The key to Time Management

Carolyn and me in the Aegean Sea.

High performers constantly struggle with the issue of time management. The more things you are good at, the more people who think you have talent, the more opportunities you are presented with, the harder time management becomes. In order to manage your time, you must first grasp one crucial concept: You cannot “manage time,” you can only manage yourself and how you take advantage of time.

Time will march on no matter what you do. Whether you plan your day well and accomplish a lot or you just lay around and watch TV, tomorrow will come. Time marches on with no consideration of you or your plans. Since time constantly marches on, you are not in control of time and therefore you cannot manage it.

What can you manage? You can manage yourself and what you spend your preciously allotted time doing. If you spend your time wisely, you can accomplish many dreams. If you spend your time poorly, you might not accomplish anything.

So the key point here is that time management is really self-management. Since you only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else, you must use it wisely if you want to realize your dreams. Your activities must be moving you a step closer to attaining those dreams every day. We are all at risk of allowing urgent things to occupy all our available time to the extent we do not spend any of our time on the things that are truly important to us.

The extent you can control your time use, is really the extent you can say NO to the urgent things on other people’s agenda. Look closely at your calendar for this next week. How many of the items on your scheduled are getting you closer to your dreams verses how many of the items are really someone else’s agenda? If you and your plans are not in your schedule, time will march on and you will never get closer to your dreams.

My wife once woke me up from this nightmare when she told me I was doing too many things and needed to cut back so I could spend more time with the family. I argued that I was not doing too much. She suggested we make a list of the things I was doing. I was the president of one organization, the vice-president of another, the treasurer here and a board member there. When I could see all the things on the list, and none of them were my family, it became crystal clear that I was doing too much outside of my dreams and my family’s dreams. I needed to learn to say NO.

Consider yourself, your family, and your goals every time a new opportunity presents itself. Ask yourself one important question before saying yes: Will this opportunity take me a step closer to achieving my goals in my work, my family or my dreams? If the answer is no, then you should say no to that opportunity. You cannot become more efficient at what you do to gain more time for your dreams, you must stop doing the things that use up your allotted time without furthering your agenda.

As a physician involved with a hospital, I was constantly pulled to do things that met the hospital’s agenda and not mine. If they had their way I would be on seven committees, none of which were helpful to me. Since I worked at the hospital, it is part of my job to keep it running well so I should participate in some role. I would suggest a reasonable role would be to participate in one committee at a time. If they want you on another committee, tell them you only have the time available in your busy schedule for one committee. You can give them the option of picking which committee. But to be on a new committee, you must leave an old one. You do not have enough space in your schedule to add another committee.

Make a list of everything you are doing. All the committees and boards you are a part of. All the activities you participate in. All your hobbies. Everything that uses up your available time. Then rank each activity. Is it crucially important to you, your job or your family? Are you the only person who could do it? Are you the best/most important person to be filling that role? Is this activity marching you closer to achieving one of your goals?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should remove the activity from your plate. Ask yourself how quickly can you get out of this obligation? Then get it out of your life so you have room to do the things you need to be doing for you and your family.

When I look back on the times I removed things from my plate, I realize nobody missed me. Every activity I thought I was a crucial part of, functioned just fine without me. Every role I was filling was immediately filled by someone else. My vacancy created the same hole that is created when you remove your finger from a bucket of water. No hole remained. I was not nearly as important to all those activities as I thought I was.

Prioritize your life and your time. Learn the incredible power of NO. Figure out what matters the most and make sure that is what you see on your calendar. Remove the things in your life that are filling other people’s agendas and you will find you have plenty of time available to live your dreams. After all, you have all the time there is.

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