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