The Secret of Time Management Revealed:Why We Waste Time on Trivia and Don't Spend Enough Time on Essentials
Life is full of urgencies that really don't make any difference in the long run (or even in the short run, for that matter). Yes, you're four minutes late for that department meeting. But the department meeting is a fat waste of everybody's time (including the person running it), 90 minutes of plodding through announcements you could have read for yourself (or chosen to ignore).
Technology has increased our sense of urgency. An overnight letter cries for more immediate attention than something sent bulk rate or even first class, a fax outshouts an overnight letter, and e-mail outscreams them all. But the delivery system has no bearing on the importance of the content; that e-mail message may be no more important to you than the letter informing you that you "MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER!" in the big clearing-house sweepstakes.
We also have extremely important choices that don't carry with them any sense of urgency. Of course I should exercise regularly. I know it's good for me, mentally as well as physically. And I will. I absolutely will. Just not right now. Hey, I'm four minutes late for the department meeting.
Unless we take conscious control of our decision making, we'll tend to react to the urgent, even if it's relatively unimportant, and shun the important, unless it also carries a sense of urgency.
Asking the "Want To/Have To" Question
Again, you're going to need to develop a way to interrupt yourself several times a day. These interruptions can coincide with your mini-vacations, but they don't have to.
Simply stop what you're doing, take a breath, and ask yourself the following question:
"Is this what I want or need to be doing right now?"
You can, of course, modify the question to fit your own circumstances and your approach to life. (I've created this version by modifying the "Lakein Question" proposed by Alan Lakein in his 1973 book.) But be sure to touch on the three key elements:
Is this what I want
Note that it's "or," not "and." Obviously, a task can be a long way from what you'd really like to be doing and still be the thing you need to do.
If the answer to this question is "yes," go back to what you were doing. You will have affirmed your choice of activities and made your decision consciously, the key element in time management.
If you want or need to do it but not right now, put it off and do something with a higher degree of time sensitivity. That way, you'll avoid getting caught in deadline pressure later.
And if you neither want nor need to be doing it, now or ever--STOP!
It may seem amazing to you, but if you stick with the "want/need" question for 21 days (same satisfaction-guaranteed deal as with the vacations), you really will catch yourself doing things you can't justify doing on any grounds, and you'll find yourself shifting activities to better serve your needs.
This simple question can make a tremendous positive difference in the way you live.
Knowing When Time Isn't Really the Problem
Time management isn't always a matter of time at all.
Going to that department meeting and sitting in a passive stupor is neither important nor particularly pleasurable (unless you're a gifted daydreamer), but it is a lot easier than exercising.
Confronting the office deadline may be a lot easier for many of us than trying to iron out the kinks in our relationships. Often we will take the path of least resistance, especially if we can justify the choice on grounds other than ease. (I have to go to the meeting. It's my job.)
Why You'll Never Be Able to "Find" Time
Stop looking. You'll never find time. It isn't lost. You're living it. You have to consciously decide to live it in certain ways and not others. You have to make time by taking it away from one activity and giving it to another.
Conscientious and creative use of the to-do list can help here. If you want to exercise three times a week, if you need to do some long-range career and financial planning, if you care enough about another human being to want to nurture your relationship, you will schedule time for these things. Otherwise, you may not "get to them," and even if you do, you'll give them only your leftover time, when energy and focus are at their lowest.
You can make time for the important things in life by reducing time spent on the items in the last category, the "neither important nor urgent but just a lot of fun" area. But you shouldn't wipe this area out completely (even if you could) lest life become one long dental appointment. I often work two crossword puzzles a day. I used to justify the "waste" of time on the grounds that I am, after all, a writer. Words are my tools (as well as one of my passions). Crossword puzzles expand my vocabulary. Yeah, but truth to tell, I don't get much chance to use "adit" and "emu."
I've stopped trying to justify crossword puzzles. I work them because they're fun for me. That's enough. But when I need to make time for something else, I can cut them out.
You can also create time for yourself by slicing some of that "urgent but not important or even a lick of fun" stuff out. In the next two chapters, we'll work on ways to do just that.
* Source Adams - Time Management