Archive for May, 2011

Time to manage yourself

May 30, 2011

Finding your time

Our final post in this series looks at how you can manage yourself within your framework of time. How can you make it work to your advantage when so many fail to grasp the real opportunities it provides?

Finding the time in our busy schedules can be a challenge – work, home, family, commitments and sleep. What’s left other than a few minutes to relax before it all starts again?

The biggest challenge is making a start. Decide what you want, be clear on the outcome, break your goal down into manageable steps and make a start. You can get a lot done by allocating just 30 minutes a day. This is certainly easier than finding a two or three hour block.

So, if you find you’ve got no time to spare, make some time to manage your time. Here’s how:

Plan each day. Planning your day can help you feel more in control of you life. Write a to-do list, putting the most important tasks at the top. Keep a schedule of your daily activities to minimise conflicts and last-minute rushes.  If you schedule it, it happens. One of these days is none of these days.

Prioritise your tasks. Like many people, you may be spending the majority of your time on a small percentage of your tasks. Prioritising will ensure you spend your time and energy on those that are truly important to you.

Allocate time for what’s important. It’s easy to fill your day with the urgent and relatively unimportant, leaving the valuable until later. It’s human nature to want to ‘clear the decks’ before tackling a project that requires focus and energy.

Don’t do too much at once. Decide what’s the most important and focus your energy on that. This will improve your effectiveness. Then you can ‘bank’ some time for you.

Say no to non-essential tasks. Consider your goals and schedule before agreeing to take on additional work.

Delegate. Take a look at your to-do list and consider what you can eliminate or pass on to someone else.

Establish a rhythm of results and focus on delivering incremental value to yourself. There can be a lot of playing around the edges that won’t take you closer to your goal.

Take the time you need to do a quality job. Doing work right the first time may take more time upfront, but errors usually result in time spent making corrections, which takes more time overall.

Break large, time-consuming tasks into smaller tasks. Work on them a few minutes at a time until you get them all done.

Practice the 10-minute rule. Work on a dreaded task for 10 minutes each day. Once you get started, you may find you can finish it. Procrastination is a killer of time and energy. It drives anxiety and frustration that can lead to giving up. Don’t let that happen to you.

Evaluate how you’re spending your time. Keep a diary of everything you do for three days to determine how you’re spending your time. Look for time that can be used more wisely. For example, could you take a bus or train to work and use the commute to catch up on reading? If so, you could free up some time to exercise or spend with family or friends.

Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Improved focus and concentration will help improve your efficiency so that you can complete your work in less time.

Take a time management course. If your employer offers continuing education, take a time management class. If your workplace doesn’t have one, find out if a local community college, university or community education program does.

Take a break when needed. Too much stress can derail your attempts at getting organised. When you need a break, take one. Take a walk. Do some quick stretches at your workstation. Take a day off.

The day we start managing ourselves within time is the day we begin giving our selves time to really enjoy life. Our time is limited and must be used wisely, and knowing how to use this one life requires insight and wisdom that only time can provide. That is the great paradox of life. Your time starts now.

How to be free of self-made time traps

May 23, 2011

Living time

We’re moving through the effects of time in this series and this post shows us how to free ourselves from time traps of our own making; often an issue with many people – where do I find the time to achieve the results I want?

In essence, our problem is that we fail to systematically set priorities for our life. And if we don’t discriminate between what’s important and what’s secondary, we’ll never have enough time.

Regardless of whatever medical breakthroughs might occur in our lifetime, immortality simply isn’t in the cards for us. Despite our human limitations many of us live as though we’ll be around forever. A key assumption linked to our tendency to procrastinate is that we can always deal with something later, a hypothetical later that may never occur.

So many of us unwittingly waste our time, then rationalise our failures by saying that there’s never enough time. That, we mistakenly reason, explains why we haven’t achieved what we’d hoped to. But ultimately, the responsibility for not accomplishing what may have been most important to us lies not with the lack of time but with our misguided use of it.

The solution is that we have to seriously reflect on what we care about most. Given who we are and who we aspire to be, what is it that we most value?

The process of prioritising is hardly anything new. But we’re unaware of what realistically we can achieve within a given time frame. After all, if we became clear about what means the most to us we should be able to schedule our life accordingly. And we’ll almost certainly discover that there is enough time to bring our ambitions to fruition.

Arranging our time requires eliminating those things that aren’t our highest priority. If we have many interests, at the very least, we’ll need to prioritise them. The amount of time we have is not limitless so we need to choose those things that promise us the greatest rewards.

The pace of time

Despite the many time saving devices, instant communication and technology that allows us to do things NOW, we often complain of not having time, the pace of everyday life and the speed of the years flying by. The paradox is the more labour saving, time saving devices we have the less free time we seem to have for ourselves.

