What is time? Does it even exist? OK maybe a bit philosophical but I don’t believe that time is something that can be managed. We all have the same amount of time available to us in a day or week, so rather than managing time, we need to focus on managing ourselves. And this is where the traditional approach to time management fails.
I’m not saying that some of the processes and techniques aren’t useful. I have taken inspiration from many, but the key is they were developed by people who found they worked for them. But what they didn’t realise is that they might not work for everybody. When thinking about how we manage time, we are really talking about how we manage life: what we consciously and unconsciously do with our time. How we create our habits, patterns of thinking and prioritise activities has much more to do with who we are as a person and our values and beliefs than it does to do with skills and techniques.
Let’s take an example. You have a project deadline coming up. It’s important and could get you promoted, but you seem to be procrastinating. In order to overcome this you need to unpack why you are procrastinating rather than beat yourself up and feel bad. Here’s a number of suggestions:
1) At university you had a ‘just in time’ approach to assignments that got you through OK. Your brain has learned that last minute is a successful strategy. It may even have learned that you get better results by cramming at the last minute
2) You might be a little worried about getting promoted. You value your time with your family and promotion may take you away from this. You are scared to discuss it with anyone in case it comes across as not ambitious’ enough. So your brain is quietly sabotaging you.
3) You have a demanding team and as other people’s needs are important to you, you seem to be focusing on immediate needs of others rather than yourself. Somewhere in your mind you have placed other people’s immediate needs as more important than your own success.
These are just three possible reasons, but there are many more. The purpose is to demonstrate that time management has much more to do with our deep psychological construct than our skills and capabilities.
So what’s the answer? The first thing is to get curious about your own behaviour around time and stop simply beating yourself up. Once you understand why you do things at a deeper level it is so much easier to change the things you want, without sacrificing anything positive. Our minds are amazing and once we understand ourselves, prioritising and managing our lives becomes easier and more seamless.
If you are thinking about how you develop time management in your workplace, then choose a training provider with psychological qualifications who can help your employees unpack how they do time for themselves, rather than simply providing a one size fits all approach. Another effective option is to use one-to-one coaching.
Finally look at your organisational culture and how it does time. People often learn this unconsciously. If meetings start on time, people will turn up on time. If they start when everyone gets there (and the senior team are notoriously late) then people will turn up when other more important things have been dealt with. How we behave around time tells us a lot about what organisations value as important, so there may be some leadership and cultural issues to address too.