Like carpentry, data analytics or surgery, time management skills are not something we are born with. They need to be cultivated with great discipline and will power, and practised time and again to develop them into a habit. But how do you do that when you perennially find yourself starved for time? Being the new epidemic that it is becoming, time starvation as author Daniel Goleman of the book What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters puts it, boils down to our inability to differentiate between what matters now and what is merely a distraction. He feels time starvation is further compounded by the sheer wealth of information we have available today – 5 times more than few years ago, causing an inevitable attention deficit.
If you find yourself increasingly stuck in time starvation mode, here are five tips to break free:
#1 Seek productive cocoons: These can be places or time slots in a day where you are able to focus without any distractions whatsoever for however much or less time your brain functions in the super attentive mode. Gradually you’ll notice that your most innovative, creative, and breakthrough ideas come from these productive cocoons.
#2 Create a time management map: For a week or two, jot down everything you do in a weekday as well as weekends. When you sit down to analyze, group similar activities into a single category, such as that of administrative work (emails, bookkeeping, invoices, etc.), sales tasks (Calling, mailing prospects, scheduling and attending meetings, etc.), creative work (problem solving, designing a new solution to a persistent bottleneck), and others such. This time management map will clearly reveal how much you spend on your core as well as non-core tasks, what can be easily delegated to a team member/virtual assistant, and how much time you’ll save in doing so.
#3 Say NO more often, laced with a touch of goodwill: Yes, you read that right. Saying NO can have several layers to it and when laced with goodwill, this simple two-letter word can save you so much time and stress that you’d pity yourself for not developing this time management habit earlier. Once you identify your core and non-core priorities, say NO to everything that is not your focus and take the effort to explain your stand – why you think you’d rather not attend that meeting/social gathering/indulge in office gossip or politics, etc.
#4 Set the pace for different tasks accordingly: A status-update meeting can be concluded in under 20 minutes while a technology migration roadmap discussion will obviously take longer. Set a realistic pace for every task on your plate and then strive to meet that goal.
#5 Re-learn that more than time, you actually need downtime: As humans living in the hyper-connected digital age, we have forgotten how it feels like to be doing nothing, to be still. We’d rather do something (even if it’s negative, mindless or super crap) just to escape the stillness of our thoughts. To truly ace the time management game and to recharge your mental batteries, catch up on stillness – drive/eat/sit with a cup of coffee/take a walk without music/phone/camera for company.
Honing time management skills requires solid time investment – but the more you invest, the more incremental benefits you reap. Are you up for this investment of a life time?