Time Is Life: 5 Key Factors of Time Management
Effective time management is intimately linked to success, productivity, satisfaction and wellbeing. In fact, time management amounts to life management.
It is a fundamental skill we must learn to master in our everyday life at work and at home. It’s not about working more, but smarter, becoming more results-oriented and more satisfied.
1. Your Time Is Your Life
It is essential that you become aware at every instance: How you spend your time is how you spend your life.
Time has become our most precious commodity. We suffer from a lack of time: Today more people complain about not having enough time than not having enough money.
The amount of time you spend in any activity fashions the quality of your work, your relationships, your comfort…
The number of hours in a day is the same for everyone, but some manage to use them much better than others.
It is crucial to be mindful of where you spend your time and to evaluate the results of your time investment.
2. Poor Time Management is a Major Source of Stress
Time pressure has become the curse of our time: It is a major source of stress and the origin of a multitude of ills and dissatisfactions (1).
The diabolical triangle with its 3 poles of objectives, quality and duration imprisons us permanently in inevitable constraints: If we want to improve quality, we need more time or we have to reduce the number of objectives. If we want to increase the number of things we want to accomplish, quality may suffer or we’ll be short on time. If we are given less time, there is pressure on the quantity and quality of our production.
Yet, despite these obvious and ever-present constraints, today’s demand at the workplace is to accomplish more, better, faster and cheaper, inevitably leading to more stress. Treating everything as urgent, rushing from one activity to another all day long, not enjoying anything and without ever feeling satisfied is a straight path to tension and ultimately to burnout, the disease of our century (Huffington, 2015).
It is vital to find some pleasure in our work. Our productivity, our commitment to contribute to the success of our company and our wellbeing depend on it.
The feeling of time starvation has taken on gigantic proportions. It is partly a matter of perception, but there is also much reality to it. We are inundated by a flow of information that never stops, day or night. Absorbing this constant onslaught, sorting out what is relevant, is time consuming, distracting and taking our focus away from the objectives that really matter (2).
3. Importance Versus Urgency
We know from our daily experience, and studies confirm it, urgency constantly overrides importance both in the choice of a task and the amount of time consumed in the activity.
Unless we are mindful of our priorities, we’re always tempted to first tackling urgent rather than important work, often at the detriment of obtaining significant results.
Contrary to what counts for us, the urgency is most often determined by others. We frequently let ourselves be pushed by someone else into undertaking a task immediately that we do not necessarily deem important.
In order to manage our time effectively, it is indispensable to precisely define our objectives, for example using the five SMART characteristics: Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-bound.
Having specific daily objectives and being ever conscious of their respective priorities is a hallmark of successful people (Covey, 2013).
The time frame to fix deadlines has shrunk considerably: What used to be medium term, say 3 months, is now often considered long term and short term has shrunk to a week or even days or half days. This raises the question whether meaningful planning is still possible, given the fact that significant accomplishments typically require longer periods, even years.
Periodic evaluations of where you spend your time turn out to be very useful. Recording every day for a week, for example, what activities you have engaged in and for how long, may reveal that you have spent much more time on unimportant tasks, such as e-mails, than important ones, such as completing an important project.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter F. Drucker
4. Time Savers and Time Wasters
Identifying time savers and time wasters helps to become more efficient and more satisfied in our daily work.
Examples of time savers as pinpointed by research:
–A calm workspace is conducive to productive work. Large open-space offices have been found to generate distractions and disruptions, perturbing and slowing down work.
—Weekly and daily to do lists help to stay focused on priority tasks and remembering deadlines.
–Doing difficult and important tasks first in those periods where you feel you’re most productive (for example early in the morning) is a great strategy to combat procrastination (Tracy, 2007).
—Only tackle a task once: Whether it’s an email, letter, document or voicemail, only handle it when you have the time to deal with it in one setting.
—Collaboration and teamwork: If you need help, get it early, don’t let pride get in the way. Allow others to help you.
—Delegation: Managers are often resistant to delegate (“only I can do this well”, “it takes less time to do it myself than to explain the task to someone else”…), even though delegation could relieve their busy schedule and give their employees an opportunity to develop new skills.
–Learning how to say no is a must: Asserting yourself without being aggressive or disrespectful when demands are made that disrupt important work you are engaged in.
—Regularly blocking time in your agenda for yourself: For strategic reflections, taking a breather… and also for coping with emergencies…
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” Michael Altshuler
Examples of frequent time wasters (3):
—Poor e-mail management: Regularly checking your mail; copying people who are not directly concerned with your message; writing long mails without a clear indication of the action required…
—Texting and gossiping.
—Unfocused social media and internet browsing.
—Interruptions by phone calls, unannounced visits and e-mails.
—Meetings that are too frequent, poorly organized and badly conducted (4).
—Poor communication: Unclear messages, not listening, insufficient or no feedback.
—Multi-tasking: When trying to do two things at the same time, you may end up doing neither very well.
—Poor infrastructure and inadequate tools may significantly slow down work…
Several laws have described how we get caught in traps that make us lose time:
The best known is the Pareto principles, stating that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Most people, for example, obtain 80% of their actual results from 20% of their actual effort.
Or take Parkinson’s law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion, meaning that all the time reserved for a task will be used, even though it could be accomplished in less time (think of the scheduled duration of meetings, for example…).
5. Work-Life Balance
“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” Hillary Clinton
Achieving a satisfactory work-life balance can be challenging these days. Some have even given up on this concept, believing it has become illusory.
Yet, in order to stay healthy and productive, it is indispensable for our body and mind to get a rest, to change pace and achieve a balance between time spent at work and time engaging in other activities, such as leisure and sports, spending time with our family and friends and getting enough sleep.
Beyond a certain number of hours at work, the law of diminishing returns imposes itself: By spending more time working, we actually become less rather than more productive. The same is true for long uninterrupted periods without a pause.
The hours spent at work are not a good indication of performance. What counts are the achieved results.
By far the biggest threat to this balance is staying connected – by choice or imposed by others – to our phones, tablets and computers.
“Tuning out” has become the clarion call (cf. Huffington, 2015) to combat this tendency which is not only counterproductive, but engenders health problems, absenteeism and burnout.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of time management: It profoundly affects our performance and wellbeing every day in our personal and professional life. It is crucial to be aware of where you spend your time and to assess the results of your time investment.
Today’s constant demand to do more, better, in less time, is a major source of stress and burnout.
Distinguishing the importance and urgency of a task is essential. Urgency, usually decided by others, too often trumps importance to the detriment of achieving significant results.
Identifying time savers (delegating, learning to say no, saving time for strategic tasks…), as well as time wasters (poor e-mail management, unfocused surfing, constant interruptions…) help to become more effective.
A satisfactory work-life balance has become illusory for many. Yet time for rest, play and being with family and friends are indispensable to regenerate strength and vitality.
Covey, S.R. (2013), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Simon & Schuster, Anniversary Edition.
Huffington A. (2015), Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder. Harmony.
Tracy B. (2007), Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd edition.
Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhD, Directeur, Management Training & Coaching, MTC