Redefine time management

Time flows on. What you really have to ‘manage’ is yourself

But what minutes! Count them by sensation,

and not by calendars, and each moment is a day.

—Benjamin Disraeli

Imagine if time was a bank account and, each morning, you were credited with 86,400 seconds. Further imagine that if by the end of that day you hadn’t spent any of the credits, they would instantly be deducted from your account. What would you do? My guess is that you would make every effort to spend them as best as you can. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how much we take time for granted and then regret the moments we lose or waste?

In transport economics, the value of time is the opportunity cost of the time that a traveller spends on their journey. In essence, this makes it the amount that a traveller would be willing to pay in order to save time, or the amount they would accept as compensation for lost time. The value of time varies considerably from person to person and depends upon the purpose of the journey, but can generally be divided into two sets of valuations: working time and non-working time. I guess that sums up life very well, and it is important that we make a balanced investment into both work as well as play time.

One of the biggest challenges that people face is personal time management and the ability to prioritise. Let’s face it: we all have our own quirky little habits that we have adopted and have been guilty of putting ourselves and other people under unnecessary pressure by just not being as well organised as we could be. This can have a big effect on our stress levels too. The more efficiently we manage our time, the better we will feel generally.

It is also important to respect other people’s time and, if our own lack of personal organisation or timekeeping disrupts others, then it is important that we take responsibility and do something about it.

Also, it is worth considering that, no matter how organised we may be, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. All we can actually manage is ourselves and what we do with the time that we have. Many of us are prey to time-wasters who steal time that we could be using much more productively. It is so easy to go off-track or become distracted by something that is so much more interesting than the task in hand.

It is important to remember that the focus of time management is changing your behaviour, not changing time. Here are a few tips of how you can do that:

Review time: Have you ever stopped and really analysed how you spend your time? For 14 days, record how you spend your 86,400 seconds. Keeping a log will help you detect self-defeating habits, which you can then begin to change.

Eliminate personal time-wasters: Once you know how you are spending your time, you will easily begin to see how you waste time. Often, it will be things that you can easily change. Here, being honest with yourself helps.

Create a system: It’s amazing how so many people don’t have a good system in place and work rather randomly, reacting to whatever comes along. It is a far better approach to be proactive and have more control over your day. Making a priority plan will help you to stay focussed. Learning how to manage emails is immensely important. One system I use is that when I have an email in my inbox, I deal with it straight away rather than open it and go back to it later. I either action it, delete it or file it.

Avoid procrastination: Procrastination is the ultimate thief of time. It is tempting to put off what you don’t like doing to another time or even another day or week—but it’s not at all helpful. One of the best pieces of advice that I have had is to do what you least like doing first. Get it over and done with and I guarantee you will feel lighter and more motivated. There is nothing worse than having something hanging over you. It slows you down and makes you feel heavy.

Avoid the “Superhero Syndrome”: Some people are their own worst enemy because they want to portray the image of someone who is infallible and capable of taking the world on their shoulders as a cartoon superhero might! However, we are not superheroes; we are fallible humans, and there really is only so much that we can do. Learning to negotiate, and on occasions even saying no, is not only necessary but also essential. It takes the pressure away, and you are less likely to let people down and stress yourself out!

Be tidy: The tidier and the more minimalistic you are, the easier it will be to find things. This saves lots of time. It is also good for your mind because it will help you to focus and feel more in control. The people who work around you will also appreciate you being tidy as it makes their life better and easier too.

This was first published in the September 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Liggy Webb
Liggy Webb is a leading authority in the field of behavioural change and positive psychology. She is based in the UK and is the founder director of The Learning Architect an international people development organisation. As an experienced learning and development professional she works as a consultant with a wide range of organisations including the United Nations and the NHS. Liggy’s next book The Happy Handbook is a practical guide to holistic happiness.

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