In the present day world, time has become one of the the scarcest, if not the scarcest, resource. People are constantly feeling constrained for time. In this entry, I attempt to pinpoint some of the factors that are contributing to the seemingly insurmountable challenge of effective time management. I explore possible strategies and actions that you can deploy in order to take charge of your time through identifying who or what controls your time and how you can go about regaining control over it. Much of the content of this post is based on my limited experience and learning on the subject. I do hope that it would give you food for thought and motivate you to manage and utilise your time more effectively.
Hardly a day goes by when I do not hear the phrase “time is flying!” Similarly “it went too quickly” or “it was very hectic” are commonly heard grumbles after weekends. The fact of the matter is that time is undeniably flying by at a virtually unprecedented pace. Hours turn into days in a matter of hours, days turn into months in a matter of days and months turn into years in a matter of months. But this is how it has always been. Right? Perhaps a more appropriate reflection should be something to this effect: hours seem to turn into days in a matter of minutes, days into months within hours and months into years within days. Yes this is more like it – wouldn’t you agree?
Looking back at life, I can’t help but feel that the speed at which time is passing has accelerated over the years and if it were to be represented graphically, we would likely see an upward exponential curve.
But is it time that has accelerated itself? Is it even possible for it to accelerate itself? Probably not! We haven’t witnessed any shortening of days or nights and a day is still 24 hours long. Even the seconds tick at the same pace as I have always remembered and this is based on my recent assessment of one of the traffic light timers en route to work.
So why is it that we feel so constrained when it comes to time – so much so that it has become more precious than the most precious of commodities. It has virtually become the ultimate scarce resource and such is the extent of its scarcity that despite being expert jugglers of multiple tasks and commitments, we still find ourselves compromising on one front or the other. Sometimes we lose family time to fitness / exercise and then skip work to make up for that loss of family time. Many of us, particularly those with 9 – 5 jobs, have gone as far as cutting a couple of hours off their night sleep to be able to indulge in prized activities, be it watching sports / Gossip Girl on TV, browsing the web, internet chatting or hanging out with friends. Its 12.05 am right now – how do you think I find time to write my blog?
This however does not mean that I condone nocturnal behaviour – especially, if you are not able to make up for the loss of your night sleep at other times of your day and if it impacts other aspects of your life adversely. I personally experience lack of focus and productivity, memory malfunction and lack of fluency in communication and expression when I indulge in extended nocturnality. The end result in most cases is slacking at work and long hours of sleep during the weekend, which in turn add up to more time loss.
The point is that you lose a lot of potentially productive time when you cut your sleep in attempting to gain extra hours. You effectively short-change yourself by trading inherently less productive time for that which if utilised and managed adequately can be highly productive. Not to mention the health related repercussions that come with sustained lack of sleep. While I am tempted to digress and reproduce whatever little I know about sleep management, I shall refrain from doing so in the interest of time. However those who are interested in learning more about the subject can click here for some excellent tips. It is worth mentioning here though that effective sleep management is just one way to better manage your time.
Follow Your Life Aspirations
Managing your time effectively and regaining control of it entails taking a holistic view of your life and looking at the bigger picture. If you are happy with your current state of affairs then there is no need to even think about time management, let alone doing something about it. But if you are one of those who want more out of life but are not able to do so due to scarcity of time, then you need to find ways to manage your time prudently. Needless to say that there are various ways in which you can start to recoup and utilise your time more effectively and efficiently.
The starting point of course is to gain an understanding of what you really want from your life and doing what it takes to achieve the same. By clearly defining your desired objectives you are able to set your direction and focus on what is important to you.
Effective time management starts with clear vision and goals.
Let me give you a simple example. Let’s assume that you had applied for your dream job and you were called in for an interview. What would you do? It is very likely that you would do everything within your power to ensure that you spend as much time as possible preparing yourself mentally and physically right down to the finer details including your attire, the time of your departure and your mode of transport etc. You may even have a Plan B to counter any contingencies. Now lets assume that your existing boss asks you to join him for an important meeting with a prospective client on the same day and time as your interview. What would you do? Knowing that this is perhaps the closest you would get to your dream job, you are very likely to excuse yourself from the meeting even at the risk of upsetting your boss.
