Getting things done? It’s about time.
People often ask me the secret of good time management and I always reply with the same words. ‘Ask me another time I’m running late.’
Good time management lies in the ability to distinguish between the important and the urgent.
For instance a leaking roof requires urgent attention, whilst it’s merely important to fix a loose roof tile.
Once you’ve made the distinction, you then need to allocate time to do the important things. That’s the secret of good time management. If you fail to allocate time for things that are ‘important but not urgent’ then one of two things happens. Either the roof eventually leaks and the problem becomes urgent, or the roof doesn’t leak and the problem doesn’t get fixed at all. And, of course, if you wait until something becomes urgent, it’s usually more difficult and costly to fix.
There are exceptions, of course. lastminute.com can offer some great deals if you put off your decision to the last minute. But the trade-off is that you might not get exactly what you want. And, in life, we usually know what we want. My wife is still fuming about that sky-diving package I bought her. Absolute bargain.
Once things become important and urgent they have to be done in a hurry. But when you allocate time for things that are important but not urgent you are forward planning. So fix your roof when the sun is shining. Creosote that fence before the bad weather comes. Pack your suitcase before leaving home. I know that last one doesn’t quite fit but I was struggling for a third and it’s still reasonably sound advice.
But what if you fail to allocate time and things don’t get done at all? You never do get to see Naples or take that African safari. Those Salsa lessons you promised yourself are now a distant dream thanks to your arthritic hip. And imagine if your family never has the pleasure of hearing you play the tuba. Actually, that’s probably a good thing.
If you don’t allocate time for things that are ‘important but not urgent’ then you run the risk of never doing them at all. And you may live the rest of your life with regret. Particularly when you get towards the end and can no longer do what was once important but not urgent.
Fix the roof and paint the fence. Spend more time with those closest too you unless it happens to be a stalker when you should walk more quickly and try not to panic. Enjoy your time with elderly relatives before it’s too late. Above all, have fun. It’s important that you do, even though it often doesn’t seem the most urgent thing.
One of the things that stops us allocating precious time to things that are important but not urgent is answering e mails. Apparently, over half of us check our email whilst on holiday, on a night out and even during Sunday lunch with friends. It’s like watching the lottery with your ticket in your hand. It’s highly unlikely that tonight’s the night but you never know. Of course, email is habit-forming because occasionally we get something exciting and worthwhile. But because we don’t know exactly when the good stuff is coming we have to keep checking.
What’s more, researchers on behalf of AOL have discovered that most people check for email about every five minutes even though they claim to check just once an hour. It seems that nowadays when you hear that distinctive ‘ping’ you just can’t resist. Although to be honest, I still occasionally run to the microwave if I’m in the kitchen.
Thomas Jackson of Keele University studied the diaries of people in various occupations and found that most spend a quarter of their working day dealing with email. And the rest of the time they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing. So what’s wrong with that? Checking email, I mean. Well apart from all the wasted hours, each time we react to incoming email, it takes over a minute to recover our original train of thought.This constant checking of hand held devices results is what Linda Stone dubbed ‘continuous partial attention’. It’s motivated by a desire never to miss an opportunity. But researchers at Kings’ College have found that this kind of communication overload causes your IQ to drop 10 percentage points a day. And who amongst us can afford that?
The truth is, constantly checking e mails means we’re over-stimulated, over-wound and less productive. In trying to process a never-ending stream of incoming data we put the bigger decisions off.
Henry Ford once famously said that if he had researched the transport needs of people before he built the first car they would have told him they needed faster horses.
So set yourself the simple goal of occasionally switch off your BlackBerry or iPhone and switch on your full attention. Because, if you miss the real message, all you may end up doing is riding a faster and faster horse.