“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”- Bruce Lee
We all know how precious our time is. We know that it is limited and we never seem to have enough of it. A lot of time gets wasted and evaporates away every day. We often find ourselves asking where it went, where it goes, and life’s eternal puzzle is when it is going to end. Even being on hold with a phone call is sometimes a reminder that, “your time is very important to us.” There is a Zen story that I heard years ago that I really like and has stuck with me. An eager student asks the master what is more important, time or money. He is certain that the master, in his wisdom, will tell him that it is money, as with money one can do so much. The master wisely replies, “Time is more important… You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.”
While this wise Zen master is technically correct, maybe it’s possible to find more time. Contemporary living has become a blur of activities and sensory inputs that we must sort through before making decisions. Some of these decisions are incredibly important and some are relatively minor. Taking a little time to process decisions large and small can make us more aware and, as a result, give us the illusion that we have made more time. The key strategy in accomplishing this is making use of writing things down. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While he was talking about life on a spiritual level, he could have just as easily been talking about a grocery list.
Time management are two words a lot of people think about and talk about but never get around to figuring out how to do it. David Allen, a time management specialist and author of the best-selling book Get Things Done: the Art of Stress Free Productivity, has a lot of great ideas as to why writing things down is the beginning of good time management. He emphasizes that writing, as opposed to entering into an iPhone or iPad, works. He theorizes that the human mind is analogous to a pond. It can never be truly empty and it is impossible to have nothing on your mind as long as you are conscious. The simple act of getting thoughts out on paper, particularly for time management purposes, frees up the mind for more important functions. The mind, he believes, is for thinking not for holding information. Writing things down makes holding information unnecessary and, as a result, frees the mind up for more productive thought. The mere act of picking up a pen and paper engages the mind in a beneficial and cathartic way.
There are literally hundreds of methods, planners, and strategies for organization. Many people go out and buy the best planner from the stationary section of the local drugstore and then get bogged down in the process of how to use it. I often find that my coaching clients are quick to do this. They believe that if they follow someone else’s strategy they will be more successful. Some are, but many get bogged down in the process, become frustrated, and begin to perseverate around the planning more so than the results.
To find out what kind of writing may work for you as part of your time management strategy, I’d ask you to consider a few examples that may illustrate your preferred style of time management. Consider the last time that you used written planning to accomplish a task. Before you say that you never do that consider these examples:
Vacation-Think about how you planned a vacation that went well. Perhaps you thought about it first, visualized it in your mind, and then made the plan more concrete by writing down what you needed to do. Your mind, through the writing, made the image of the great vacation come clear. If you recently had a good vacation consider what you did before hand that helped create it.
Blue Print-If you’ve ever undertaken a do-it-yourself project from scratch then you know the importance of having a blueprint to create it. Even before you bought materials you probably had a vision that became more concrete when you put pencil to paper. You meticulously planned it out, erased, adjusted, and created. And, if the project was a success, think about the role that that preplanning played in the outcome.
Recipes-If you ever produced the perfect meal from scratch and did not write down the steps that you took, you probably are aware of another benefit of written plans. That perfect meal becomes impossible to duplicate because you may find it difficult to remember how you made it! Because you were “winging it,” you don’t remember what you did to attain that great outcome.
Many people resist the idea of written time management strategies because they believe it wastes time in the early phases of a project. David Allen’s theories are that this is a huge fallacy. Putting more time on the front end yields more time on the backend. Organization is the key to more productive thinking during the accomplishment of tasks. Your brain is free to be more creative in the process, and written planning serves as a blueprint or recipe for better outcomes.
There are literally hundreds of various methods available, most available for free on the Internet. You may find it more effective to develop your own written time management strategy. I’d suggest that you start small. One of the most efficient is a daily plan written on a 3 x 5 index card. The mere act of condensing a to do list down so that it fits in this small area is incredibly beneficial. Some of you more rebellious readers may have cheated occasionally in high school. The index card is a “cheat sheet” for successful grown-ups. Many times a student spent enough quality time creating a cheat sheet that they didn’t need to pull it out during the test. The mere act of organizing their thoughts and distilling them down to that tiny sheet of paper enabled them to remember needed information.
Breaking goals down on a weekly basis may be more effective for those of you that have to manage work tasks and personal tasks. A little planning on Monday morning with a cup of coffee and a notebook can give you a game plan for the week. Each day step one is to get the notebook information on that index card, and get that index card in your pocket. Again, a little work on the front-end leads to a better result on the backend.
What can you multitask? Much has been said about multitasking, both good and bad. I’m not talking about overloading yourself here, I’m suggesting that there may be things that you do that may be combined. Consider this when you’re doing your weekly planning. I find listening to e-books and podcasts a great use of commuting time rather than mindlessly listening to the radio.
What can you delegate? Are there people you can delegate some of these tasks to? Remember, the goal of time management is to be more productive, not feed your ego with pride in how busy you are. Time management’s goal is to be productive, not busy. We are striving for outcomes not process.
I’d suggest that you do a little bit of research on time management strategies available on the Internet. If someone’s method piques your imagination you may want to buy their book or their program. You’ll probably find enough information to create your own time management strategy. While you can’t make more time, you may be able to fool yourself that you have.
“Time is on my side, yes it is….”- Sir Michael Jagger
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