Managing People, Time and Work

How to Manage Time

We all have exactly the same amount of time, yet some of us seem to know how to manage time and get so much more done than others with barely enough time to cover the basics of life.

 Discretionary time?

Gold pocket watchHow is that? What do people who manage their time effectively do that others don’t? Do they simply have more energy so they do things more quickly? Do they have less commitments and obligations? Surely a mother with five small kids has less discretionary time? Is that the secret — that the discretionary time is more? Is it purely that the amount left over after all our commitments is different for different people?

I once calculated how much time I needed for work, sleep, cooking and eating, commuting, household chores, showering etc and found I had minus 5 hours a week. This was a wake-up call and also just didn’t add up. No one gets a bill for the 5 hours they used that they didn’t have.

So what do most people do when they have minus 5 hours discretionary time – take time out from something like sleep? Sleep deprivation is a hidden burden affecting 20% of the population. So I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one to think of this.

Looking at your fixed time commitments is a really useful starting point, but is probably not the most useful or motivating. In fact it can be pretty depressing to find out you have minus 5 hours a week available.

Elastic Time

Have you noticed that time seems stretchy? That the task takes up the amount of time you allocated to it? Okay sure there are some things (like with some jobs) where it doesn’t matter if you get tasks done a really quickly because you are there for the duration of your allotted hours.

Where it doesn’t matter what you get done in the amount of time you are there, so this part isn’t elastic.

But many other things are. For instance if you only have one hour to do all the household chores, you choose the most important ones and probably speed up the others (or all of them). If you have five hours to do the same chores you probably won’t get that much more done, because you start with the obvious ones, the ones you can see and then lurch from one task to another.

Deadlines and Time Constraints

I was always intrigued why having an assignment and running out of time was motivating. I would do the research and the things I enjoyed, while not getting around to putting things on paper. Then, with the due date upon me, I would wrap the whole thing up in no time flat.

Having a time constraint is a way of prioritizing and also to use overlapping. You can put the washing on first so it will be done when you’ve finished vacuuming. It also makes discretionary tasks disappear. You don’t worry about cleaning the windows (does anyone actually clean windows?)

Most Important Tasks

Of course that brings us to how to choose the most important tasks? We are driven by what is important to us. We all have organizing principles we are unaware of.

Some of us organize around our kids, some around food, going out with friends, working, studying. And when we “go with the flow” our default organizing principle gets used.

When we have a deadline on the other hand the task itself becomes the organizing principle. It’s a way to organize our actions so they count.

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