Time management: friend or foe?

When I say ‘time’ what do you think of? What is your gut reaction? Anxiety? Frustration? Excitement?

I begin most research by clearly defining the core concepts of the problem I face. And because I received so many requests relating to time management, I wanted to give it the same attention as I do when researching and designing all workshops and learning events.

Easy enough. But have you ever tried to define time? The philosopher in me was intrigued by what I found but I now had to choose: is it the fourth dimension (a fundamental structure of the universe) or an intellectual structure which we humans use to sequence and compare events?

Right. So let’s agree for our purposes in defining how to work that time is something the clock measures and we each have 24 hours in a day (yes, I took the easy way out – feel free to explore the philosophical question further at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time).

Time is a limited resource

Though we change our habits to increase our other resources, we can not make more time. We can change our expense to income ratio to make more profit; we can change our food and exercise habits to give us more energy; but we can’t add another number to the clock and make more time. It just doesn’t work that way.

Time is a finite resource

To add to our angst, we each have a finite amount of this limited resource with which to live. And to add even more angst, the uncertainty is we don’t know just how much time.

Are you in a panic yet?

Good. Because how we choose to use this limited resource is not a decision to make lightly.

I could tell you how to tame the overwhelm monster; recognize and manage procrastination; and make decisions that lead to more fulfilling productivity, but before I can do any of that I must first help you what must be managed before time management.

A new perspective

Have you ever laid out your life on a timeline or a life chart? I met an artist once who had painted a life calendar on her studio wall. Imagine an entire wall covered from floor to ceiling with horizontal and vertical lines. These lines were evenly spaced providing her with 4,420 blocks (she made it a point to tell me that number). I asked her why that specific number of blocks. Each block represents a week in her life assuming she lived to 85. She was currently 23 years old and had been doing this since college.

In each square from the past was painted a picture representing what had happened in her life, like a journal. The early years were sparse but her collage and recent years were full of life. I found myself randomly drawn to weeks that seemed insignificant but because she had recorded events, those moments represented became precious. Sure there were graduation squares, first day on the job squares, promotion squares. But what was more interesting were the squares in between. They represented the daily choices that led to those more significant events.

When I asked why, she explained that the life calendar helped her to see her life from both the big picture and the small. It helped her to recognize that she was creating her life mosaic. That she and only she chose what to put in the box. And as she began to use the calendar she recognized that not only could she chose what to include, she could design it. What she chose to do each and every day would increase her chances of designing the life she wanted.

We talked more about how this view of life provides a way to see patterns, shifts in mindset, shifts in priorities, even shifts in happiness. Though it seems rather ordinary in the way a daily journal is ordinary, the visual aspect brought the powerful messages to an entirely different level of awareness.

I tell you this story not to encourage you to paint one of your walls with a life calendar (though a cool idea!) rather to help you realize that time management is not the first obstacle you must overcome. Before we manage time, we must manage our thoughts.

Thoughts before time

No matter what time management system you use, or approach you take, your thoughts will sabotage your success before you can get through your first week.

In front of all of the feelings of overwhelm, the procrastination, the decision making – comes the stories you tell yourself about time and how you manage it (or how it manages you.)

Do you see time as the enemy or as a precious commodity that you were given at birth to care for and appreciate? Imagine at birth you are given a bag full of platinum nuggets. For each day you must hand over one nugget in exchange for activities and experiences. Would you view your platinum differently than time?

Maybe because time is not tangible like a bag of platinum nuggets. Or maybe because we don’t know how much time we have compared to the bag of nuggets, either way there is something to this exercise of treating platinum as precious ally instead of the enemy.

Time: Friend or Foe?

The first challenge in this time management series is for you to observe how you think of time. Is it friend or foe? Ally or enemy? Do you feel you waste it or value it? Are you racing against the clock or using it precisely as you wish?

Next time we’ll look at how to narrow down your specific issue with time and time management.