Time is the one thing we can never buy. It is there and then it is gone. Just thinking about it is almost stressful. We can, however, control what we do with time and if we do that like a guru, there will always be enough of it. Sounds good?
If we want to manage our time like a guru, or any wise person really, we want to look at our life as a whole. We have a bad habit of compartmentalising events, traits, behaviour and the rest, thereby failing to see how these things affect each other. Thus we have become accustomed to hardships and problems that can easily be mitigated. Bear with me. It all makes sense in the end.
Some people are hyper effective by nature. Doesn’t matter where you put them, they get to work and never look back. For the rest of us, time management is a necessary and – fortunately, teachable skill. Even if you can’t manage your way out of a wet paper bag, methods exist, that make time management feel, if not like a walk in the park, then at least a peaceful jog, rather than climbing the bloody mount Everest.
Time management is supposed to free up time
for better things, not be
the thing in itself.
Some people love time management with a passion. In my mind, time management is supposed to free up time for better things, not be a thing in itself. I am offering you what I consider the most effective tools to spend your time, and by extension your life, better and more efficiently. Please use it wisely.
Managing time like a guru is about understanding the connection between our habits, relationships and ability to perform professionally. But first and foremost, it is about being practical, so let’s start there.
1: To-Do, Or Do-It-Now? That Is The Question
It sounds like a hopeless intern’s stab at Shakespeare, but there is meaning to it. Time management means prioritising. There are various ways to go about it, apps you can download and what not, but common for them all is some variation of the to-do list. Here is how I do it. It’s simple and very effective.
I have an A4 whiteboard with everything I need to do – not just today, but, you know, everything! It is not in any particular order. This is my To-do Board. I take three tasks from my To-do Board, no more no less, put them on a post-it note, erase them from the board and put the board away. The post-it note is my Do-it-now List.
With my Do-it-now List close at hand, I set a realistic timeframe and focus only on my three most important tasks. The whiteboard is off limits until the tasks are done. I treat the To-Do List as a challenge, to do it as quick as possible. Because it is so short, it is doable without causing stress. It helps me focus, stay in the moment and not waste time thinking about things I am not currently working on. I write my list by hand because that makes it more tangible for me. Expand. Call me old-school, I consider it a compliment.
I pick my three topics for the Do-it-now List by three criteria: urgency, importance and distaste. Urgency and importance should be self-explanatory. Distaste means I deliberately prioritise tasks I don’t want to do. The less I want to do it, the more important it is, because it disturbs my mind, so better get it out of the way. There is a special peaceful satisfaction in getting something uncomfortable out of the way.
2: Coach Yourself Like You’re Fifteen
Maintaining mental momentum over prolonged stretches of time is a challenge. We may psyche ourselves up and be super lit at the beginning of the day, but then after half an hour – and I am being generous here, suddenly the energy is gone and we find ourselves accidentally browsing dill-pickle flavoured lip balm on Amazon (it’s real).
The trick is to break your self-motivational efforts into smaller pieces. Our mind never grows up. It is like a child that wants to do stupid things all the time, so we have to continuously stay on top of it. One big pep talk in the morning does not work. Punishing does not work either. Nothing sucks the fun out of any activity like “accountability” or “deadline.” Keep it positive and encouraging. Every time you complete a task, or even part of one, congratulate your mind by telling yourself that you have been very good – amazing in fact. Keep reminding yourself of just how amazing you are every time you have done anything, and be as specific as possible.
Once you get the result, briefly celebrate,
then move on
Our minds are like teenagers at best – infants at worst. Positive reinforcement and self-affirmation works like a charm. Every time you have completed a Do-it-now List, throw yourself a micro-party. Treat yourself to a peanut (one is enough and you know it), pad yourself on the back (yes, literally), and tell yourself how amazing you are and how you will do even better with the next Do-it-now List. If it works it’s not stupid.
People tend to focus on the result they want, and then celebrate the process they went through to get it, and that creates stress. This is important: Focus on the process that leads to the result, not the result itself. Once you get the result, celebrate briefly and then move on.
3: Give Up Useless Things
“Give up what now?!” I hear you say, and yes, you read it right. Part of my job, as mentioned, is showing people the connection between their lifestyle and practical challenges in life. A hugely undervalued factor in managing time, is the massive amounts of mental resources we waste, by filling our lives with useless possessions. If we want to manage time like a guru, we have to go holistic on it, and that includes lifestyle. We cannot lead chaotic lives, then walk into work and, because we downloaded this cool new app, expect everything to be all zen-like. Not going to happen. Work life and home life affect each other immensely. They are just two aspects of one life.
Things own us more
than we own them.
I usually tell people to get rid of 50% of their belongings, knowing very well they won’t get rid of even 5%. What to do. I am serious though. Our home is where we recharge our mental batteries. If it is a mess we feel like a mess. Air and space is so much nicer than the useless knickknack we fill our homes with anyway. Things own us more than we own them.
One exception though: Anything related to children is off limits: Don’t let me find out you used this blog as an excuse to sell your son’s drumkit on E-bay.
4: Finetune Relationships
Good relationships provide us with support and a sense of self-worth and confidence. This leads to increased faith in our own abilities. Relationships help us perform and that is great for time management. Conversely, toxic relationships drain us of energy and self-worth, and thus focus becomes impossible to maintain. Insecurities and stress are the worst enemies of productivity.
Relationships help us perform and that is great
for time management.
