We’ve all said it – usually referenced in times of great frustration, whether at home or on the job. The work has piled up, the jobs are seemingly endless, and the to-do list has no checkmarks. The words spill out quickly and furiously, as if uttering the phrase will magically change the fate of your current predicament. “I just don’t have the time.” Exhausted and irritated, you move on attempting to determine which of the unfinished items will prove most detrimental in the long run and ponder the best excuse you can provide to cover for it.
The inherent difficulties of “I just don’t have the time” are shared by many. From working parents to stressed out teens to young professionals trying to find their way, difficulty managing time (or lack thereof) is surely a shared experience. My involvement in gathering qualitative data in hundreds of focus groups (representing multiple professions and varying levels of authority) confirms that lack of time is one of the most consistently referenced frustrations in the workplace. Interestingly, the individuals I speak with also clarify that the anxiety caused by a lack of time is certainly not isolated to the office, warehouse or headquarters. I hear quite often about the stressors of home (which usually include time-sensitive items) spilling over to work, essentially doubling down on the worry, unease and angst.
It has become our cultural standard to take the notion of “busy” to the next level. For many, 12-hour days are somewhat routine and discussion of vacation carries a twinge of nostalgia. We have responsibilities that, when piled on top of one another, seem insurmountable at times. Many also struggle with private battles of which our colleagues and friends have little idea or understanding. Faced with so much, it’s no wonder that we consistently plead for more time.
Time Management Strategies
Consider though, what if our cries for help could be alleviated with several (rather simple) strategies? What if the answers to many of our time-centric predicaments are already within reach? Rooted in authentic practice and application with multiple individuals and organizations, and the ensuing success they have experienced, I offer the following strategies and ideas as an antidote to the time you swear you don’t have.
Wake up early. Yeah, I get it – easier said than done. I understand and agree that it would be trite and irresponsible to recommend something so basic without providing several pieces of important context. Stay with me here. The recommendation of waking up early works as a simple math equation – wake up 90 minutes earlier each day and have 90 additional minutes to get things done. Problem solved, right? Not so fast. The issue here is that you have failed to provide an appropriate motivator for what is perceived as a major sacrifice. Give up sleep to further engage in work? For someone else’s benefit? Most will say no thanks.
Instead, what if we changed the stimulus and prioritized self-care as the main driver of our newly discovered time each morning? For example, we could spend those extra minutes meditating, exercising, cooking healthy meals for the day, reading, journaling or simply taking a walk. Remember, self-care is not synonymous with selfish. Research strongly indicates that the inclusion of self-care opportunities early in the day leads to improvements in mood, productivity and overall energy. So really, the “sacrifice” of an earlier rise time will lead to marked improvements in effectiveness throughout the day. With increased energy, clarity and drive, individuals find themselves accomplishing more and requiring less time to do it. Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that work quality and relationships will strengthen as well.
Organize your day. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism rings true today like it did in colonial America. Beginning each day, in the absence of organization, steals vast amounts of time – whether you realize it or not. Fortunately, there are many strategies to assist those who have little idea how to fix this broken cycle. Make no mistake, there are many people who struggle with proactive organization because the nature of their work or the makeup of their personal life demands flexibility. For these individuals, it is impossible to know what the day will bring or to determine the details of what will be required of them. Fear not. The prescriptive measures offered here can be universally applied no matter the root cause of one’s struggles with organization.
Any discussion of organization begins with priorities. In the absence of priorities, daily decisions begin to blur – there is no clear distinction of what matters most. By determining our priorities at any given point in time, we are able to eliminate distractions and non-essentials. In their New York Times bestseller, The One Thing, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan eloquently provide an outstanding method of prioritization. Each day, the authors challenge us to ask, “What’s the one thing we can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” When put into action, individuals will find that asking the question provides instant clarity. Items that were once on the list seem to fall off. Some will even disappear forever. With a level of newfound precision and simplicity, the essentials will rise to the top. Reflecting on my own progression of becoming more organized and efficient, I have found it easier to designate work when appropriate and have also (slowly) become better at simply saying “no” when it is necessary to do so. Both advancements have positively impacted the way I utilize and spend my time.
Don’t allow others to steal your time. Perhaps, the most consequential time thief of all is the problem/work/responsibility drive-by. This occurs when a colleague, acquaintance, friend or family member places one of their issues on your plate to solve – without your permission. I jokingly refer to the process as a drive-by because it happens quickly – oftentimes, we don’t notice it until after the fact. It can be VERY difficult to stop the process once it has grown legs and becomes an institutional or familial norm. When an individual comes to expect his/her problems to be solved with no strings attached, the effects on time can be disastrous. There is no way to predict or account for this loss of time and its many reverberations – distrust, frustration and resentment – can do major damage to culture and relationships.
A practical method to overcoming this dilemma is to promote a problem-solving atmosphere that mandates others to think about and supply solutions before presenting you with their problem. The world is full of problem identifiers. Problem solvers, on the other hand, are at a premium. When others know and understand your solutions-first rule, they are less likely to leave a problem at your feet with the unrealistic expectation that you drop everything and solve it. And when they do decide to present you with an issue, the discussion begins with their identified solution – a first step in tasking them with seeing it to a sensible conclusion.
Be Your Time Manager
Statistically, there is no doubt that our lives are busier than ever before. Unfortunately, emerging data continues to confirm that this trend will continue to advance rather than slow down. Instead of succumbing to the grind and frustration of consistently operating in the absence of time, take the actionable, necessary step toward greater freedom. Learn to control time before time controls you.