SELF-IM­PROVE­MENT

Here’s how to make the most of your time. Hurry, the clock’s tick­ing.

Friday - - Contents -

Writ­ing a book will take you hun­dreds of hours. Learn­ing French will be sim­i­larly de­mand­ing on your time. Con­se­quently, we of­ten say, ‘For­get it!’ and leave our dreams in limbo – only to reach re­tire­ment and look back with a sense of not hav­ing done much.

The key, un­sur­pris­ingly, could be a mas­tery of the one thing we all want more of: time. It waits for no man, goes the old say­ing, but with a com­mit­ted ap­proach you might at least be able to get it work­ing with you, rather that against you.

Ev­ery­one wants more time. Ap­par­ently, we even want it more than big­ger bank bal­ances – a sur­vey pub­lished last year in the jour­nal So­cial Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­ity Sci­ence showed that 64 per cent of peo­ple who were asked if they wanted more money or more time voted for the lat­ter.

In May, Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber of this year, pro­fes­sion­als from all walks of life will gather at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in Dubai for a five-day course on time man­age­ment and stress con­trol. Or­gan­is­ers Meirc Train­ing and Con­sult­ing say the goal is to help par­tic­i­pants be­come more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive in man­ag­ing their life, and of course there are sim­i­lar cour­ses all over the world. It’s clearly no se­cret that we all know how bad we are at man­ag­ing our time.

‘Peo­ple are of­ten run­ning be­hind sched­ule,’ says Gabriele Ot­tino, MD of the pro­duc­tiv­ity app, Doodle. ‘Their meet­ing runs over and then they’re late for their next ap­point­ment and there’s a feel­ing of be­ing on a tread­mill all day long. A com­mon feel­ing at the end of the day is, “What did I ac­tu­ally do to­day?” You know you were busy, but what did you ac­com­plish? That leads to stress and frus­tra­tion.’

It’s time – no pun in­tended – to sort things out. Ot­tino first be­came in­ter­ested in time man­age­ment when he was at univer­sity in Switzer­land, study­ing physics. It was the first time he had to jug­gle a high num­ber of dif­fer­ent things – lec­tures, sports ac­tiv­i­ties, study groups and more – and, given that this was some 20 years ago, it was a trusty Filo­fax that came to the res­cue. Next came the Palm Pi­lot, a de­vice that he quickly found to be in­dis­pens­able. Around the same time, he read Amer­i­can pro­duc­tiv­ity ex­pert David Allen’s sem­i­nal book, Get­ting Things Done.

The method­ol­ogy ex­plained in this book has grown into some­thing of a busi­ness move­ment, and its key mes­sages are: 1. Cap­ture (via voice recorder, notepad – any­thing) what­ever is on your mind. 2. Clar­ify what that means – specif­i­cally if it is ac­tion­able or not. 3. Or­gan­ise your re­sponses into lists such as calls to make. 4. Re­flect on which ac­tions to do next. 5. En­gage – mean­ing use this five-point sys­tem to act with con­fi­dence.

Time, in some ways, is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily neb­u­lous con­cept. Sec­onds, min­utes, hours, they don’t re­ally mean any­thing – a truer mea­sure per­haps is the gaps be­tween sleeps and what you are able to squeeze into them. For many of us, the answer is ‘not enough’, and a sys­tem like Allen’s is a great place to start adding a little or­der to things.

Ot­tino says that when­ever he is start­ing to feel un­pro­duc­tive, he likes to write down what he does ev­ery day for a few weeks. ‘Af­ter a while you can spot things you could do bet­ter, or that you could del­e­gate or maybe au­to­mate,’ he says. He also starts each day with a list of three things he re­ally wants to do by bed­time. This list of­ten fea­tures ‘go cy­cling’, as he knows that it’s im­por­tant to do some­thing he en­joys.

The Doodle app was de­vised to help make it eas­ier to sched­ule meet­ings, and it now boasts 25 mil­lion users ev­ery month. It’s joy­ously sim­ple – peo­ple who are at­tend­ing the same meet­ing or event sim­ply tick time slots that they are avail­able: when ev­ery­one has fin­ished at­ten­dees can see at a glance which slot would be the most pop­u­lar. It saves time be­cause it min­imises end­less email traf­fic and de­bate about who is avail­able when.

Apps, of course, aren’t ev­ery­thing. Some would ar­gue that they are merely a stick­ing plas­ter for a deeper-rooted prob­lem – a prob­lem that we need to ad­dress from within. Could mind­ful­ness and yoga, per­haps, be an answer?

‘The prac­tice of yoga, mind­ful­ness and sim­i­lar pur­suits help the mind to de­tach from what is not im­por­tant and ac­cept what is im­por­tant in our life,’ says Chris James, au­thor of the book Mind-body Cleanse, out in June, and founder of the well­ness brand Chris James Mind Body.

