How many times have you said, “I just wish I had more time for …?” With global business buzzing by in nanoseconds and a world of information in your phone, having time to get everything done seems more and more elusive. My article seeks to dissect our common sound barriers where we assume false notions like “time management is a once and done task.” So, let me share the process I discovered which led me to finding my 25th hour in my day. Perhaps I can help you get there too?
At one point in my life, I let time win. With a more than full-time job managing multiple projects, another job teaching at night, kids, spouse, extended family, 11 pets, writing two daily blogs, and other business activities, time owned me. There was never enough time and I always felt defeated by it. As the days/ months and years were slipping passed, I felt stressed and on the road to burnout. As Jim Rohn said: “Either run the day or the day runs you.”1
If you are a conscientious project and contract manager, then you have your check lists and your reminders, but it seems like there is always one more thing that needs to get done before you shut down for the night. And, sadly, there is.
It took me years before I realized that I had to apply time management principles to everything I did, because getting stuff done isn’t about time, it’s about planning and priorities. It’s about making choices.
If something is important to you - be honest – you know you find the time to do it.
If your kid is in a sports game, you find the time to be there. You put it on your calendar and you make it a priority.
If your favorite band is in town, you are there. You buy the tickets as soon as they come online, you put it on your calendar, you make it a priority.
If closing a contract or project out on time and on budget will help you get to the next step in your career, you make it a priority to get it done.
We all can find the time to do things that are important to us when we choose to make ‘that moment’ a priority. We are constantly making choices (though not always easy ones) about how we spend our precious time. Absolutely true -- there is usually never ENOUGH time in the day to do everything we have on our list, so, some things must go, because time is about making choices as to what is important to you.
Time management is your decision
Imagine yourself depositing $86,400 dollars into your bank account each morning at midnight+1 second. At midnight, whatever money you failed to spend in the day will disappear and then at 00:01 another $86,400 will be deposited anew (no, this is not a new version of ‘The Squid Game’2). What will you do with each dollar during your day?
Actually, you have this bank account: it is the bank called ‘TIME.’ Every morning you are credited with 86,400 seconds and every night whatever time you did not use will be written off.
It does not carry any balances over from day to day; it allows no draft that you can borrow against for tomorrow; you can’t use more time than you have been given, and; you can’t borrow someone else’s time (unless you are in a science fiction novel). The time you have is the time you have. That is it.
Time management is figuring out how to spend your seconds, just like it is with your money. It is actually very similar to budget management: it is about what we chose to do with our time or money and where things fall in our priorities.
Change the conversation in your head
By changing how you speak about time, you can change how you manage it. Start looking at time in terms of your priorities instead of the minutes that a task takes. Priorities are choices and choices are manageable.
According to Andrew B Newberg, a prominent neuroscientist, and Mark Robert Waldman 3, words can literally change your brain. I challenge you to change the phrase “I don’t have time” to “it is not a priority to me.4”
Try these phrases out loud:
- “I would love to help you write that request for proposal, but I can’t BECAUSE NEW PROCUREMENT IS NOT A PRIORITY TO ME.”
- “I would really like to help you with that school project, but I can’t BECAUSE YOUR EDUCATION IS NOT A PRIORITY TO ME.”
- “I would really like to go to the gym to work out, but I can’t BECAUSE MY HEALTH IS NOT A PRIORITY TO ME.”
If this is starting to feel a little uncomfortable, I understand. Changing your internal language in this way shows you what you make truly important in your life and sometimes that is hard to look at. This language shift shows you what you are willing to place on top of your limited time resource list and the result may surprise you.
Everything cannot be important at the same time, so your job is to determine what really is your priority so that you can action that time appropriately. (Note: I am NOT suggesting that you say this phrase, “because X is not my priority,” out loud to other people – that would be rude and may get you fired or divorced.)
“Don’t waste your breath proclaiming what’s really important to you. How you spend your time says it all.” – Eric Zorn5
KEEP A TIME LOG
- Know where your time goes
The first step to managing anything is to understand what you are trying to manage. Do you know how you spend your 168 hours per week? (That is what we all get, no more, no less.)
- Track – Over the next few days (a week would be great) track your time in 30-minute blocks (or as often as you can). How much time do you spend on contract A? On contract B? and other business tasks (and what are they)? What about eating, watching TV, Facebooking? I think, you get the idea. The more you track the better your ability to make wise time choices.
- Be honest – If you ‘Tweet’ 5 times a day at 5 minutes each time, that adds up. How often do you get up for coffee or other snacks? The more honest you can be with yourself, the better handle you will have on the positive and negative uses of your time. (No one is going to see this but you, so why not be real?)
- Evaluate – Group your activities so that you can see those things that you are doing repeatedly or that are wasting your time. Time wasters are things like unnecessary social media activity, talky people who wander into your office, inefficient workflows, etc. I look at the ‘must-do’ versus the ‘want to do’ when I review my list. (The ‘must-do’ list really comes into play when you have contract deadlines that can’t be missed.)
- Fix – Once you identify the time wasters, you can reduce and maybe even entirely get rid of them. (Tip: I set a timer for 15 minutes when I open any social media app, otherwise I can get lost in cute puppies and kittens.)
- Change how you speak about time
I challenge you for the next week to erase the phrase “I don’t have time” from your vocabulary. Replace it with “it’s not a priority.” Then after that week, move on to step 3.
- Order your priorities
Take the time log from step 1 and put the activities into an order of importance for that day. Did you spend time on activities that got you to your business or personal goals? Did you get distracted or waste time doing a task someone else could have done?
This is the hard part – what really was important to you in that day? If you had a work deadline, what did you have to ‘not do’ to get it done and was the ‘not do’ something that was important to you? If spending time with your family was important, then why were you wasting time on YouTube? Remember that priorities are about choices and making the best choices for you, in the day, with the time that you have.
- Schedule your time to make more time
Now you should be ready to schedule your future priorities into your daily calendar. Don’t just schedule work meetings. Make sure to include family time, doctor’s appointments, social media time, and the gym. Once you start ‘owning’ your schedule based on priorities, you will find that your time will become more manageable. (I schedule walking my 3 dogs for 45 minutes every day, 365 days a year. If I don’t, they will make sure I know they are important by acting out.)
Whether you use Google, Outlook, or a paper calendar, make sure to carve out blocks in your day/week to accomplish what is important to you. If you don’t schedule things, then you can’t complain that you don’t have time for them – YOU didn’t make them important!
Time management is not a once and done task! We all slip and get lost in time wasters every now and then, and our priorities are always changing. This is the time management process that works for me and helped me find the 25th hour in my day. Let me know what works for you if you have the time, of course.
- Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Rohn
- The Squid Game is a South Korean survival drama television series create by Hwang Dong-hyuk for Netflix in 2021.
- Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy, Andrew V. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, Avery Publishing Group, 2012
- Are You As Busy As You Think, Laura Vanderkam, The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2012
- Column: You didn’t ask, but here are some words to live by in the long run, Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, June 24, 2021
Disclaimer: Content reflects views and opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of her clients or employers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lorian Lipton educates and develops Maryland State employees on contract and risk management. She previously was the worldwide Project Management Competency Leader for the consulting division of IBM and provides project, contract, and risk management consulting and training through her company, The Digital Attitude, LLC. Follow her on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/