One of my favorite topics to speak about is time management. I’ve read many, many books on the topic and I have to admit, it fascinates me. Time is definitely the most finite asset we have, and yet we don’t even know how much of it we WILL have (in total).
I am always amazed at how much time people waste, and then I’m doubly amazed when I ask them to do something and they respond, “I just don’t have enough time!” REALLY? It’s easy to squander time with small tasks and items that don’t really provide an observable result (in other words, busy work!).
“I wasted time and now time doth waste me.” William Shakespeare wrote that line into “Richard II.” Wise words (even with the “doth” bit), certainly. Time is something you don’t have to waste. You only get what you’re allotted — but you don’t know how much you are allotted. And then, BAM! You’re out of time. (No, I’m not going to get into a lecture on finality here — but maybe soon.)
So what to do with your time? Well, manage it appropriately for one! How many times have you said, “There aren’t enough hours in the day” or “I just wish I had more time”? The real question is, “Are you carefully planning and pointedly using what time you have?”
Yes, we all have the same number of hours in our day — or do we? Today’s timekeeping defines a day as the sum of 24 hours — but that is not entirely correct. The Earth’s rotation is not constant, so in terms of keeping track of our days relative to the sun, most days are a little longer or shorter than that. Today will be 24 hours, 0 minutes, 0.0002543 seconds (0.2543 milliseconds) long (good news: tomorrow will be exactly 24.0 hours; bad news: on July 9, 2021, the day will be 23.999999 hours, a short day) — so let’s use that extra 0.2543 milliseconds wisely! Um, actually, let’s use the entire 24 hours and 0.2543 milliseconds wisely! Yeah!
Make a plan
How do we do that? Well, first try making a plan. Yes, we need to carefully plan our use of time. Just as we plan for our businesses, we should plan for our futures, plan for our lives. How much “time” have you already dedicated to specific activities?
Sleep, for example, is pretty darn important. If you’re not getting enough sleep, it can affect the rest of your time. You’re constantly exhausted, not mentally alert, and you find it difficult to function if you don’t get the correct amount of sleep. So, let’s allocate 8 hours for sleep (rounded off).
Yes, I know, I hear you, “I just can’t sleep at night” or “I keep waking up in the middle of the night” or “I am too busy to sleep 8 hours.” (And some of you youngsters are saying, “Yeah, I don’t need 8 hours.” Wrong. You do!). Okay, for our purposes here, let’s stick with the 8 (and frankly, science says you should!) for sleep time. That leaves you with 16 hours to, well, do your thing (or things).
How much time do we really spend at work, at play, at home, at various activities? Actually, from a few resources I’ve gathered, if you live to 80 years old (which is 28,835 days), you’ve spent an average of 33 years in bed — 24 years sleeping and 7 years trying to get to sleep! (Yikes, that sounds all too familiar to me).
You use around 14 years at work. You spend nearly 12 years in front of a screen of some type (you’re looking at one right now!) — a television, a computer, a phone, and so on. You use up 5 years eating (not continuously — just compositely), 3 and a half years on holiday/vacation, and you exercise for a year and a half.
You use up another year and a half on romance, yet another year and a half socializing, and only one year being educated. (Didn’t those school days seem to last forever? Well, they didn’t.) You spend a year of your life standing in line or waiting on something (in a queue, as they say across the pond).
The rest (about 7–8 years, give or take a few months) is spent doing various activities, such as telling stories, spending time with family, going to the theatre, commuting, cleaning, doing laundry. (I won’t depress you by telling you how much time you spend doing that and just general “stuff.”) And, frankly, I’m not even going there about how many years of time you waste/spend on your phone (in a normal day, after you check Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tinder, Snapchat, Pinterest — wait, is there any day left? Just kidding (sort of), but these do take up time!.
Wow. We spend a LOT of time sleeping compared to other activities. (Again, a good night’s rest is extremely important. Nearly 20 percent of road accidents are attributed to lack of sleep.) But we also spend a significant amount of our lives at work. I think many of those work hours, today, are also composed of being in front of a screen (especially with the rise of online meetings), but the point to make here is you have a finite time to get things done!
You have a limited number of hours allotted to accomplish tasks and goals (even if you sacrifice other activities, such as sleep). Time will fly by with or without those goals.
Set goals; create action steps
You may need to set aside time for relationship building, networking, personal enrichment — all those are important. But it’s important to check your “time balance” to allocate adequate time for everything. “There’s never enough time” is not an excuse; it’s an admission that you are not planning and executing your total available time wisely. But (I can hear you say), “I have more to do than I have hours in my day!” That’s an indication you are possibly not matching up your activities with your available time, which leads us to the next point I want to make:
Why not set some tasks and goals? If you want to wisely use the time you have, give yourself something to aim for — something to work toward. This gives you a REASON to organize your time and spend it wisely. You can’t hit goals if you don’t devote enough time to them. And, if you have TOO many goals, well, you need to go back to the “total time you have available” and inject a reasonableness factor. Are you actually trying to pack “10 lbs. of dirt into a 5 lb. bag”?
Understanding your goals and tasks — and throwing in a true picture of available time — helps you to balance your life goals, instead of constantly restructuring your life because you “just don’t have enough time to get to those” particular lofty ambitions. Plus, breaking down your “goal achievement dedication” to basic tasks helps you allot specific quality time to the effort (planned time), and it also assists you in determining the total time requirement (let’s call that “TTR” — it’s catchy) you need to reach your targets. Knowing your TTR for individual goals helps you understand how many goals you can truly have since you are definitely limited with the amount of time you have per goal, and it all adds up!
