Time management is a popular topic on seminars, coaching sessions and training programs for executives. I find it funny, as it implies that mere mortals do not need to reflect on their relationship with time. Perhaps The Powers That Be view people who are beyond the leadership region as obedient doers rather than conscious beings. Who knows, maybe it’s just my cynical remark resulting from years of being under inadequate managers. However, the research done by Rasmus Hougaard, the founder of a leadership programme called Potential Project, indicates that leaders that are mindful, selfless and compassionate create successful organisations. This means that awareness of time, of how it is distributed and how it impacts people across an organisation is key to success. All of us are in fact suspended in the spacetime continuum, making our way as best we can, from cradle to grave. Equally, some quantum physicists say that time is an illusion or that it can go backwards at the level of subatomic particles. It’s only a question of scale that moves us between these two different aspects of reality. I bet that if you said to your boss, client or loved one that you’re late because of Einstein’s claims on relativity, you would be greeted with a snide remark. Anyway, the way we perceive our relationship with time determines the fabric of our lives. It makes us either stop and smell the flowers in a park or ignore them while chasing the next item on our TO-DO-LIST!
Let’s start with a metaphor… when I lived in London I saw my relationship with time as an unfolding roll of paper in a seismograph, waiting for an inevitable earthquake preceded by the words “I’m so busy” I was stressed and had limited awareness of my decisions. My perception of self-agency was narrow. I needed to expand my perspective.
What is your metaphor for your relationship with time?
It’s interesting that we often say “We have no time” as if someone else were making the decisions in our daily lives. We all have time and we all make decisions. Yes, we may have some commitments that are presently non-negotiable. If we want to reach the end goal in mind we must keep going (e.g. raising a child, buying property, finishing a project, obtaining a qualification). We may be in a job where we have very little choice given to us. And yet, in my experience, people approach their busy phases more positively when they have clarity about the WHY of their commitments. If you know what values and end goals shape your decisions, you will be motivated to meet the demands of your schedule. If you feel conflicted or stressed, it may be worth your while to clarify what you are really trying to pursue.
Professor Lothar Seiwert, Europe’s leading expert for time management, presents a very appealing philosophy. In his book ‘Slow down to speed up‘ he urges us to really consider what gives our life meaning and then prioritise what we find dear. In order to avoid hurry sickness we need to place importance over urgency. In his cute and witty book Seiwert invites us to contemplate the four major areas of life that concern:
I can tell you how I use this approach in practice. I have four major life goals based on these areas. These goals inform my decisions. Every week I plan to do something that will bring me closer to what I would like to have in my life. I mean, I don’t really sit down and organise myself meticulously. I just know roughly that I would like to:
- see or talk to my loved ones (e.g. a Skype call)
- do something for my body and mind (e.g. a yoga class)
- spend time working on something meaningful (e.g. writing this blog)
- chill out doing something I enjoy (e.g. hiking)
I know that these are important. If I do something different with my time, e.g. sit at home rather than go to that yoga class, it means that either:
- I don’t see my goals as important
- I am confused about my values
- I make unrealistic assumptions
Sometimes life takes over, there are also unforseen circumstances. Over the years this model helped me to find some balance. It doesn’t mean you have to strive to orchestrate a flawless lifestyle. It’s a bit like cooking: you put the major chunks (your values & goals) of meat or veg into a big pot. Every time you make a soup it will taste slightly differently, but your overall way of cooking will give it your signature flavour, a theme. This theme results from the decisions you make in these four areas of life.
Let’s be realistic as well. Sometimes we face a major blow, we go through a rough patch. When I was depressed several years ago I could not imagine organising my life so neatly. And yet, having clarity in times of challenge is a resource. My grandmother has this strategy: when the shit hits the fan, she continues with her routine. It’s an anchor when the going gets tough. Rather than crawling under a blanket into a foetal ball position in a dark room (I guess most of us have been there), we can sustain ourselves by sticking to what is important to us. My metaphor for this approach is a tree. It spreads its roots organically and in response to the changing environment. The tap-root gives the tree stability while the branches grow towards the sun. Your time management will be smoother when you develop a stable core consisting of your values and major goals. These will dictate the direction and priority of the activities that you choose. Don’t be afraid to say no and to do less. Life has its limitations, you will be unfulfilled trying to fit too much into a 24 hour day. As the tree, everything has its seasons, so do you. These changes can follow your natural rhythm, your essence, your energy and disposition. Taoism urges us to follow this flow. Tao Te Ching gives us a nice reminder:
“Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. By forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.”
In the end, you can go through every day either ignoring or acknowledging your relationship with time. Even if you’re rushed off your feet, every moment is an opportunity to take charge and begin again. There will always be another moment. Until we die.