Let me tell you a story.
Once I knew a woman who spoke of her father’s work ethic in the early stages of him developing his business. One thing she mentioned, that always stuck out to me, was how early in the morning he woke up…simply to exercise and have some alone time. I remember thinking, that’s too early. He was a very busy (and productive) man, and eventually his hard work paid off—he became a millionaire.
I thought to myself, why would anyone wake up before 6 in the morning? Prior to that conversation, I also remember having read that one of the habits of highly successful people is the “early bird” habit. As someone who was examining his life and looking to be better the next day than he was the previous one, I gave it sporadic thought over time from that point on.
Fast forward a few years later, it dawned on me that early risers don’t do it just for the sake of waking up early. I realized that time management has nothing to do with simply accomplishing tasks in a timely manner. Rather, your time management is simply a reflection of your thought-processes and your value system (what you consider worth doing that is pleasant, important, meaningful, and/or purposeful).
Our time is dedicated to the things which we hold dear, good or bad; passions which we feed through our efforts—whatever they may be. If, for example, I find a teenage boy hanging out in the street, playing hooky, indulging in mind-altering substances, scorning the prospects of education and respectable employment, it’s how he manages his time. He values standing on the street corner talking to like-minded people, along with the opportunity to make some fast money through illicit activity, as worth more than the legal and socially acceptable alternative. If on the other hand I find a CEO waking up at 3:30am, taking a shower, having coffee at 4, making phone calls by 5, going for a run at 6:30am, and in bed by 8:30pm, it’s how he manages his time. For him it’s important he start the day early, so that he can accomplish the things which he wishes to accomplish, which include maintaining his physical fitness and self-care.
There are sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone gets the same time as you. Not everyone will use that time wisely to improve their life. Those that typically do, are rewarded. But a question remain: why…. would someone wake up so early—at let’s say 4am—to start their day? The answer from the woman I knew, was that if her father hadn’t gone to the gym in the early morning, where very few, if any, could place demands on his time, it would be harder for him to go afterwards. Not to mention the fact that he may be unmotivated to exercise once he finishes work. In order for him to implement the kind of program to take good care of his mental and physical state, he deemed it highly beneficial to wake up before almost everyone else. And because he deemed it highly beneficial, it became pleasant. Pleasure is what makes habits stick.
And eventually, as I became the business owner of a coaching practice, in addition to having a full-time job, I too realized the importance of waking up early. The point of it all, is that the woman’s father woke up early not because he wanted bragging rights, but because he was doing something crucial to effective management: he was building habits around the things which he loved or wanted to accomplish. In this case, it would be his business. Waking up at the time that he did, enabled him to conduct the self-care required of him to pursue his passion. It’s true with every other highly effective person. For me, waking up between 4 and 4:30am, was for me to feed what I call my “me-time hunger,” so that I could give the rest of the day to other things, nourished.
I realized that the great time managers are not doing more things than most. Rather, they are doing the things they love, enjoy, and that they find beneficial to their personal growth and health.
There are numerous reasons why people procrastinate, and for adults it’s not always simply because they’re lazy. I won’t get much into that. But the point I’m making is that when I look at your calendar, I shouldn’t just be seeing a number of tasks that you think should be accomplished.
Sure, as an adult you must fulfill obligations that you are not so thrilled about, from time to time. But your calendar must and should by nature have more activities and commitments that energize you, than ones that don’t. In building your routine, you must ask yourself, upon what foundation, or around what passion of yours, are you building them? The passion can be spiritual as well as physical.
Placing a number of things in your schedule, simply just to feel busy and productive is not going to cut it. It will drain you, and at some point, you will burn out. Not to mention the stress hormones (cortisol) you will produce that will wreak havoc on your health and body.
Effective time managers don’t do too much. They simply do the things which they want to do, and they do those things often. So that if they choose not to do them at a given time, there is no guilt. But on the other hand, if you fill your schedule with things which you think you should do, and don’t do them (largely because you don’t really want to, anyway), there is a sense of guilt, shame, or inadequacy. The temptation to give up simply grows. Having drained your energy, the likelihood of procrastinating on obligations which may not be fun increases. Here are a few keys to do time management right.
For one, effective time management requires deliberation. You have to consciously ask yourself, “is what I’m doing giving me energy, or taking it away…. OR…what activity can I add that gives me energy, and brings me closer to my desired goals?
Habits collectively form what we call daily routine. They provide efficiency to our day. They save us energy, because we typically get to the point where we don’t think about them, freeing up our minds for other things. Everyone has a routine, whether they realize it or not. Being deliberate about your routine means it’s part of a bigger context, which are typically your primary personal and/or professional goals. Build your habits around the things you want to accomplish or become, and you’ll find yourself doing better with your time.
One person demanding your time for one hour isn’t a problem. The problem is there are multiple people and things demanding your time throughout the day. Being assertive means that you’re protecting your time. And when you protect your time, you protect your peace. You let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ You honor yourself, and in so doing, draw nearer to your goals. Those around you are in turn honored, because you are giving them your best self.
The spirit of effective time management is the understanding that one is in control of their own time. It’s a sense of empowerment. Unlike the opposite, where one feels torn in different directions and overwhelmed.
The typical calendar may be filled with meetings, the occasional coffee date, and a whole bunch of tasks and errands. What is wrong with adding a nap, a visit to the sauna, a run in the afternoon, a hoop session, a painting class, etc? The point is that it shouldn’t be things you simply think you should do, but rather, things you like/love to do, that energize you, and at times benefit you. In such a state, you find yourself with a steady supply of the energy to do the occasional things you don’t want to do.
I both challenge and invite you to look at your schedule/calendar, and ask yourself, “do these activities reflect who am I, and what I want?” If the answer is no, ask yourself, what are some of the things you can begin to subtract/add in order for that to be a yes. From there, the right system, the right steps, and the right accountability will get you there. Be gracious to yourself, though. It takes time.