Go ahead! Make yourself a list of goals and allocate specific time to each of them, with sub-headings of tasks needed to complete each goal. You’ll find the time you spent planning to be time well spent, and you’ll find it easier to stick to individuals tasks, easier to work toward the goals, and often you will achieve goals faster! Who knows, you may finish up certain goals early (which would allow you to add new goals!).
Track meaningful achievements
The true key after planning is execution, and execution involves tracking meaningful achievements. By keeping track of your time spent on tasks and on goal achievement you can better manage time spent achieving goals. Tracking effort helps to keep you focused on your use of available time. Keeping track of time spent can also help you avoid pitfalls, “time sinks,” and it can also assist you in resisting the impulse to “overspend time” on items.
What am I talking about? Well, if you don’t plan a specific time to work on a task/goal, you can often find yourself in the “making good progress so why quit now?” mode — and you get “stuck” spending way too much time overthinking/overworking on something.
I’m not saying a firm “stop because I’ve spent my hour” routine, but I am suggesting that you can “go down the rabbit hole” following various ideas/thoughts and all of a sudden, for an “hour task,” you’ve spent nearly all day on something that, perhaps, could have been better handled by “shelving it for a day or two” and then picking it back up.
Track your time use. If you do spend extra time on something it’s fine, as long as you continue to budget the rest of your time to ensure you have enough time remaining to finish the overall goal effort.
Prioritize tasks and time
As a key to time management, I prioritize tasks (and time) as well. One of the true keys to time management is prioritization. I’ve spoken before about meeting with many “executives” who, while talking to me, would constantly turn around in their chairs when the “ding!” of an email alert would sound. In a response very akin to Pavlov’s dogs (look it up), the chime of the computer (in the old days, kiddies, it used to actually say “You’ve got mail!” — seriously!) stirred a primordial “need to know” and an autonomous “I have to look at my screen NOW!” response.
Really! It was amazing how, when questioned, the individual was confused about the process. “No, I don’t do that!” was often the reaction when I confronted them on how they had to glance at the screen with every notification. Then, when further investigating the actual mail in question (and I”m not making this up), almost every single email was either insignificant; junk mail; or could have been answered later.
In fact, only one time was a message received that was “urgent” (and even then, that was questionable). The point? meeting with me was NOT a priority to them (although they all disputed that point). They were being constantly pulled from that priority by something else that held priority for them — a habit. It was simply a habit. Think about it — social scientists have coined the term “phantom vibration syndrome” in which you feel your phone vibrate in your pocket/purse/etc. when it’s not even there.
So the point is to manage, plan, execute, track, and prioritize. Seriously.
Let me conclude by saying this can all be summed up with one word: focus. I’m not a big fan of multitasking. My grandfather used to say, “Telling me someone is a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ means to me they can’t do anything well, so you’re stuck with them doing everything half- um, well, half-decently. Let’s leave it at that.”
I find most people who tell me they’re good at multitasking are people who don’t focus on anything. They have this idea that they’re able to do many things at once, accomplish tons of tasks efficiently, and manage time well. In fact, nearly all of them remind me of the guy who used to be on variety shows on TV (okay, on the Ed Sullivan Show) and spun a bunch of bowls and/or plates up in the air on a little stick. The guy would let them slow down until you were sure they were going to fall, but he would grab the stick and start the slow plate spinning fast again — until he had nearly all the plates spinning up in the air at the same time, running from plate to plate, stick to stick, to keep them going.
What did he accomplish, in the end? Well, he was very entertaining and he seldom dropped or broke any plates, but for a finale, all he could do was stop them all, catch them, and set them down. Sure, it took a lot of focus to do this amazing feat, but, what was he focusing on? Just keeping things moving. That was it.
Don’t confuse activity with results! It’s easy to do because a lot of activity makes it look like things are getting done, but you can be busy without being productive. I would prefer to see results — and you would prefer to HAVE results!
In conclusion, act on what you just read
So, to manage your time better, make a plan; set tasks and goals; track meaningful achievements; prioritize tasks and time; and focus. As a summary item, as well, it helps to note the amount of time you set aside for non-prioritized efforts, such as playing games on your phone, checking social media channels (although I admit, those can be a priority sometimes), watching mindless television, commuting (okay, AFTER COVID, probably), just relaxing and (as we noted above) sleeping.
There’s nothing wrong with having downtime or personal time. But remember, to achieve those goals, you need to monitor that time usage. There’s nothing wrong with not having a fixed schedule every single minute. (I daydream too, you know!). But if you aren’t careful and judicious with non-goal-oriented activities, they can easily take over your schedule and derail your ambitions.
I get an annoying report from my phone, every month, telling me “how much time I spent online, spent in certain apps, etc.” I used to look at that report as annoying, but now, frankly, I use it to ensure I don’t spend too much time just goofing around or in non-advancing activities.
I hear you, I hear you. “But my Facebook friends are important, too.” “It’s significant to my career to check LinkedIn.” and, also, “I might miss something important on Instagram (or Twitter, Tik-Tok, etc.)….” I’m not downplaying the significance those social media tools may have in — and on — your life; I’m just reminding you to “plan, set priorities, track use, prioritize and focus” (as noted above).
You’ll get more done by doing these simple things! So, use that available time the best you can — because when you’re outta time, well — you get the idea! And while you’re at it, see if you can pack in a full 23.99999 hours on July 9. Why not?
Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on April 6, 2021.