The fact of the matter is that you are likely to adopt similar behaviour whenever you are trying to achieve something that you really want. In addition to dedicating the requisite amount of time, you are also likely to eschew and distance yourself from unnecessary distractions. Having spent your time and effort in pursuit of your desired goal(s), you would also likely have a deep feeling of fulfilment that comes with spending your time wisely and productively.
Many people however do not have a clear idea as to what they want. They do not set goals and objectives and operate on ad-hoc basis – their outcomes are random and so are their actions and vice versa. Some others do set goals but either do not pursue them or give up too quickly because the goals are poorly defined or unrealistic.
Time is what we want most but what we use worst. William Penn
Consequently, not only do they fail to realise their desired objectives, they also lose a considerable amount of precious time in the process. As a result they end up compromising on their desired outcomes and objectives, which in turn means that they remain in a constant state of confusion and guilt. Often in such cases, everything gets jumbled up and chaotic – work gets mixed up with family time and family time with your personal leisure etc. etc.
So knowing and defining your objectives clearly is key to using your time effectively and efficiently. The clarity ensures that you do not digress unnecessarily from your desired path and objectives, which in turn ensures that you feel more satisfied with the way you are utilising your time. And since you are allocating and dedicating sufficient amount of time and effort to a particular objective, you are subsequently able to focus on and move to the next step or next objective, as the case may be.
Work – Life Balance
Lets now drill down in to our day to day lives and analyse how we spend our time and how we can identify and realise efficiencies in the way we utilise our time. Lets start with our work patterns – our working life.
Work is perhaps the only activity in our lives that takes up a sizeable chunk of our time on a consistent basis. Eight hours of work is the typical minimum. However, despite employment contracts typically requiring eight hours of work, many actually end up spending more than that. I have seen people working around their desks anywhere between 10 – 12 hours per day. Not only that, with ever increasing connectivity and the introduction of smartphones and the like, many people are actually expected to be on call virtually 24 hours of the day. This is especially true for those that work in financial services or for high profile corporates and private enterprises.
A couple of years back, I was on a business visit with my boss in Dubai. On the day of our return, we had plenty of free time available to ourselves. So we decided to hit the hotel lobby for refreshments and coffee. An ex colleague (let’s call him AS) of my boss joined us in the afternoon. At around 5 pm we decided to head to the airport and AS also took leave. Upon enquiring he said he was heading back to the office as he typically finishes work around eight in the evening. One of my friends works for a high profile company and he typically works from 10 am to 10 pm. He also often complains about late night emails and calls from his boss.
Note that these hours exclude commute time to and from work. Of course in many countries that have well established transport systems, people are able to utilise their commute time to their advantage e.g. many people use this time to read. Many other countries however do not have such elaborate transport systems, which means people have to drive to work. In such countries the time spent in commuting is virtually a waste as neither is it counted as part of their work time nor can be it be used for personal benefit.
With so many hours of our daily time eaten up by work, it would not be inaccurate to conclude that by and large people live to work rather than work to live. Of course the prevailing economic system and the increasingly harsh economic conditions are partly to blame. The ever-increasing cost of living has forced people to work longer hours even if it means sacrificing other aspects of their lives.
Increasingly however there is a realisation that the live to work life style is neither healthy nor sustainable. People have started to question the system and employers too are recognising the importance of wellbeing and welfare of their employees. As a consequence, we have seen the emergence of flexi-time, work from home and part time work schemes.
It is this realisation that has also contributed to a reduction in the average number of workweek hours across various countries. According to this article on Wikipedia, people in the US are working 33 hours per week on average. France and Netherlands boast even lower average working hours per week at 30 and 27 respectively. Netherlands is also said to be moving towards an average weekly working hours of 21.
Just imagine working 3 days a week or just over 5 hours every day. Imagine what you could do with that extra time – read, travel, spend more time with family, allocate time for your spiritual needs and be more creative etc. etc. Of course there is a trade off in terms of the money lost but I personally think it just may be worth it because while money can fulfil your needs it cannot buy sustained happiness, freedom, love, satisfaction and fulfilment.
In my limited experience, I have come across several people who have distanced themselves from the normal working practices and have found more creative ways of earning and living.
One architect that I met in London a while back said that he only worked three days a week. One lady makes a living trading stocks between 7 am and Midday. She has the rest of the day to her family and herself after noon. Another gentleman that I met works 6 months in one country and returns to his home country for the rest of the year to relax.
