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168 Hours: Lessons in Time Management

14 Mar. 2018 Posted by aadams

Michael McCafferty, FEI Senior Account Manager

Earlier today – as I was responding to yet another chain of emails and looking dejectedly at an unfinished PowerPoint that I had promised myself I would complete by lunch (yesterday!) – I got a call from an HR contact. As I picked up the phone, I could hear her laughing.

The reason for her mirth? I’d just sent her an urgent message asking if we could reschedule a meeting. I now had a conflict because I had double-booked myself and accepted an invitation to deliver a training on – wait for it – time management.

I couldn’t help but laugh myself; it was pretty ridiculous. It was also a great example of how easy it is to be controlled by our calendars and completely lose our balance.

Time is one of those things we all talk about and know what we mean, but can’t very easily define. It’s a mysterious concept that’s been debated, measured and wasted since the dawn
of. . . well, you get the point.

But the simple truth is that we each have exactly the same 168 hours per week to use as we will. Yet, why does it sometimes seem like so little (like the morning I was having today) and other times seem like so much (remember summer vacation as a child lasting forever)?

Our sense of time is very subjective. When in pain or sad or bored, time can slow to a crawl. But when we’re feeling the pressure of deadlines and multiple demands for limited attention, time appears to pass in the blink of an eye.

Time is measured by activity: From the ticking of a clock to the setting of the sun. Our perception of time is directly related to what we pay attention to. We manage events, and ourselves, by:

Setting priorities: First things first. It has been observed that 80 percent of our most important results come from 20 percent of our activities, but you need to know what those activities are!

Strategy, or the application of the right amount of energy to the right task. For a classic example of this, check out Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix from 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

Developing a system. Create a set of habits for approaching each day. Is it SMART goals? Do you need to delegate more? Should you use the Pomodoro Technique? Different people will benefit from different strategies.

When we’re looking for ways to make better use of the time we do have, there are a few easy places to start. Try identifying these “time wasters” and eliminating them whenever possible:

  • Do-overs: “Measure twice, cut once” is the old expression. It’s still true!
  • Low-priority items: Focus on what leads to results instead.
  • Interruptions: Sometimes it helps to turn off notifications. Our brains our wired to seek out new stimuli, making it really hard to resist the allure of email, voicemail and
    text notifications.
  • Doing it yourself: Often results from a failure to appropriately delegate to other
    team members.
  • Multitasking: Research repeatedly shows that the human brain does not function best when splitting attention between multiple objectives. No matter how good we think we are at multitasking, that’s just not how we’re built.

In the end, we can’t really manage “time,” but we can manage our attention, our activities and our expectations.

As I shared a laugh with my HR contact, I thanked her for calling and giving me a much needed – and very timely – reminder.

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