We lead such busy lives. We complain that we don’t have enough time; or that things are not getting done because we have too much to do; or we stress ourselves trying to fit it all in.

At work we think everything has to be done now, so put pressure on ourselves wondering how we can do it all; as parents maybe we’re guilty because we miss the school play or sports day, or we’re not home after school; perhaps we spend more time thinking about going to the gym than actually going?

Maybe we’re missing the point?

After all, the simple fact is that we all have the same time – 24 hours, today, tomorrow, the next day.
It’s a myth if we think we can somehow ‘manage’ time. We can’t make time, create time, or manage time. Time is what it is, and the idea of time management is missing the point.

We can only manage ourselves. And that’s where we’ll find the answer, by realising that our time is valuable and by choosing how we spend our time. After all we only get to spend it once!

So how can we take the pressure off ourselves?

1. Recognise that we put this pressure on ourselves

Re-frame how we think of time and the things we have to do.

Trying to manage time can be stressful because we can’t control it. However we can take more control of how we spend our time. So make conscious decisions about the things you want to do and will do.

In the world we live in, there are so many things we could be doing with our time, so accept that there’ll always be more you could do. It doesn’t mean you have to try to do it all. Accept that there may always be something on your to do list – and its fine. That’s just the nature of things. Learn to be ok with it – no pressure.

2. Know how much time you have

Some people keep working until they complete everything on their list. The result is that they work increasingly longer and longer hours. Work creeps into their evenings and weekends. Then other things suffer – relationships, health, well-being.

I’m not actually convinced that simply working longer means you get more done. It may be that you’re not as effective in the hours you are working.

So decide how long you want to spend working. Then you have some decisions to make. In the time you do have – what are the best things you can do? What makes best use of your skills and expertise? What can only you do? The rest can be done by others, wait until later, or maybe doesn’t even need doing at all.

3. Know what we’re seeking to achieve

Therefore it helps if you know what are you trying to achieve. Goals are good – if you have them. But if not, that’s fine too. Think about what’s expected of you in your job. Check your job description, your last development review notes, or talk to your boss and ask. What do they want from you? What do they want you to deliver? Are there any specific targets? These can help focus your mind on particular tasks.

And remember your personal ambitions, hopes or aspirations. Maybe draw up a personal ‘bucket list’ of things you’d like to do. Make sure you spend time on these – things you do just for yourself or your own pleasure.

4. Get organised

When there’s a lot you want to do it’s impossible to keep it all in your head all the time – trying to is tiring and you’re almost certain to forget something. Your best chance of being in control of how you spend your time, is to think ahead.

So get some kind of diary, something that you’ll look at regularly. This might be a diary on a PC or laptop or could be a traditional hard copy; somewhere you can schedule your meetings and appointments, and also reminders of key dates coming up, so you know to check if things are on track.

The advantage of having this ‘written down’ is you can see how much time you have each day and how you plan to spend it. You can see if you can actually fit it all in. And you can see when your day gets full – and you can’t do any more (or need to change your priorities and move things around).

So include things you need to chase up – where you’re waiting on other people and need them to complete in order for you to progress things. Chase these so you get them when YOU need them.

Include some free time, because things will crop up that you weren’t expecting. Add time for dealing with email, returning phone calls etc.

And make sure you have time for thinking. Its hard to be creative when you’re focused intently on something else. So give yourself time to think – it might be the most productive use of your time!

5. When a new project, task or idea comes along, decide IF it fits in

You don’t automatically have to do it or do it now. Ask or think:

  • exactly when is this required
  • what will it involve
  • how long will it take
  • just who needs to do this – who else could do it, and
  • if I take it on, what are the consequences for other things?

Then decide whether its for you and when you will commit to getting it done by.

Remember – if you take it on, there will be consequences for other work. Something that you would have been doing, will now be put back, delayed or not happen. Is this ok? If you’d committed this to someone else, make sure they know of the change.

Also, nothing “just takes five minutes”. Be realistic. Better to overestimate how long it will take, and then maybe get it done more quickly.

6. Remember we can only focus on doing one thing at a time

You may be able to multitask and have several projects going on at the same time, but you’re only truly focusing on one thing. Trying to do more means you take your eye off the ball and risk missing deadlines, making mistakes, or completing work shoddily.

By trying to focus on another client or project means that others suffer.

Look at the other resources available to you (who else could do it), or explain that you’re already committed, so can’t complete anything new until a future date. Its better to do fewer things well, than overcommit and do more things poorly.

7. Make the most of others around you

While we can’t make time – we can use other people’s time (if they’ll allow us). We have access to others in our team or organisation, or perhaps external resources we can buy in.

You may well believe that “no one can do it as well as I can” and you may very well be right. However that will mean that you’ll always end up doing what you’ve always done and limit what else you have time to do. Remember you can’t do everything.

Others may not do things quite as well as us, or do it exactly as we would have done. Even so, it’s better for us because we can get other things done – and that way we do achieve more.

If we’ll only allow them, other people may actually do some things better than us – because they’ll have more time than we had.

And you’re not giving up control simply by asking others to so things for you.

  • think how carefully you need to manage them
  • brief them fully
  • check in from time to time to make sure they’re on track, and
  • ‘taste the food before it goes out’.

This may not sound like rocket science and I don’t think it is. Follow these steps and your time might be your own once again.

Sometimes this doesn’t work out. You may be simply overwhelmed (there may be so much to do, you don’t know where to start), perhaps you really don’t want to do the things you’re being asked to do, or maybe you’re afraid of what might happen if you do (or don’t) take a particular action.

There are other reasons too which can lead to in-action. Knowing what we should do simply isn’t enough. And if we don’t address these, we can get stuck, doing nothing.

That’s where coaching comes in. Because our conversations are in confidence, and I’m only interested in your success, I’m able to ask the key question – what’s stopping you? This helps you understand just what’s happening, what your options are for changing things, and the best course of action for you. And I’ll be there to make sure you do it.