is money. Rightly so, for both are valuable resources, both are spent, and we have a limited quantity of both. Some people develop an addiction to gambling and as a result end in the poorhouse instead of a mansion. But wasting time is just as harmful as wasting money, in either case we impoverish ourselves. In fact, wasting time is worse than wasting money, for lost money can be regained, but lost time is gone forever.
Perhaps more than time management skills, we need time consciousness skills. A. B. Zu Tavern tells us how to improve in this area: “If, before going to bed every night, you will tear a page from the calendar, and remark, ‘there goes another day of my life, never to return,’ you will become time conscious.” Why is it that we are abhorred by the thought of suicide yet think nothing of killing life bit by bit? We seem to be comfortable with killing life in one wasted moment after another. If in every moment of our consciousness we are aware that everything passes, everything perishes, and everything palls, it will be easier to decide what is most important to do.
To use time wisely, all we have to do is plan it. For as Victor Hugo (1802~1885) wrote, “He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out the plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” Besides our morning plan, it is wise to reflect on our activities at the end of the day. Did we do all we set out to do? If not, did we at least do the most important things? Finally, we need to ask, “What did we do wrong and how can we improve?”
What do you think about government deficit spending? Isn’t that the same as robbing our future? We do the same when we procrastinate. Through some strange twist of logic, we try to convince ourselves that we will have more time in the future to spend on a project than we have now, so we put it off. But by doing so, we rob our future. We don’t have more time; we have less time because we could have done it today.
The only time we have power to act is now. So, there you have it; time management is about self-discipline, focusing on what is most important, regularly reassessing our priorities, concentrating on whatever makes us a better person, valuing time, using it wisely, and acting now.
1. To benefit by the gift of time, you have to have a purpose. Ask yourself questions such as, What do I want to do? What do I want to have? What do I want to be? Where do I want to go? Rather than acting arbitrarily, have a purpose and a plan ready before you act. When we use time intelligently, we will find all the time we need.
2. Although you will receive 24 hours to work with tomorrow, there is no guarantee that they will be usable hours. For lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise will deplete the energy you need to use your time productively. Fear, worry, and anxiety also rob us of energy. So, the state of your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
3. A positive mental attitude and enthusiasm will fill you with energy, allowing you to make the most of your time.
4. Procrastination is a time killer. Putting off until tomorrow is not a decision. Rather, it is the postponement of a decision. If you find yourself trying to postpone something you should be doing today, take these two steps. First, analyze the project and break it down into the steps that need to be done. Since you cannot think of two things at the same time, during your analysis, you will lose the sense of overwhelm, fear, discomfort, or whatever is holding you back. Next, move on to step two, which is decide what time you will do it today. Then do it at the allotted time, for as Francis Bacon (1561~1626) wrote, “To choose time (to act) is to save time.”
5. If you ‘didn’t have time’ to do what should have been done, how come you have time to make excuses? If you wish to be productive, you have to be responsible. Don’t shift the blame. Accept responsibility and develop self-discipline. There are only three things we do: we do what we want to, what we are forced to do, and what we force ourselves to do. You may not feel like getting up early in the morning to go to work, but if you are forced to work in order to survive, you will do it. You may not feel like going to the gym to work out, but if you wish to maintain good health, you may force yourself to go (self-discipline).
6. Everything that you do that saves time, creates more time to do other things. So, keep on the lookout for timesavers. If you remain organized, you’ll be able to find what you need quickly. Another timesaver is to immediately write down ideas that pop into your mind before you forget them. Also, always be prepared for idle time. At various times during the day you may be forced to wait. If you always have a pen and notepad with you, you’ll be able to use that idle time by jotting down ideas and new plans. I carry a small pad and pen with me at all times. When I get home, I transfer my notes to my desktop computer. If you are interested in saving your notes and work with a PC computer, I recommend NoteLens. This remarkable, free, software program has the ability to instantly find one note among thousands. You will never have to worry about forgetting anything again. It works its magic by automatically indexing every word in your notes. For example, suppose I wrote the following note: “Today (date), while having coffee at Timothy’s Coffee Shop, I met an Indian man (Sukhdial Grewal, 80) and his wife Sharon. We had an hour discussion on spirituality. His telephone number is 905-479-1122.” If four months from now I wish to see him again, I can instantly retrieve my note by searching for any of these words: Indian man, Sharon, Timothy’s, spirituality.
7. When things don’t go our way, we like to feel sorry for ourselves. But frustration and regrets drain us of energy and are time wasters. The good news is, there is a simple way to overcome this problem. The next time you catch yourself feeling sorry for yourself, acknowledge it and allow yourself to wallow in self-pity for a fixed amount of time (five or ten minutes). After the time is up, move on with life and continue working on what needs to be done.
8. Whenever we lose patience, we lose energy. Anger and resentment are productivity killers. If we can’t get along with people, how can we become successful? Welcome unpleasant circumstances as an opportunity for you to grow. It’s not the world that needs to change, but you. Those who learn to adapt to and embrace everything they encounter will be productive, successful, and happy.
9. If you didn’t have ‘enough time’ to do it right the first time, how come you have enough time to do it over? If you want to save time, do it right the first time.
