Time cannot be managed, but how you spend it can
Being pulled into twenty different directions at once almost feels commonplace these days. Everyone reaches a point, at some time, where they say the proverbial “enough is enough,” and they know it is time to get things under control. Before control can be exerted, a level of understanding must be achieved.
Time, but not the theoretical Steven Hawkins type of time, but instead a detailed inventory of how time is spent. Once this information is accurately captured, it allows an individual to make evaluations on how time was spent. Hindsight is not 20/20 when trying to track time, only a real-time capturing will be accurate enough.
A time log is incredibly revealing, and an accurate log with show exactly the time and activities spent throughout the day. This is one of the most critical pieces of understanding needed to help one get organized, and reclaim that sense of control.
A simple log, like a tablet with the date at the top of each page will do just fine. Write the start, stop and actions for all time spent. Track time 24/7 for 2 weeks, two or three times per year to really keep yourself on track. Do not review the logs until the two weeks have passed, and then take a real hard look at where all the time was spent.
The magic comes from the realization of how much unproductive time was spent on low priority activities, or activities that should have been delegated. We often work on tasks that should be completed by someone else; we tell ourselves we can do it faster or better, but look at what we gave up. All that time is now lost forever.
What is worse, we see time spent on tasks that did not provide long-term value. These actions should have never been completed at all. How much of the time spent could have been re-purposed to more productive long-term value building actions? Serious questions must be asked and answered.
The process is not easy, but the rewards are well worth the irritation of writing down every little bit of time. I mean, every little bit. Take an inventory of time and understand it. It will provide the foundation to make serious choices about how, what, and where time is spent.
Time is a resource that once spent can never be recovered. Use it wisely.
8 thoughts on “Time cannot be managed, but how you spend it can”
Everything is about balance, trying to find it and trying to maintain it. I have never met anyone who has achieved ultimate balance, as Mark says “In practice there are often other competing demands on our time and energy”. We get pulled one way or another all the time.
I have found that tracking my time helps me control the balance as far as it is reasonable. As a consultant, I did this for billing purposes, but it has stuck with me ever sense.
I have reached a point in my career that I am able to say “no” and stick to my guns without fear of utter ruin. Once I got through my head that I can say “no” and live, I started to be in more control of my time.
Thanks guys for your comments – I greatly appreciate you stopping by.
Nice topic to cover – I think ‘time’ is something that we often think we have bags of, but then realize we don’t. A time log is a way of taking a stock-check, and like a retailer in a high-crime area, it can reveal how much inventory has gone missing!
It’s really down to effectivess. If we had all the time in the world then effectiveness wouldn’t matter – we’d get everything done eventually. But the flipside of that is that nothing will be done because of that assumption.
Effectiveness means we use our time to achieve the most valuable objectives we’re set (even by ourselves) in the time we have. Knowing how effective we are is powerful – but how often is that the case?
I wrote a review of Peter Drucker’s ‘The Effective Executive’ which embodies this subject. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read!
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@Stanley makes a good point about over-shooting in terms of either being ‘super-productive’ or ‘goofing off’ on the recreation.
Ideally each person should be able to become more aware of where they are on an imaginary ‘productivity scale’ where 1 is idle and 10 is omnipotent super-efficiency (David Allen? lol)
In practice there are often other competing demands on our time and energy (boss, significant-other, family, colleagues, hobbies etc) and it’s only human to drop the ball.
Even so, I still feel Michael’s time log idea has merit if you want to have at least a little more choice over how some of that irrecoverable time is being spent each day. I haven’t yet done it for 2 weeks solid – managed 3 days in a row but that was illuminating enough.
As Michael notes, scheduling of time for certain activities and interests with yourself and family/friends does help to ring fence important events in your life. I admit that here too, a certain amount of give and take is required – but still worth doing.
BTW – One of the “side-effects” of imbibing in too much productivity p0rn is that you easily can forget what the end goal is – assuming you have one or more. If you haven’t then, just as nature abhors a vacuum, “work” rushes in to fill the time available 😉
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@ Stanley! – Thank you for the comment.
The determination of “balance” in one’s life is never easy. I have relied on my values to determine my overarching priorities and goals. These values give my various roles (husband, father, IT Director, friend, mentor, etc) of my life structure and boundaries.
This allows me to stack up the various roles and allocate time. I do not get it right most of the time. I find that I tend to swing back and forth giving one area more or less focus then it truly deserves. But like a ship’s captain, I am always making course corrections to keep me on the right path. I also ask for direct feedback from my peers and the ones closest to me. While sometimes hard to hear, the information is priceless.
Family and recreation time is important to me, and I feel this time enables me to be effective in my career. I schedule time or fun and the family. This makes sure that I do not intrude on these activities with work, and it also makes sure that I do not over indulge in playtime.
The balance is always unique to the individual and takes time to find the right individual balance.
I would recommend that anyone interested in determining values and roles read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey.
How do you accurately value your time spent once you have your inventory, though? I mean, I tried to spend every waking moment doing things that were “productive,” and ended up burnt out and irritable in short order.
How can you tell when your “recreational” activities are serving the valuable purpose of recharging your batteries, as opposed to when they’re just wasting your time?
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