Do you master your time?

If only I had more time... I really have no time for this.. I am running out of time on this task.. Sorry I need to run... Every day we say things like this in our work and private lives. First thing in the morning we push our kids out of the house with “hurry up, we are late...” continue at work being late and not fully prepared for meetings. During lunch we eat whatever is available quickly, if we eat anything at all, and then go off to more meetings or tasks while our inbox has been filling up with important messages.

(Source: TASR)

Un-answered emails may drive some colleagues or business partners crazy but you simply don’t have time. The working day carries on with a drive home (or to school to collect kids), before we realise our kid is among the few last kids waiting to be collected and brought to some sport club or after school activity. Finally, we get back home shortly before seven, usually tired, hungry and in the worst case with some work to do later in the evening. Sounds familiar?

I, of course, exaggerated when describing the schedule above, but given how much I know about executives, friends in middle and top management and my own schedule, it is not too far off either. You can claim “I know we have this important project to finish now and afterwards things can go back to normal”, or “the fact that the traffic jams in the capital city intensified has ruined my usual day schedule recently”. But I honestly don’t believe these statements. If you let circumstances manage your time for you, then only you are to blame!

Without trying to mentor or to sound too philosophical, let me ask: do we really know what is important in our life? Do we consciously decide about how to use the precious time we have based on the clearly set priorities? That could be family for some, a top management career for others or a calm healthy life for the rest. My feeling is the first mistake we make is that we let ourselves be drawn into a circle without having a firm understanding of what do we want to achieve each day, that month, that year and without having a clear idea what we don’t want to be in.

Let me offer few tips that may come handy for those who seriously want to master their time.

Prioritise and delegate

Early in my management career, when the work load really got too big and my capacities were hitting their limits, my boss offered very simple and valuable advice how to divide the work day tasks. I regularly come back to the advice, re-reading the Eisenhower Box. It helps me to prioritise and to decide what should be delegated. Naturally, there isn’t always somebody you can delegate to. If not, it is worth it to automate or outsource the task.

Use project management

I suggest to consider daily tasks as projects. The advantage is, projects have a start day and an end day. Further, projects in their nature need regular check-ups (you are checking your performance or monitoring the progress your colleagues made). In order to finish some project one may need to open up a sub-project, still things stay under one umbrella with a time and cost limit.

Emails steal your time

Emails are important. Some candidates even start telling me about their ordinary day with “I open my mail box while drinking my morning coffee”. Anyway, we all do. Email management has got few basic rules that are worth following. Don’t read your emails constantly! Checking the inbox 3-4 times/day with full concentration is much better than fast scrolling and re-scrolling through the inbox anytime some new email arrives. When you decide to check the inbox, do it on purpose and concentrated. Answer those that can be answered/decided immediately. Keep some others that need some more time for thinking or for preparation in the inbox but do inform the counterpart who may be desperately waiting for your answer, when you will answer. And make sure you answer as promised. Delete the rest. Don’t let “corporate spam” steal your time.

Let me conclude with a less formal, yet very authentic advice which can be translated like: “When your life isn’t in danger then all else is insignificant”. I guess it helps sometimes to stop for a moment, breathe calmly and reshuffle the thoughts running through our heads so that we get rid of the negative impact, unnecessary actions we planned for, and concentrate on the things that are positive and really useful.

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