Andy Williams was the first to put a musical spin on this season as, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but for many of us it can be considered, “The Biggest Nightmare of My Life.” Work demands like year-end reports, strategic planning, and financial forecasting pile up just as the whirlwind of decorating, shopping, parties, baking, volunteering and merry-making demands peak in our personal life. All those commitments and the simple desire to create a meaningful holiday can leave you with a crushing feeling of inadequacy. I’m hearing it from clients more frequently lately, “I have no time… to think, to process, to plan, to do, to… breathe.” Often I hear pleas of, “I need tips on how to manage my time better!” “I’m spinning and can’t even make sense of what I’m doing… please help!” and “I just feel like there’s so much ‘noise’ all around me… I’m constantly distracted! Help!” Sound familiar?
In response, I often talk about the need for clients to create white space in their schedule. White space, you ask? Who has time to stare at walls? Well no… I’m not asking anyone to stare at walls or practice blank stares. White space is about intentionality with your time. It’s about being proactive and taking charge vs. being reactive and falling victim. It’s about quality vs. quantity. White space is about pushing past time management and embracing time leadership.
Time Leadership vs. Time Management
Time management is a bit of a contradiction. You can’t really manage time; it ticks by in its chronological way regardless of how we try to control it. What you can manage is your productivity and in the end, what we’re seeking in time management is really our ability to be productive. If time management is the battle we seem to never win, time leadership encompasses an approach to productivity that will win the war on time. We can do-do-do, but never actually be productive. Or we can be planful and strategic and thoughtful about our time objectives and actually create accomplishments; not just make ourselves crazy with ‘”the busy.”
Here are a few tips to help you move from managing your time to leading it:
- Carry a schedule and record all your thoughts, conversations and activities for a week. Journal any notes on what and/or who derail you, as well as the details of an ideal environment that makes you most productive. This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where your precious moments are going. You’ll see how much time is actually spent producing results and how much time is wasted on unproductive thoughts, conversations and actions.
- Any activity or conversation that’s important to your success should have a time assigned to it. To-do lists get longer and longer to the point where they’re unworkable. Schedule appointments with yourself and create time blocks for high-priority thoughts, conversations, and actions. Schedule when they will begin and end. Have the discipline to keep these appointments.
- In the same note, schedule time for interruptions. Don’t be so rigid with your time that you can’t plan for meetings that run late, people who stop by and calls that go long. Giving yourself two or three 15-30 minute blocks in your calendar on a daily basis that will serve as buffers to keep you on task and prevent you from robbing from one meeting to create space for another.
- Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day. Don’t start your day until you complete your time plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule time. Perhaps even more important is to take 15 minutes at the end of every day in order to process and examine what you accomplished and what fell through the cracks? Ask yourself at the end of each day, “What was I able to control and what was beyond my control? What do I want to do about it, if anything?”
- Take five minutes before every call and task to decide what result you want to attain. This will help you know what success looks like before you start. And it will also slow time down. Take five minutes after each call and activity to determine whether your desired result was achieved. If not, what was missing? How do you put what’s missing in your next call or activity?
Most importantly, remember that it’s impossible to “get everything done.” The very nature of most of our lives is that an infinite number of tasks and demands will present themselves day in and day out. Check one thing off the proverbial list and chances are, three more items need to be added. What we can control is how we create space for those to-do’s. Being planful and intentional with our daily schedule allows us the white space we need to be more creative, more present… and that leaves us feeling more accomplished and productive.