The #1 Stumbling Block for Success in Business: Time Management…

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you”. ~ Carl Sandburg

In Greek there are two words for ‘time’: Chronos means amounts of time, like “20 minutes” or “two days”. Kairos means the time when something occurs, like “attwo o’clock” or “next Sunday”.  We can think of time as a currency, like money, and decide to “spend” an hour on one thing or another.

But unlike money, hours are never the same. “Time” cannot be saved, bought, sold or mortgaged. Time is an invaluable commodity that we must protect and nurture actively and take responsibility to invest wisely. We only have one life to live. Time management can make it worth living.

Stephen Covey author of the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” tells a great story about the real things that we should devote our time to:  “One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business executives. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, “

Okay, time for a quiz.” He then pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them one at a time into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing it to work down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied.  He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar until it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One executive raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point.” “The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.

What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat about the little stuff then you’ll fill your life with little things and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff.” So ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.”

There is no mystery about managing time. Everyone has 24 hours each day and 168 hours each week to eat, sleep, work, relax, exercise… There is nothing magical about getting the most from these hours; it just takes planning. But time management does require self-discipline and control until the behavioral changes are internalized and time management becomes an everyday habit. Plans and schedules for managing time are useless if one does not follow them.

Building time management strategies is similar to planning a budget. Just as the goal of a budget is to put you in control of your money, your goal in time management is to regain control of your time. The first step in forming time management strategies is to analyze how you spend your time. After you’ve analyzed your time, begin planning by creating a “To Do List”; listing obligations, meetings, appointments, special events…

According to Jared Sandberg, task lists “aren’t the key to productivity [that] they’re cracked up to be”. He reports an estimated “30% of listers spend more time managing their lists than [they do] completing what’s on them”. This could be caused by procrastination and prolonging the planning activity. This is akin to analysis paralysis. As with any activity, there’s a point of diminishing returns.

Lord Chesterfield stated, “If you watch the minutes carefully, the hours will take care of themselves. Ask yourself regularly, “Am I making the most of my time right now?” The 80/20 rule states that we tend to spend 80% of our time on projects that have a 20% return. Concentrate your efforts on the 20% of things that have the highest value to you. There are several barriers to scheduling you may need to overcome. These barriers are the ‘time wasters’.

The biggest is procrastination. The second barrier is interruptions. The third barrier is stress. It’s been shown that 75% of all worries never actually happen. But the stress over these fictitious events can waste many hours. Perhaps the best way to overcome these barriers and others is simply to create habits of good time management…

In the article “10 Tips for Time Management in a Multitasking World” by Penelope Trunk writes:  In today’s workplace, you can differentiate yourself by your ability to handle information and manage your time. Careers are made or broken by the soft skills that make you able to hand a very large workload,” says Merlin Mann. “The ability to quickly process and synthesize information and turn it into actions is one of the most emergent skills of the professional world today”.

Each person has a best time. You can discover yours by monitoring your productivity over a period of time. Then you need to manage your schedule to keep your best time free for your most important work. If you don’t know what you should be doing, how can you manage your time to do it? Some people prepare a “To-Do List” and write it out by hand that shows commitment to each item, and then rewrite it each day until it gets done.

In the article Time Management for Leaders writes:  Time in the organization is constant and irreversible. Nothing can be substituted for time. Worse, once wasted, it can never be regained. Leaders have numerous demands on their limited time. No matter what their position, they cannot stop time, they cannot slow it down, nor can they speed it up.

Thus, time needs to be effectively managed. On the other hand, you can become such a time fanatic that you start to waste more time by managing it, to deeply. Keep it simple, analyze how you spend time and implement a few time saving methods that will gain the most time.

“What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn? What use is saving time if you do not get something in exchange? ~ Peter S. Beagle

In the article “Time Management” by Karen Patterson writes: The old adage, “all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy,” is absolutely true. A well-balanced life includes time for things other than work: for things that are much more important than work; family and friends, health and recreation, spiritual development and volunteerism, among others. So, practicing time management at your job is not merely so you get more work squeezed into an eight-hour day, but mostly so you have time for the important things in life.

In the article Time Management writes: Great time management is one of the most vital skills leaders can develop. All of us have the same number of hours in a day, and no amount of effort can change that. What we can influence is how we spend those hours. A quote from Stephen Covey sums up how we can best use our time : “I am personally persuaded that best thinking in area of time management can be captured in a single phrase : Organize and execute around priorities.”

In the articleTime: You Can Never Get Back, But… writes: If you’re doing more and enjoying it less, it’s time to make real choices about how and when to spend your time. The notion is not new. Tim Ferriss recommend strict time constraints in his book “The 4-Hour Work Week.” He argued that much of the work we do is of questionable importance and conducted at low efficiency.

If we instead identify only the most important tasks, he said, and tackle them under severe constraints, we’d be surprised by how little time we actually require. Consider this simple formula: Time = Creative 50% + Working 30% + Other 20%

What if your “big goal” in life is to spend half of your working time on creative work — thinking, researching, and writing — a third of time on regular work, and then cram everything else into the last 20%. Then track your time and monitor progress on a spreadsheet. This is a pristine example of ‘fixed-schedule’ productivity in action.

A fixed-schedule approach to life comes from a simple conviction “to produce a lasting and distinctive body of work,” and the “willingness…to focus on what not to do as much as what to do” can make this possible. The steps to adopting fixed-schedule productivity are straightforward:

  • Choose a work schedule that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
  • Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

Some interesting time management statistics from the UK: Emphasizing the huge significance and opportunities in time management, a 2007 Survey by Proudfoot Consulting covering 2,500 businesses over four years, indicated that wasted time costs UK businesses £80bn per year, equivalent to 7% of GDP. The causes of wasted time — labor inefficiency:

  • Inadequate workforce supervision (31%)
  • Poor management planning (30%)
  • Poor communication (18%)
  • IT problems, low morale, and lack or mismatch of skills (21%)

Clearly organizations are vastly under-utilizing their people, and could be doing a lot more to enable more efficient working. These failings of organization and leadership make it all the more important for individual people to think creatively about time management, and particularly to start making changes to improve time management at a personal individual level.

In the article “The Secret of Time Management Revealed” by Alan Lakin writes: Unless we take conscious control of our decision making, we’ll tend to react to the urgent, even if it’s relatively unimportant, and shun the important, unless it also carries a sense of urgency. Simply stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and ask yourself the following question:

“Is this what I want or need to be doing right now?” Note; it’s “or,” not “and.”

If the answer to this question is “yes,” go back to what you were doing. You will have affirmed your choice of activities and made your decision consciously, the key element in time management.  However, if you want or need to do it but not right now, then put it off and do something else with a higher degree of time sensitivity. And if you neither want nor need to be doing it, now or ever–STOP!  

It may seem amazing to you, but if you stick with the “want/need” question for 21 days, you really will catch yourself doing things you can’t justify doing on any grounds, and you’ll find yourself shifting activities to better serve your needs.  This simple question can make a tremendous positive difference in the way you live.

However, time management isn’t always a matter of time at all.  Stop looking. You’ll never find time. It isn’t lost. You’re living it. You have to consciously decide to live it in certain ways and not others. You have to make time by taking it away from one activity and giving it to another…

Time management is one of the greatest skills you can develop. Being able to manage your time effectively can mean being successful in your career or reaching important life goals. In the big picture, time management may determine whether you look back on your life one day and reflect on the wonderful things you have done in your life, or whether those dreams you had were just that, dreams.

“Time is the scarcest resource of the manager; if it is not managed, nothing else can be managed” ~ Peter F Drucker