Did you know that the average human being lives for around 4000 weeks, which equates to about 77 years. Measuring life in weeks is a sobering thought. Obviously there are even less weeks spent building up a business so to make the most of our time, we need to use it effectively.
Hands up, how many of us have attended a time management course? I know I have. We all want to get the most out of our time and many of us feel we are failing in this regard. As business owners-or frankly just adults – we are all busy. But how busy and does our busyness bring us the rewards we want?
It sounds like a Star Trek episode, but the title of this podcast, The Time Management Paradox is actually a philosophy of Alan’s that suggests we can’t manage time, time manages us. Rather you can partner with time and therefore, you can use it more effectively.
Understand your life roles
Step one to mastering time is to understand all the factors in your life and how they fit into four distinct roles. We describe them on the podcast as Professional, Personal, Family and Community. They broadly cover work, family, exercise and any other activities you undertake.
Let’s be generous and say we sleep for eight hours, so we are awake for 16. Create your own pie chart and decide what percentage of your time you commit to each of these roles. Every day is different so it is unlikely to be four 25% splits. Now ask yourself are you happy with the result?
On the Podcast, I gave the example of when in corporate life I would always try to be home before five o’clock to bath my daughter. In general I managed it more often than not, but a lot of the time, while she was in the bath, I would be on my phone to the office or to a client. In this example my daughter didn’t have a fully present dad, the client wasn’t getting my full professional attention and I felt a lot of stress and anxiety as I was trying to do at least two things- and doing them both badly.
To manage time, we need to be present. To do this we need to understand which role we are playing and commit wholeheartedly to that role. It is better to do something well for 30 minutes than do it half-ar$ed for two hours.
Create parameters for your work life balance
Putting in parameters, around your day or blocking out key times, doesn’t give you more time but it gives you clear markers as to when you are playing a certain role and when it stops to make time for another role.
If you work in a team then they need to be on the same page. They need to understand that it is ok not to answer an email at eight o’clock at night. You can’t switch your email off 5.30pm but expect them to keep theirs on all night. Creating parameters is equally important when we are working from home. We have all seen children creep into Zoom meetings or had home schooling wreck a planning day. If you were in the office that wouldn’t happen but so many of us are –and maybe always will be- working from home, so setting clear expectations with our family stakeholders is as important as doing so with colleagues, clients and employers.
Let’s say you work 830 to 530 every weekday to free up evenings and weekends. In those nine hours, whether you work alone or as part of a team you want to be as productive as you can. As Alan says, you want to play all out and do the high impact stuff. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses the concept of focusing on the ‘Big Rocks’ over the ‘Grit’.
I always think that a barrier to real productivity is the two or three jobs that a business owner won’t let go of. We all have them, mine is the bookkeeping for Cypher. I am probably the most expensive bookkeeper in the country. In truth I have no business doing it and there will be a 100 tasks being done by business owners up and down the country that if they sat back and put an actual value on their time, and looked where they were spending it they wouldn’t do those jobs.
Here’s a useless bit of trivia: The word “priority” is derived from the Latin word prioritas (“fact or condition of being prior”), the word meant “the most important thing”, the “prior” thing or the thing with precedence. When it was first coined, the word “priority” had no plural. You could only have one priority.
At Cypher we use a diary system so we are able to set clear parameters and clear priorities for our time. We need to build in a level of flexibility as a degree of our work is responsive to client’s needs. We have set team times, meeting times, lunch breaks and triage times throughout the week to ensure we can focus on what’s important. Alan uses a simpler task list which is reviewed each day in order to set and achieve clear priorities. Whatever your method, it shouldn’t just focus on work-based tasks, include personal, family or community roles in your priority planning.
Lose your email
I could spend an entire Podcast episode and blog talking about the virtues of taking email off your phone. At Cypher a colleague manages all of our external emails and internally we use Slack to communicate. This means that when we are getting our heads down to prioritise a piece of work, we aren’t distracted by the ‘ping’ of a new message. it is life changing, believe me.
Time management is a paradox. Instead we should focus on partnering with time. We need to value it, especially as we can measure it in weeks, to try and make the most of the time we have for all of our important roles. The good news is that there are simple steps we can all take and behaviours we can adapt to make sure we are present in any role long enough to achieve our priorities, whatever they are and make the most of the time we have left.
Ways to manage the time paradox
- Understand your roles – Professional, Personal, Family, community
- Be present for the amount of time you need to spend in a role to do it effectively
- Manage your priorities- be clear on what you want to achieve for the day, week year
- Always do the most important things that bring the most value to the business
- Cut-out the time stealing jobs and delegate them to someone else
- Say no more often
Take email off your phone