A Big-Picture View of Time Management

There are big issues facing many organizations today. Labor shortages, supply chain, cyber-security, just to name a few. The impact of those issues typically show up as “priorities” for employees and leaders.

These priorities often translate into a focus on efficiencies – process improvement initiatives and increasing productivity.

Many of my conversations with clients revolve around HOW people are spending their time. Are they “managing their time well”; focusing on what matters most?

Given that, a recent book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman, caught my eye. He takes a radical approach to the futile struggle of time management and offers an alternative by confronting our limitations – there is nothing we can do to increase the 24 hours that make up a day! This acknowledgment offers a bigger-picture perspective. We will never “get everything done,” so let’s look at how we spend our time differently.

There are MANY distractions all around us. In fact, research shows that humans have an attention span of 8 seconds, which is less than a goldfish! As Burkeman states in his book, “What you pay attention to will define, for you, what your reality is. …Attention is life: your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention.”

If you spend your attention on something that is not meaningful, you are wasting away your life. Whew! That certainly prompts a new level of clarity about how you spend your time.

The reality is, most of us do have to work for a living. Not every moment can be spent with loved ones relaxing and enjoying one another’s company. There will still be tasks YOU don’t value much, but are essential for something else you do value. So when it comes to our work life, it’s a mindset shift.

Face the facts – you will NEVER be able to mark every item off our to-do list.

Focus on whatever matters most today and learn to tolerate the discomfort of knowing your email queue is getting bigger, and people will continue to make requests of your time. Let go of making time for everything. Get started on the things that really matter, and will make a difference.

The author offers five questions that can help make this mental shift about time I found useful. Maybe you will too:

  1. Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort? Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment whenever you can. Are you:
    • taking risks – may be failing?
    • procrastinating a tough decision to make?
    • worrying about things out of your control?
  2. Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet? Let the impossible standards crash to the ground, and pick a few meaningful tasks to focus your energies on today.
  3. In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be? Treat your present-day life as part of a journey toward becoming the kind of person you want to be. There’s no point in waiting to live until you’ve achieved validation from someone or something else.
  4. In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing? It’s alarming to realize you might never truly feel like you know what you’re doing – either at work or your personal life. It’s also liberating! You no longer have to feel self-conscious or inhibited about your performance in the present moment. Consider that everyone else is in the same situation, they just may not be aware of it.
  5. How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your action reach fruition? Our desire for time mastery comes from the faulty notion that the true value of our we spend our time is always and only to be judged by the results while we are still alive. Whether it’s parenting, building a business, community-building, the ultimate value of the work we’ve done will be measurable long after we’re gone. It’s worth asking: What acts of generosity, care for others, or investments in the distant future might be meaningful to take on today? Come to terms that you will never see the results of that work.

I hope this gives you some food for thought. Exhale and dial-down all those self-imposed time pressures.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.