10. Learn the difference between negative and positive multitasking. If we can do more than one thing at a time, we will obviously save time. Yet, focusing on one task, without distraction, also saves time and helps us to do things right the first time. Playing beach volleyball is a good example of what I call positive multitasking. During the game, you are doing several things at once: exercising, socializing, and having fun. However, trying to send text messages on your cell phone while you are driving is an example of negative multitasking. As long as you are driving, it is your responsibility to remain focused on arriving safely at your destination.
11. Think twice before waiting for the ‘right time’ to act, for, with very few exceptions, the only right time to act is right now.
12. As Henry Ward Beecher (1813~1887) wrote, “The first hour of the morning is the rudder of the day.” So, start off the day right, leaving for work early enough to arrive at the office stress free.
13. After buying my house, my dad gave me an envelope and said, “If your house is in need of repair, use this toolkit to do what needs to be done.” Toolkit? I wondered how a toolkit could fit into a small envelope. When I opened it and looked in, I found a credit card! That was a valuable lesson. I can save time by paying a professional to do the job right the first time. Similarly, when I was a university student, I paid a friend to type my reports, term papers, and thesis. I was not a touch typist and he was. Paying him gave me more time to focus on my studies.
14. As Charles Roberts Buxton (1823~1871) wrote, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” But how do we make time? Here are three ways: a) decide to act, b) learn how to save time, c) stop killing time. In other words, although we cannot control the length of our days, we can control the use we make of them.
15. When we are overloaded with tasks, we can easily slip into the habit of acting mechanically, without thinking. Remember, we don’t merely want to get the most done. Rather, we want to get the most important done. Get into the habit of frequently asking yourself if what you are working on now is the most important or whether you should be working on something else.
16. There are times when taking more time before acting saves time. When you are challenged by complex problems, it is often helpful to take extra time to mull the matter over. For the extra time will give your subconscious an opportunity to come up with an answer that you wouldn’t have arrived at normally. Our subconscious can be a powerful ally, but we need to give it a little extra time. When we give it time to work on our behalf, we will often find that the answer we are looking for spontaneously ‘pops’ into our head.
17. Working efficiently and managing our time is not only about increasing our productivity. It is also about creating enough spare time to enjoy recreation and spend more time with family and friends. And when we balance work and pleasure, the enjoyment of both increases.
18. Don’t get so overwhelmed that you give up. Remember, no matter how complicated the task, there is always a step small enough for you to easily accomplish. So, rather than give up, look for the baby steps that you can take. Small steps toward a goal are far better than no steps at all.
19. For maximum productivity and efficiency, you need to organize and plan. If most of your work is done on a computer, here is an excellent, free, software tool to help you do both (organize and plan).
Time Management Tools and Systems
Often, being armed with principles and tips are not enough. What may be needed is a complete system that will guide us every step of the way. Later, as we grow proficient, we can adjust, fine tune, or adapt a system to bring it more in line with how we work and eventually make it our own system. Here are some systems to consider. Explore them quickly, and as you do so, if any one seems like it is the right one for you, start with that one. No matter which one you start with, you will learn something useful. You can always change systems later.
1. TIME POWER: A Proven System for Getting More Done in Less Time Than You Ever Thought Possible. Book by Brian Tracy. You can read it for free here.
2. Today, the most popular system is GTD (Getting Things Done). It was created by the remarkable David Allen, Management Consultant, who also worked in the past as a magician, waiter, karate teacher, landscaper, vitamin distributor, glass-blowing lathe operator, travel agent, gas station manager, U-Haul dealer, moped salesman, restaurant cook, personal growth trainer, manager of a lawn service company, manager of a travel agency, and is an ordained minister with the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA). His system is so popular, it has spawned more than 150 software products. For an example of 159 GTD Software Programs, check here. David Allen’s web site is here.
3. Mark Foster’s The Autofocus Time Management System. Learn about the system and watch Mark give a demonstration here.
5. Mark Foster’s Final Version time management system.
7. Nathan Shaw’s InstaTime system deals with prioritizing according to the size of the project and the readiness for action.
8. The Pomodoro Technique, created by Francesco Cirillo in 1992. Simply stated, you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. After 4 rounds, a longer break is allowed. You can learn more here.
9. The 3, 6, 9 Time Management Strategy. In this system, you work in 3 hour time blocks, focusing on one thing for each block.
10. ‘(10+2)*5’ Here you work in ten minute blocks followed by 2 minute breaks 5 times per hour.
Here is free software to use with the above and similar systems.
11. Total, Relaxed Organization™ (TRO). Offers training and software to accomplish its aim.
12. TIME MANAGEMENT FROM THE INSIDE OUT: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule and Your Life. Book by Julie Morgenstern
13. Watership Planner. Software that features dynamic planning, which monitors the time you spend on each task.
14. PROACTIME. Software that is a complete time management solution.
15. Work Time Studio. Software that allows you to organize, manage, track and prioritize your time, projects, tasks, notes and ideas. It is a professional package at the giveaway price of $39.95.
By now you probably realize that it will take some time to master a time management system, but don’t use this as an excuse for procrastination. That is, don’t take time from your work schedule to study time management. Your study should take place after work. Pretend you are going to night school. Turn off the TV and study then.
Well, Charles, as the subtitle of this article suggests, don’t kill time, for all that succeeds in doing is kill the minutes, hours, and days of your life. May you have a long, successful, and happy life.