We have three types of professional relationships: seniors, peers and juniors. With seniors we want to generally stay out of their way, unless we either have a relationship with them, or are serving them in some practical way. No need to be scared of them though. Small-talk is good, but keep it short. They are busy people, not impressed by longwinded deliberations on what you achieved over the weekend.
Peers are like friends – some of them at least. Those who are should be treated like that. It is a good investment. People we have no personal connection with should be dealt with politely and formally. If anyone tries to exploit you, as far as possible, steer clear of them, don’t add anything to conversations and remember: politely saying no is okay. Stay cool, don’t gossip.
If anyone tries to exploit you, steer clear of them.
Juniors generally look up to us, and often for good reason. We have usually been around for longer, are better connected, make more money, etc. Generally, we want to treat juniors with understanding and leniency. Some of them try to impress us in various more or less awkward ways, like longwinded deliberations on what they achieved over the weekend. Don’t reciprocate too much with that, but do practice empathy.
We want to make everyone feel comfortable around us. But we also want to avoid exploitation, and spend our valuable time and energy on people we connect with, rather than trying to impress those we don’t connect with. It’s an ongoing process that gets easier with time.
Finetuning these relationships allows us to delegate tasks or sub-tasks, and that is great, not only because we get stuff off our list without effort, but also because we build relationships that way, and how we treat people when we’re up, is usually how they treat us when we’re down. So it’s a triple win.
Your career is supposed to support your lifestyle,
not the other way around.
we tend to undervalue intimate relationships and overvalue sporadic or impersonal relationships
Regarding personal relationships, we tend to undervalue intimate relationships and overvalue sporadic or impersonal relationships. Somehow we worry more about what the bus-driver and neighbours think of us than our spouse. Please reverse that. No sane person is ever too busy to spend quality time with their spouse. Show him/her they are more important than work and you will work better. Our career is supposed to support our lifestyle, not the other way around. In this context, having the support of a loving spouse is practically invaluable.
In general, look at relationships as opportunities to add value to other people’s lives.
Don’t waste time and energy on envy. It will burn you up from the inside.
5: Control Your Mind
Time management is closely related to life management, and that begins and ends with your mind. This is the crux of this blog. Everything in life is connected and our mind is where that connection takes place. Any real guru has perfected the ability to control their mind.
We all know spending hours on social media is mostly a waste of time, and yet we do it, because we have lost control over our mind. We either control our mind or it controls us, there is no third option. We fail to realise how much mental capacity we have, because nobody taught us how to access it. If we did, we would take it a lot more serious.
We either control our mind,
or it controls us,
there is no third option.
Today we, our colleagues as well as others within our field or profession, have basically the same resources at our disposal. Similar education, similar facility, similar equipment, same access to unlimited information. So what is our edge? Controlling our mind is the only edge you have today. But it’s a big one for two reasons, firstly, because everything you do works better when your mind is controlled. And secondly, since practically no one else puts any effort into it, the potential is huge, and it accumulates. If we are 10% better all the time, we are better 100% of the time.
Controlling our mind comes in three forms: action, reaction and awareness. Our actions, as we have touched on, should be regulated. That includes our home and relationships, but also eating, sleeping, exercise and so on. We should not be whimsical with your time – it is too valuable. When we develop good, regulated lifestyle habits our mind becomes peaceful. Alcohol, gambling and excessive spending, all affect us negatively, and thus disturbs our ability to control our mind and manage our time.
Our reaction to whatever the world throws at us should also be controlled. We all know the cliché of counting to ten before we speak. Well, sometimes there is a reason things become clichés. Usually first impressions and emotions are pretty spot on, but first reactions are often way off, because they come from the lizard brain, that only works on fight or flight mode. The ability to detach ourselves from our immediate reaction to what goes on around us, means we can
Awareness, as the final factor for a controlled mind, begins with the self. Our ability to see the world as it is, relies on our ability to see ourselves as we are. If we truly know ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses, we can benefit from any situation. The goal is that anyone should benefit from our association. That way we can get what we want, effortlessly.
Our ability to see the world
as it is relies on our ability
to see ourselves as we are
So there we have it. Managing time essentially comes down to prioritisation, self-motivation and focus. The two first are techniques that are simple to learn, as shown in points one and two, but real focus – real time management, only happens when we get our life and mind in order, hence points three, four and five.
Real focus only happens
when we get our life
and mind in order(?)
Real gurus are like time benders – their level of efficiency is amazing, but they are never busy. Managing time like a guru means seeing the subtle connections between lifestyle and our ability to control our mind. There are practical techniques we can use and they absolutely work, but unless we go a little deeper, the benefit we gain will be trivial and temporary. We have to stop chasing quick fixes because, you know, quick fixes don’t work. They are just another waste of time – the very thing we want to avoid.
Last but not least, before I let you go: application. Knowledge is useless, unless we apply it. Fortunately there is also a technique for that. Application has four elements: First is being attentive, that should be obvious, so I hope you paid at least some attention while reading this. Second is contemplation: Some things may not be practical for you, and that is cool. For anything to stick we have to make it our own, and own it, and that means contemplating how it applies to you. No one knows you like you do. Third is the application itself: Try it and see whether you are doing it right, then finetune it and try again. Finally there is sharing, so hit that share button and share this blog with all your friends on social media. Sorry, couldn’t resist. What it also means is, that when we talk about any topic, not only do we remember it better, we also deepen and broaden our understanding of it. Diversity in thinking is always a win.
Knowledge is useless,
unless we apply it
Thank you for staying with me to the end, and now: go forth into the world and happily apply away. There is an amazing time and life-manager inside you, eager to burst out. I hope this blog gave some hints on how to make that happen.