The clock is ticking. The deadline is getting alarmingly closer. You can feel your heart pounding heavily in your chest. You think of all the things to do and all the timelines to meet. The phone rings and you reach across the desk when suddenly your arm touches your coffee cup and the whole cup spills. Now you look at the results in total dismay. You have to start all over again. Sounds familiar? You’re lucky if it doesn’t. So many of us are caught in the trap of trying to do too many things with whatever time we have, which by the way, seems to be shrinking faster and faster as we grow older. Ask anyone around how they are doing and the most likely response will be …. Oh! I’m just so busy!
Time management is one of these critical skills, which despite all the workshops we go to, the books we read, the advice we get, we just can’t seem to be able to master. Trying to find the perfect way of getting more things done in the time we have has become the “Holy Grail” of our times. And like the Holy Grail, we haven’t found it yet. The reason may surprise you. Being told how to manage time is one of the biggest lies we’ve bought into. Time ticks away the same way for everyone. And as long as we look for the Holy Grail in books, workshops and through other people’s advice, we won’t find it. That’s because what’s been missing in all the traditional approaches to time management is our active and conscious participation. The Holy Grail of being more productive rests in your head, mind and heart, not in workshops, books or the latest technology.
So if we can’t manage time, what can we manage?
One thing we have control over is our attention. So instead of talking about a time management system, let’s design your own attention management and focusing system. The first thing to do is to review what’s working for you and let go of what’s not. For instance, do you prefer to use the good old paper based agenda but feel pressured using the latest technology? Don’t be. Unless you enjoy working with all the new gadgets, you might end up wasting more time trying to figure out how they work. Leverage your strengths and instead of struggling through something you are not good at, buy the services of someone who is passionate about doing the work you need done and is skilled and experienced. Your time is too precious to be doing something you’re not good at, or not enjoying.
In order to productively manage our attention, we must also review the beliefs we hold about time. A belief we have fully adopted as the truth is the myth of multi-tasking. We have come to equate our level of success with our ability to multi-task. Research conducted by Joshua S. Rubinstein, David E. Meyer and Jeffrey E. Evans – “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching” shows that multi-tasking may actually be less productive than you think. Imagine your brain is a huge computer with a different switch for every task to do in a day. Every time you multi-task, your brain must turn off the switch of the task you’re doing, and turn on the switch of the task you turn to. The more you multi-task, the more energy it takes your brain to adapt; and the more complex the tasks are, the more difficult it is for your brain to focus back and forth.
The research found that the inability to concentrate for at least 10 minutes at a time means it might cost a company 20 to 40% in terms of potential efficiency. Another belief endemic to our society is our need to be busy all the time and to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. In fact, we are raising a generation of children, who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child. Parents believe that enlisting their children in every possible activity is a sure sign to prove that they love them. In the meantime, parents and society pressures are contributing to children feeling overwhelmed. Not everything we believe we need to do is crucial to our well being or that of our children. We must discern what is good for our professional life, our personal life and our soul, and say no to the rest.
In order to regain our sanity and our time, we must learn to let go of all these unhealthy beliefs and learn to be in the present moment, for it is in the present moment that we are most productive, most efficient and most inspired. Being in the present moment means we are fully engaged in what we do. It means that we are listening with our full attention instead of thinking of a reply before the other person has finished talking. It means we are slowing down instead of rushing. It also means we are allowing our wisdom to emerge and support us, instead of allowing the feeling of being overwhelmed to take over our consciousness.
Here are a few tips to help you regain control of your time and engage your attention:
- Consciously breathe deeply and remind yourself to do so particularly when feeling overwhelmed
- Give yourself permission to sit in silence and just be. “Thinking and being time” is just as productive as “doing” time
- Increase simplicity in your life. I call it simple complexity, as we cannot totally avoid this complex world we live in
- Use what works for you, not what the TV commercials tell you what works
- Change your language from one of urgency to one of calmness. For instance, instead of “can’t we get this sooner”, change it to “what’s the actual timeline”
- Avoid labeling yourself as a procrastinator. Procrastination is a wonderful excuse that hides something else. Be courageous and figure out what the real reason is. It can be fear, not knowing where to start, not knowing how to do it …
- And make a conscious decision to be fully engaged in managing your attention, not your time
Making a conscious shift to tame time management issues in your life will prove rewarding and effective if you will only carve out time from your hectic schedule to re-evaluate how you are currently spending your time and how you want to spend it in all areas of your life in the future. Remember the clock is always ticking – are you focused and calm?
Copyright Elizabeth Skronski 2007, 2011. This article may not be used in any way without the express written consent of the author and/or copyright holder. Elizabeth Skronski is a certified business coach, executive and life coach who supports her clients in achieving personal and professional goals with greater purpose, meaning, happiness AND less stress. She can be reached by email or 905-468-9054.