We can accept the effect of technology with its instant communication, the technical fulfilment of many human activities that previously required at least some physical presence. These are, more often than not, good things – but we need to consider how much of this progress is accompanied by the fact that we need less and less conscious attention to perform these activities.

The effects of advancing technology, for all the promise it offers the world has, to many people, placed the instant satisfaction of desire above the art of living. To be present, truly present, is to have conscious attention.

It’s not, therefore, the pace of change that is the source of our problem of time. It’s our reaction to it and the way we allow it to influence our lives. Enjoy the many benefits technology provides, but also know when to take life ‘off line’, slow down and enjoy what we’re doing.

I don’t have the time!

Lack of time is the single biggest excuse for not doing the things that need to be done in our lives. It’s the major excuse that holds us back from ever realising our full potential and achieving our goals. The reality is that it’s often the busiest people who get the most done.

Managing yourself within time takes discipline. Discipline to avoid wasting time and to keep focused on being productive. If you don’t manage some time to pursue your dreams they will slip away.

We create our own destiny with the choices we make. Time can be our saviour or executioner depending on how we act on our choices. There is a price to pay for everything we do; the price of time.

There are more demands than ever for the hours of our lives. So many have given in and decided that their dreams have to wait, putting them on the back burner until the mythical ‘someday’. If we’re time poor now it’s because of the decisions we’ve made. We choose the activities and priorities in our lives, and filling our time with secondary activities or those we believe others expect us to do have a cost. Everything we do and everything we commit to takes away the minutes and hours and ultimately the years of our lives.

While managing ourselves within time is relatively simple it’s never easy. Like most things in life, it’s all about choice. Many people have the expertise to do great things but few take the steps required to be exceptional. They remain locked in the procedural flow of life and fail to break out because they just don’t have the … time.

So how do we make time work for us? That’s the topic of the next and final post in this series.

The effect of time

May 16, 2011

Looking back ...

Time is a constant that affects all people equally. Seconds, minutes, days, weeks, years and decades: the same for the richest self-made billionaire and the same for us. ‘Time management’ is a misnomer. We can’t manage time: only ourselves within it.

Our finite reality provides us with a limited time on this planet to achieve the goals we set. Many people are deeply concerned with the passage of time on themselves and what they can achieve.

Time is a major cause of stress in our lives. Try as we might we cannot hold back the flow of time. Even aging 1980’s action heroes with their strangely obvious cosmetic surgery, liposuction, hair dye and human growth hormones ultimately can’t hold back time.

If time is passing us by, what can we do?

When what manifests in our lives isn’t aligned with our expectations what should we do? Should we deny our experiences and call them a waste of time because they’re not what we expected? Should we settle for what we get and accept that time is against us?

Or do we change course and try again? After all, we have the time and it’s just up to us as to how we use it. Time passes whether we’re actively engaged in pursing our goals or sitting on the couch feeling sorry for ourselves.

Are you prepared to try? After all, if you always get only what you expect, where would life’s challenges be, and how would you grow? Are you prepared to accept what has gone before as ‘time served’ towards your goal, to leverage all your experiences to create the life you want and deserve?

Yes, you do have the time. If you start now.

Taking the time to do what’s expected

While youth may be wasted on the young, in middle age we enjoy the wisdom and resources to create the life we truly desire. It’s up to us. As a species we love routine and follow what is expected of us. But in that, if we’re not careful, is the trap of unfulfilled mediocrity.

Get an education, find a partner, get a job, buy a home, raise a family, work hard, pay taxes, contribute to society, have a nice garden, a nice life. Catch up with friends on the weekend over a few drinks and during the week come home to four hours of television to ‘unwind’. Perhaps take a two-week holiday to the coast at Christmas.

Day after day, week after week, year after year. We live in a routine life, following the social cues. Doing so, we will have a ‘nice’ life. Not great but not bad either; a life of significance or indifference. We passively accept our lot in life and if we find ourselves thinking about how things could have been, where the dreams of our youth have gone, we remind ourselves of our responsibilities and snap back to reality.

 When we approach the end of our lives we find another emotional time. One of regret for the things that could have been or should have been but weren’t. We realise we learnt how to make a living, but not a life. We added years to life but not life to our years. We spent more, but enjoyed it less. We had more convenience, but less time.

We look back and see all the things we should have done. We look forward to all the things we need to do. And then we look at where we are.

The next post will show us how to free ourselves of the time traps of our own making.

Does time fly as we get older?

May 9, 2011

Time for change?

Why does time fly, particularly as we get older?

What colour was the towel you used this morning? Do you remember driving to work? What did you watch on TV last night? You may not remember because everyday routines cause our brains to click into autopilot, making the days appear to pass quickly.

In childhood experiences are novel and distinct but in adulthood each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly notice at all; the days and weeks smooth themselves out in recollection and the years flow by.

