Avoid the Time Trap

There are a few universal truths in the world, and until we each have access to our own “Tardis“, one of them is that we have a finite amount of time. Of course it can vary by how long we ultimately live, but on a second by second; day by day measure, we all only have 24hrs of it in a day.

Book The Time TrapBack in my younger years, I struggled mightily with managing my time (and truth be told still do on occasion when I allow events to overcome my systems). I listened to the advice of others, sought out varied techniques and even invested in courses. It seemed that no matter what I planned or what I needed to achieve, something inevitably would come up to add to the stress. Time was definitely my master and I needed a way to avoid the time trap.

It was a business mentor that lead me to a great resource, that for me became a seminal work that I return to regularly ( a copy still resides on my desk, next to the dictionary, thesaurus, Element of Style and the Lively Art of Writing).  The work, originally printed in 1972, is still relevant today; R. Alec MacKenzie’s The Time Trap.  If I wasn’t sold by the recommendation of a trusted mentor, I was by the first page of the forward:

Funny – or is it? – how time masters all of us. No one seems immune to its ravages…. For the past eight years, I’ve been seeking them out – these few who seem to have mastered the problem of time, who seem to have all of the time they need, who find time enough to do the things they really want to. 

That’s what I was looking for, the time to do what I needed and wanted to do. But how?  You may also be asking, what impact does technology have on our time today?  What was created to help us create and enjoy more leisure time, has enslaved us to constantly being connected.

To Avoid the Time Trap, 5 tips you may find very useful.

1. Understand how you are currently using your time.

This is ultimately the hardest task, taking the time to appraise and analyze how you are currently spending your time. Your first step on the road to understanding your time is to use an activity log.  The link will bring you to MindTools – a fantastic online resource for personal and professional development. In my past, I managed sales people, all of whom wanted to make a certain amount of money, but were struggling to get there. Each of them knew what they needed to do and thought they were doing well, but never seemed to be getting any closer to their goal. We first did some work to establish what their average hourly rate was (based on their current realistic numbers), then how much more time at that number they’d need to invest to reach their financial target (or plan a different strategy to get higher yield clients) . Then I had them track their time for a month (two reasons, 1. to get a full picture of activities and 2. to build a new habit). Once the team began to see what impact certain activities had on their productivity, it became easier to consciously control where they spent their time. After the exercise 75% of the team achieved their personal financial goals and actually spent more time enjoying their leisure activities by eliminating those activities that were not necessary and not advancing their goals.

2. Protect Your time.

You’re likely familiar with the Pareto Time Principle (otherwise known as the 80/20 rule). The principle states that the significant items in a given group, normally constitute a relatively small portion of the total items in the group. Or as we know 20% of the time expended produces 80% of the results and 80% of time spent produces 20% of the results. Now that you have taken the time to know how you’re spending it, you may have noted that a portion of your activities may not be getting you the results you’ve established, whether professionally or personally. A good example that many highly successful people do to protect their time, is to not open their email first thing, but instead, spend that time focusing on the key tasks to advance the work on their most significant goals. For me, one of my key goals is to set time aside for my son and wife. Thursday nights is one of those times. We book other activities around that night so that we can spend time together (even if that time is being in the same room pursuing our own varied interests). Find what is most significant for you to achieve your goals and make them the priority, you may have to learn to say no, but that’s okay. If someone doesn’t understand or support you in your decision, do you really want to be spending time with them anyway?

3. Get Organized.

A favourite quote for me in “Time Trap” was and still is ” One of my biggest problems is organizing get organized”. We’ve all done it, spent hours looking for that piece of information that I know I put somewhere, now only if I could remember where. Eventually, I give up and start my online search over again. For me, building systems was and is the key to getting and staying organized. I take pride in the fact that others perceive me as being a highly organized person, because, truth be told, I’m not. Over the years, I’ve learnt to build systems to help me stay on top of things. And you can to. The one key for me was building into my day a small portion of time to get and keep organized (as little as 15 minutes per day). I’ve sourced many other tips, but like the simplicity and clarity of this post from Simply Organized “33 Simple Ways to Organize your Life“.

4. Avoid “Time Sucks” or “Interruptions”

As the author notes in “Tme Trap”, “There is a subtle deceptiveness about interruptions. They are seldom recognized as such; they masquerade under a presumption of legitimacy”.  In the book, MacKenzie notes that there are seven management functions, each with 5 “time wasters” related to them, it’s a wonderful look at what can impact on our time (p. 86). Avoidance, might not be the correct term, we might consider “managing” in it’s place. Simon Sinek in a recent interview talked about the laborious process of getting the title for his new book. He described a back and forth email exchange with his publisher that did not bear any fruit, but was quickly resolved when he popped into the publishers office and they had a face-to-face meeting. His point was more about the effectiveness of personal meetings, that also ended up saving them time. What we are looking at here are the unscheduled visits that don’t necessarily serve a purpose to advance your goals. Imagine a copier sales person calling on you to see their latest and greatest piece of technology, but you’ve just purchased a new print center 6 weeks ago and have a 5 year service contract. For the rep, it’s a tick on their activity call-sheet, for you, 15 minutes you can’t get back.  Check out these excellent techniques that you can use to maintain your focus.  One of my favorite techniques – having my phone work for me. I have voice mail for a reason. My commitment is that if you take the time to call me, I’ll get back to you within a business day. The amendment to that rule is, if your calling from a sales department because I downloaded an ebook or attended a seminar/webinar that you sponsored and you want to chat about your service, you’ll likely not get a call back unless I’m in the market, because it’s not a good use of either of our time – but you’re welcome to stay in touch.

5. Learning to effectively delegate:

Time Trap was initially written for the “business manager” who was going to be or had staff. In reality it’s a book for any aspect of our lives, whether we manage staff, collaborators, processes or family, being able to effectively delegate tasks to others is essential. The main benefits of delegation, are 1. it frees up time; 2. for the person being delegated to, it helps them develop skills, initiative, knowledge and competence and 3. helps to maintain decision levels. Unfortunately, if we don’t learn to delegate well, we use our time that can be better used for other activities. We’re getting to this stage at home. My son will shortly turn 12. He’s a smart young person and has learnt that if he can delegate the task of getting him a refreshment, he gets more time on his favorite “YouTube” or game channel. I’ve taken that monkey back off of my back, and have empowered him to not only retrieve his own refreshment, but know that I trust him to make the right beverage choice. Every once in a while, the battle is rejoined, but I’ve maintained my time. In all seriousness, how often do we take a task back from a staff member, because they aren’t doing it quickly enough, or it’s faster to do it myself and then wonder – as Dr.Seuss so elegantly noted “How did it get so late, so fast”?

To help get control of your time, it’s essential to remember that you have all the time there is.  So, if we have all that there is, the issue must be us and how we choose to spend that time. Now how are you going to use yours? 

How did it get so late so soon

Resources:

How Good is Your Time Management – Mindtools.com  {Start here}

10 Tips for Time Management in your workplace – Smead

6 Ways to Improve your Productivity – CIO Magazine, Merideth Levinson

How to delegate the right task to the right people. – Brian Tracy