There are numerous people out there that get paid for writing about their travel adventures – again not a regular 9 – 5 job. One gentleman that I know conducts weekly training courses once or twice a month and yet is able to afford a pretty decent lifestyle. People in the Xinjiang province of China are to this day said to work for only part of the year – their main trades are agriculture and gemstone mining. One of my close friends left his lucrative 9 – 5 job to start his own small part time business and he is over the moon with the extra time he has now. And the list goes on and on……
So unless you really love or enjoy what you are doing at your work place and unless it fits in to your ultimate goal in life, I suggest that you consider finding some efficiency in your work life as well. You do not necessarily have to quit your job but you can certainly ensure that you do not work beyond what is absolutely necessary. You can find smarter ways to do your work. You can request your employer to give you the flexibility to work from home or to allow you to come in early at 7 am and leave at 3 pm. You can find a job nearer to your home to save commuting time. There are lots of ways in which you can extract a few additional hours out of your work routine so that you have more flexibility and freedom in your personal life.
How distracted are you?
The overwhelming proliferation of technology, gadgets, smartphones, email and social media has undoubtedly improved our lives in many ways. But there is a flip side – people have become so wired that they are virtually living in the virtual world. People are using these as their outlets – for breaks, relaxation, pleasure and even for escaping from the realities of life.
Then, there is TV. The hundreds of channels, X idol, the Y factor and plethora of not so real reality shows are adding to the list of distractions that we have chosen to be distracted by in the name of entertainment and relaxation.
The fact is that these distractions cannot and do not produce anything more than in-the-moment / momentary pleasure. The time that you spend on these activities neither creates any value nor does it add to your sense of fulfilment or happiness.
Some people would argue that they are only spending a small proportion of their time on these activities – if that is actually true then they deserve a pat on the back. But in reality a lot of people end up spending a lot more time on these activities than they think. If you are in doubt, then I suggest that you test it out yourself. Time each instance that you spend on these activities in a day and add it up over a week. I am certain that you would be surprised with the results.
I am sure you must have come across the phrase “time is money” but have you ever wondered whose money your time is? If your time is not your money then it is probably someone else’s money.
Facebook (FB) is a prime example which makes money while people spend time on it. So your time is creating money for someone else without you even realising it – according to Forbes, the founder of FB made over USD 10 billion from its stock exchange floatation back in May 2012. Interestingly he is also ranked 25th among the most powerful people worldwide. And what gave him this fortune and power? Nothing else but your presence on FB – your time! Imagine if all FB members decided to stop using it collectively – where would that leave FB? It is likely that it would no longer remain a going concern.
The same principle applies to TV shows and Cinemas where your time is translated into money for the people running the shows and movies. Just ask yourself whether the time you are spend watching TV and surfing social media websites or checking emails is worth it. Go on ask yourself. I am sure you will not get a positive response especially if you know you can spend this time in more productive ways.
So when you spend time on such activities, ask yourself as to what value are expecting to derive and whether the perceived value is consistent and congruent with your objectives in life. Ask yourself whether you can spend this time on something else that can add value to your personality, your family or to your loved ones because time spent on these aspects of your life is likely to bring you more satisfaction and fulfilment.
A close friend recently introduced me to a book called “Focus – A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction”. The author of this book sheds light on how he distanced himself from unnecessary and undesired distractions and how this helped him find more peace in life. You can download the FREE e-book here.
In a Nutshell
There are hundreds of ways, if not more, in which you can manage your time better and regain control of it. One of the fundamental ways is become Outcome Oriented – that is focus on your desired outcomes in life and link your time and actions to your outcomes.
Think about what you have been created for and find your purpose. Define your priorities and act accordingly. Avoid random, haphazard play and distance yourself from unnecessary distractions. The time spent on your highest priorities carries the highest value and delivers the highest amount of fulfilment. So you are better off allocating more time to your higher priorities and lesser time to your lower priorities.
Allocate time to finding true happiness and fulfilment. True happiness lies in doing more of what you have been created to do. Our purpose as human beings is to worship one God be it through specific acts of worship or through dedicating time for the welfare or wellbeing of our loved ones and that of the people around us. Charity, sharing, caring and helping those in need are great ways to achieving a higher sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.
In a nutshell, aligning your actions with your purpose of life is the best way to manage your time. This alignment will give you the feeling that your time is being well spent, which in turn would result in lesser time wastage and lesser complaints of time passing by too quickly.
Time is running out and it is high time that you took control of your time.