The first time we experience events they make new and vivid memories. We reflect on those memories and that helps preserve them. When we’re young many new experiences are also highly charged with emotion; the first kiss, the walking on air feeling of meeting someone new, the first day of our new career, the days on which our children are born.

As life settles down and we repeat the same events again and again; they don’t make much of an impression so don’t stand out in our memories. Work, life, family and even holidays can become routine so when we get to the end of a year similar to the last, and the several before that, our perception is that time has flown.

We can’t escape the fact that as years pass they become proportionally smaller to our total life. Each year feels shorter relative to all the time we’ve lived and so seems to be going by faster.

Our daily routine can be explained as a straight line in our memory. New experiences cause the line to change direction and thus we remember them. This straight line effect accounts for why time passes more quickly as we age. We simply encounter fewer new experiences as we grow older. The days felt longer as a child because so much was new.

We remember the exciting and transformational experiences that help shape the fabric of our lives. These experiences set us on the path to who we are today. We lived life with intensity and shared this time with friends. Emotionally charged, we enjoyed every minute in vivid colour. We were young and free, not yet burdened with the realities of the world, and felt strong, powerful and alive.

As the years progress we look back with melancholy to the ‘good old days’, often through rose coloured glasses that heighten the good times and ignore the bad. We were forever young and now, looking back, we feel a sense of accomplishment but also a sense of sadness for a time that we hoped would never end. The approaching of middle age brings these feelings into close report. Many mid life crises emanate from a desire to recapture a youth long gone.

We can remember the past times with fondness but look to the future to make new memories just as satisfying. Take a positive approach to making life exciting; to enjoy the present and to look optimistically to the future.

Enjoying the now is the secret to a balanced life. In the next post we’ll look at how to maximise the time we have and taking the time to be successful.

Understanding time

May 2, 2011

Like sand through an hourglass ...

As a child I was fascinated with the hourglasses that sat on my grandparents’ sideboard in their front room. We weren’t really allowed in there amongst the ancient wooden furniture, the stiffly stuffed couch, refracting crystal, and the rarely used ‘good’ china. With grandma busy in the kitchen and grandpa engaged with the cricket my brother and I would sneak in and carefully turn the hourglasses.

We watched the grains of sand as they slipped from the top to the bottom of the glass vials. We turned them over and began again. As we waited for the sand to move from top to bottom, it didn’t occur to us that it represented time lost forever.

Forty years later, today, time has taken on a new meaning. Those hourglasses sit on a shelf in my study, largely ignored by the next generation, who measure time in far shorter increments. No time to watch sand falling these days.

Arrogantly we think time belongs to us. But time is independent and cannot be restrained; we neither own nor control it. We only inhabit its space between birth and death. We need to understand how to live in the present tense. It’s all about this moment.

We should neither kill time nor waste time.

It’s within our power to design and create what we do with the time we have. The first step is to understand time and our role within its flow.

What is time?

While it appears to us that time is moving it’s just not clear how it does so. Time is not a physical object: it doesn’t first exist in one place and then in another. So in that sense how does it pass?

Time can simply be explained as a unit of measurement defined in order to sequence events. We define time with denominations such as seconds, minutes, hours, days. However, these denominations are arbitrary human constructions, and have no bearing regarding the wider, more intricate view of time in the universe.

Humans measured time by observing natural phenomena that occur regularly. Until recently, those natural phenomena were all astronomical events: the rising and setting of the sun, moon and stars.

Stephen Hawking proposed that time flows like a river and it seems as if each of us is carried relentlessly along by time’s current. But time is like a river in another way. It flows at different speeds in different places.

Hawking uses the example of GPS. A network of satellites in orbit around Earth reveal that time runs faster in space than it does on Earth.

Inside each spacecraft is a very precise clock. But despite being so accurate, they all gain around a third of a billionth of a second every day.

The problem isn’t with the clocks. They run fast because time itself runs faster in space and the reason for this extraordinary effect is the mass of the Earth. Matter drags on time and slows it down like the slow part of a river. The heavier the object, the more it drags on time.

How much time do we have?

Every year of our lives, we consume 8,766 hours. Every ten years, 87,660 hours. If our lives extend to age 60, we’ve got a total of 525,960 hours at our disposal: to handle priorities, fulfil obligations, meet interesting people, pursue personal goals, travel and do most anything and everything else we wish to achieve.

If we live to 70, we’ll have 613,620 hours to work with. Age 80 brings our supply up to 701,280 hours: surely a sufficient amount of time to live our hopes and dreams; to have a life well lived?

Just a moment, please …

So that’s time. A value initially set by the rotation of our planet. The universe operates on increments of millions of years. We don’t have that long. We have now. What are you doing with your time?

In the next post we’ll look at why time flies and why we can sometimes get stuck in the past.