Are you usually late or punctual? Do you deliver your tasks for the day on time? Are you able to accomplish everything that you need to accomplish? Do you have an achievable to-do list or an never-ending list? Do you get stressed easily and overwhelmed by all that you feel you need to do?
I used to feel like I was wasting so much time. I had so much to do and never enough time to do it in. Whether I was running late or waiting for someone else, I always felt as if there had to be a better way to be managing my time. No matter what I was doing, I just couldn’t seem to keep on top of it, and even when I wanted to relax I just never really felt like I could. In the back of my mind sat an endless list of to-dos’. Have you ever felt that way too?
I thought that time was something most people could agree on, that most people shared the ability to read the time, follow the same watch/clock and timezone. Yet some people are always on time and others are always late. Some people always finish their tasks in the given time or a reasonable time frame while others get distracted, procrastinate or constantly finish late or just at the last minute.
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I began asking myself why is it that some people remain cool under pressure, or are ok to not complete tasks? Why do some people find it easy to delegate or seem to be able to manage their time? Do you feel like you’re the person who’s always rushing from one place to the other or are you the one who is always on time and waiting for the person that is late?
I started to read every book I could find on how to get things done, on time management and I even went to seminars and workshops and learned all kinds of systems, tools and habits that encourage and help people complete tasks and keep to time. But my question still remained: “What makes these systems work and not work, when some people are perpetually late even when they don’t mean to be and some people use all of these systems but they still seem to get overwhelmed and buried under a pile of things to do?
Understanding how we interpret time
There are plenty of places with great tips on how to save time, or how to use the time we have even more effectively. Through my discovery, I found that often what is missed is an understanding of why it is that we seem to treat time differently. Maybe it’s because of upbringing, perhaps your mum or dad instilled a particular value of time?
I remember sitting in the car when I was 7 with my mum and brother waiting for dad to get ready to leave. This was not a one time occurrence, it happened every time we went anywhere as a family. Mum would get frustrated, my brother and I would annoy each other (this was the time before smartphones, tablets or handheld games). Mum used to sit in the car growing more and more frustrated, feeling as if dad just didn’t care. She felt that he was disrespecting her time and wasn’t appreciating her by leaving her to sit in the car to wait for him. But dad just didn’t seem to understand why she was so angry by the time he got in the car. Sound familiar?
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What was actually happening though is that they unconsciously stored time differently. Even when my dad tried to be on time, with the best of intentions, he would end up being late. And even when he managed to be just on time, at the very last minute, my mum still felt that the last minute did not mean he was on time, it meant he was late! What they later learned, was that our mind sorts and stores an immense amount of data that it is taking in, and for different people time can get sorted slightly differently. As it turns out, there are two tendencies when we talk about time.
Some of us see time like an open diary, almost as if time is laid out in front of us. It’s as if we can see or have a sense for what we are doing now, what’s coming up in half an hour and even beyond that. People with more of this tendency can be in a conversation with someone and know that they will need to leave the conversation at a certain time to make their meeting, flight, bus or next appointment. They are sometimes caught thinking ahead of what they are doing next and planning out their time. My mum saw time in this way, and thought that everyone saw time in this way, until she learned about the other tendency that people have when it comes to time.
Time in terms of priorities
My dad was more of the ‘in time’ tendency. This is when people tend to be so caught in the moment of time that they cannot see or get a sense for what is coming up next. These can be great people to be in a conversation with because they’re so present with you. For them, the conversation or whatever is within their immediate focus, is all of time that exists. There is no later or before, only what they are focused on right now. This can often lead to people having great conversations, and being able to focus on projects for great lengths of time, however they may have a higher tendency to miss flights, be late or miss appointments or meetings. They are less likely to make longer term plans because they really do not know where they will be at that time.
Most people fall somewhere on either side of the scale of these two tendencies, but neither is good or bad. There is not one way that’s better, although I’m sure that people from both tendencies will say that their way is best! Both ways of interpreting time can be helpful and useful in different situations, and having an understanding of each of these, can help you know when to use one or the other best.
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When my mum and dad learned this one thing they started to understand more about each other and have come up with strategies and ways to leave more often at the same time and on time. Mum used to think that dad was wasting time. She learned that he stored time differently and was not purposefully wasting time, but doing what he thought was important in each moment, and forgot to look at the time or consider what was coming up, because he was so absorbed in what he was doing was so absorbing. Through education, we have the opportunity to learn more about people, and increase the connection we have between each other.
Knowing which of these two tendencies you may be may help you to prepare, plan or help others to help you to be more on time if you are usually late, or to help you appreciate the moment if you are usually rushing around and thinking of the next moment.
If you’re always late or have a tendency to be in time, how do you complete a task in a set amount of time. If you are always thinking about the next thing, how do you focus your attention on one thing to get the best result possible?
1. Have a time limit for each task
Think ahead and set a specific, clear timeframe in which to finish a certain task. In the beginning, you can estimate this since you will be the one who will be working on it. Each time you do the task you’ll get a better idea for the time it takes you to do things. You can also track this by logging the task and time it took you. By doing this, everything will become more organised over time and you will be able to finish all of yours tasks at the right time.
Make sure that you allot adjustments on that time, just in case you take a break. I used to use an hourglass timer or an alarm clock for time intervals so that I could focus in the moment, knowing that I’d be prompted to check in at the time. If you’re going on a break and enjoy playing a game or another limited distraction, perhaps set a timer and stop when the timer goes off. You still get the outlet of playing a game or jumping on social media, but prevent yourself getting ‘lost in it’.
2. Block out distractions
Avoid the time-eater of distractions! The more you get distracted, the more you lose your time on unimportant things, instead of just focusing on what needs to be done. When you are working, make it a point to block out distractions. When a coworker starts to talk to you, you can let them know that you’d love to chat but you are working on something important right now and will get back to them after completion of the tasks, or within a certain time-frame.
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If you are in an environment where you can put your earphones on, this can focus attention. You don’t even need to have music playing and it still works because other people will be less likely to come up to you to chat. Turning your phone or smart watch to flight mode can also help prevent pop up email, facebook, social media and other app distractions. Single focus makes a big difference to getting a task done and to stop wasting time. One other thing that I do is I clear my desk before I sit down to work. That way, the only things in front of me are the things that I need in order to get my tasks done. Anything else, whether it’s a phone or a vase of flowers, is off the table until I finish what I started.
3. Allow for transition time
Leaving a certain amount of buffer time between tasks can be very helpful in helping you stay on track. If you’re too rigid with time, that can trip you up feeling like you don’t have enough time to get things done. By giving yourself some leeway, it can help you to wrap up the previous task properly and start on the next one. Transitions are great to reset. If you just go from one thing to the next to the next, then time can blur and feel like much longer than it actually is. By getting up and going for a stretch, getting a glass of water or doing something different for a few minutes, it gives your thinking and your body a chance to stop the previous task and relax before starting on the next thing.
There you have it, some quick tips for time management! The more I was able to incorporate these little steps into my daily habits at work and at home, the more on top of things I felt. I was surprised to see how much I was actually getting done and it enabled me to enjoy my weekends and time off so much more because I wasn’t constantly thinking about my lists.
These few key strategies can be a great way to start increasing the value and quality of your time, because they are very easy and quick to do. Another little trick I use is getting some post-its to write on as a reminder for each of these steps, and that way, if I’m too much in the moment of something, I have something right there in front of me reminding me what to do. Like any change, it may take some practice but once you get used to it, you will notice that you may have more time to do the things you enjoy, get more done and have more relaxing time.
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