He says that one of the best ways to start find­ing time for your­self is to start small – with a two-minute med­i­ta­tion. ‘Find a com­fort­able place to sit – on a chair or on the floor,’ he says. ‘Then al­low the nat­u­ral breath to set­tle. Bring your at­ten­tion to the navel. Ob­serve the gen­tle ex­pan­sion of the breath on the in­hala­tion; ob­serve the con­trac­tion of the breath back to­wards the spine on the ex­ha­la­tion.’

Con­tinue to ob­serve the breath with­out forc­ing it, he says, and when the mind wan­ders, as it inevitably will, just bring it back to your breath­ing. This is the essence of mind­ful­ness, and James says that med­i­ta­tion oc­curs when the space in be­tween your thoughts in­creases.

DTime, in some ways, is a NEB­U­LOUS con­cept. Sec­onds, min­utes, hours, they don’t re­ally mean any­thing – a TRUER mea­sure per­haps is the GAPS be­tween sleeps and what you are able to squeeze into them

avid Shep­hard, co-founder of Lon­don-based hyp­nother­a­pists FixMyMind.co.uk, has of­ten con­tem­plated the con­cept of time – not least be­cause many of his clients feel un­der stress be­cause they say they don’t have enough of it.

‘It’s been known for thou­sands of years that peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence time dif­fer­ently – some­times time drags on and at other

times it flies past way too fast,’ he says. ‘It’s just not as real as we think.’

To help un­der­stand how we vi­su­alise time, he of­fers up a quote from Wil­liam James, the grand­fa­ther of mod­ern Amer­i­can psy­chol­ogy: ‘Now is not a knife-edge, but more a sad­dle­back on which we perch, look­ing in two di­rec­tions of time. The past and the fu­ture.’

Says Shep­hard: ‘Where is your past and fu­ture as you think about it? Half of you will say that the fu­ture is in front and the past be­hind. The other half feel that it runs from left to right or right to left. If yours is front to back then you are a more in-the-mo­ment, go-with-the-flow kind of per­son, who likes to keep their op­tions open.’

If, how­ever, you see time laid out from left to right (or right to left), then Shep­hard says this sug­gests a more or­derly, or­gan­ised, de­ci­sive per­son.

‘Per­son A is more re­laxed but tends to get less done and ar­rives late,’ he says. ‘Per­son B gets lots done, makes de­ci­sions rapidly, is al­ways on time but has prob­lems switch­ing off and re­lax­ing at the end of the day.’

Shep­hard as­serts, how­ever, that any­one can change. ‘Just imag­ine that the line of time was the opposite con­fig­u­ra­tion to how you see it now,’ he says. ‘It will change your ex­pe­ri­ence. We can learn to have the best of both worlds. When you want to med­i­tate, just imag­ine float­ing away from your time­line. The fur­ther away you float, the qui­eter your mind.’

If it all sounds a bit woolly, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that count­less high-achiev­ing ex­ec­u­tives and en­trepreneurs have some kind of med­i­ta­tion or mind­ful­ness prac­tice as a part of their daily rou­tine. And the net ef­fect of all this in­tro­spec­tion? The more ‘in the mo­ment’ you’ll be when you start your next task – mean­ing less wasted time.

Do­minic Irvine, founder of UK-based learn­ing and devel­op­ment con­sul­tancy Epipha­nies LLP, has a strong in­ter­est in time man­age­ment. He feels it can en­able peo­ple to work ef­fec­tively and en­joy per­sonal pur­suits in a stress-free way.

A mas­tery of time also helped him to find the colos­sal num­ber of man-hours he needed to be­come a record-break­ing cy­clist.

He ar­gues that, as time is lin­ear and you can­not save it up to be used later, the only smart ap­proach is to spend it ef­fec­tively. ‘We can’t change how many hours we have in a day, but we can do some­thing about what we do with the hours we do have,’ he says.

A clever way to get more out of the time that you do have, he says, is to iden­tify what he refers to as ‘time thieves’ – those things in life that you do out of habit, or be­cause they give you some sort of plea­sure. If there are other things that you’d like to do that would be more ful­fill­ing, then these time thieves must be de­feated. And the worst of­fend­ers of them all, he says, are tele­vi­sion, so­cial me­dia, the in­ter­net and smart­phones.

‘If you re­ally want to achieve some­thing, you need to take a good look at what you cur­rently spend time do­ing and ask if these things are help­ing you get any nearer to your am­bi­tions,’ he says. If they’re not, then you should think se­ri­ously about re­duc­ing the time you spend do­ing them.

‘By do­ing this,’ Irvine says, ‘the av­er­age per­son can save be­tween 10 and 20 hours a week to do what they re­ally want to do.’

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