Real Time Management or how would you like to be remembered

First appeared in ‘Business Plus’ (Ireland)

Time management training is awful. Time logging, hints for dealing with telephone calls, email tips – nothing seems to work. You can’t even begin to look at taking anything away from a time management course until you’ve considered your own mortality.

Try this exercise. It’s ten years in the future. You find yourself in a church at your own funeral. One by one people you know get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What are they going to say? What will your partner, your kids, your colleagues say? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be wishing you’d spent just a few more hours in work at your desk.

So, having come to terms with your mortality what next? Next you look at the scenario slightly differently. How would you like to be remembered? What would you like those who care about you, and you care about, to say? That’ll be your starter. Once you’ve really got this big picture sorted you can move on.

The next exercise comes from Stephen Covey. It’s linked to the previous exercise and known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. “Is the bucket full?” “No” you reply. “Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps. “Full now? “, “No”. I put in some sand, then some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed the order? Put the water in first, then the sand, the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (writing pointless reports), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (staff meetings where no-one listens and everyone looks at the clock). What are the big rocks in your life? For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to write that novel, time for themselves, time to back a difference. You decide. You identify 3 or 4 things you believe are important. The 3 or 4 things that will make a difference at your funeral. When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Schedule time for yourself, time to take that French class, time to spend a week with the children at half term. Once these times are scheduled fit the rest of your work around them. Try it – it works.

It’s not big and it’s not clever to work more than forty hours a week. I repeat, it’s not big and it’s not clever. So stop it. Stop that ‘poor me, look how many hours I work’ nonsense. Work as little as you can. Do as much as you can in the time agreed, but once you’ve done – run away – go home. The surprise will be how little people miss you. It may be hard at first to realise the world of work can carry on without you but give it time. This feeling will be replaced by one of immense joy. “I’m dispensable!” This will give you enormous freedom.

There are ways of accelerating this process; get a team of happy people to work for you. Build a group of people who appreciate and trust you. One of the great ways of building up this trust and appreciation turns old time management theory on its head. When you arrive at work don’t get straight to your desk and start wading through emails. When you arrive at work talk to each member of your team, properly. Ask about their family, their son’s football match, the health of their car, their cat or whatever is important to them. Invest the time in people – it really pays dividends in the long run.

Once you’ve got all this sorted time management is a doddle. There are useful little tips about only opening emails twice a day that you can totally ignore. Why? Because you’re a human being and incredibly curious. Tips you can use in many ways – the Pareto principle. This states that 20% of effort gives you 80% of the result. This is excellent. Unless there is a dire need to complete everything (carrying out a heart transplant would fit into this category), ask yourself if you could live with getting 80%. If you can – perfect. You can then do something else and get the 80% of that from 20% of the effort.

There are lots of hints and tips about time logs, to do lists, telephones, meetings, emails, mails, procrastination, “time stealers” (a philosophically difficult concept for me to get my head around), paperwork and working from home. Have a look at each one. Then discount 80% of them. If you’ve heard of them but still not doing them my guess is you never will. If they are new and sound interesting – try them.

But never forget the big picture. Why save 10 minutes in handling paperwork if you’re only going to spend it trawling through useless emails. Remember you can’t save time – you’ve only got so much. You know that. So now, what do you want to be remembered for?


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