A growing number of authors and life coaches are making a full-time career out of advising us on how to sift schedules and sort priorities. With a view toward reorganizing our lives along more chronologically elegant lines, their prescriptions range from broad common sense to insistent micro-management of every detail of our days and nights. But what they all have in common is the noble goal of liberating us from the monstrous anxiety caused by what we believe we have yet to do in the face of overwhelming deadlines.
At its heart, the time management industry is selling you tools to redraw some of the boundaries that modern life seems to be intent on dissolving, especially the boundaries between what you feel you need to do and what you actually have to do. Worry and inefficiency feed on this overwhelming confusion, and the key to straightening out your priorities is to spend a few days keeping a close log of what you’re doing, for how long, and — most importantly — how you are really feeling about it. Be certain to do this honestly and meticulously, and a pattern as unique and revealing as your fingerprint will begin to emerge.
With the facts laid out before you, you can begin to spot trends and tendencies with ease: Inadvisable moments of relaxation, unnecessary overexertion, groundless worry and inaccurate optimism are all exposed. Reflect on dead time, on wasted time and on productive time as they appear in your record, and begin the task of addressing, activity by activity, how you might tidy up a few things. Deciding which actions you could group together, or which you need not have done yourself — for whatever reason — can be a liberating first step to effective management of your time.
Of course, no matter how well you compensate for your strengths and weaknesses, circumstances will always intervene. However, you can contain some of the turbulence in a working day by applying simple rules to your use of e-mail chat and cell phone, allocating specific times when you won’t let them interrupt you.
In the end, though, you can expect diminishing returns if you seek to systematize every moment of your day. A good portion of the undoubted wisdom of any book that claims it will change your life is simply irrelevant in many cases, and pursuing somebody else’s vision in totality will at best confer only small advantages. The roots of creative endeavor as it applies to your business, on which only you can draw, lie in the sudden connection of unexpected circumstances and ideas, often in an environment you don’t completely control. So build a framework with your own or with others’ ideas to make you work more effectively and feel better, but make sure it will support those precious insights that never arrive in an orderly way. Such insights are of disproportionate importance to how you continue to build your business.
5 time-saving tips
1. Stay ahead of the curve — There’s nothing quite like arriving prepared. By getting up just a little earlier, you can spend half an hour or so in the calm of the early morning thinking through what’s coming up and how you’re going to react. Doing so will pay dividends later.
2. Manage your interruptions — Assign an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon to dealing with your correspondence. Try switching off your e-mail program in between to avoid scratching the “send and receive” itch every five minutes. If you’re not paid to be on call, put your cell phone on silent, and pick a time to return all your calls later in the day.
3. Get out — Never underestimate the power of managed disruption. A change of scene for half an hour — even if it’s just a walk around the block — will give you a chance to take stock and marshal your thoughts.