Have you ever used the expression “I have not had time to do that”? Well that is a slightly misleading perspective. We all have the same amount of time in any one day and we will always find time for the things that are top priorities for us. We may feel under pressure to prioritise things differently or we may be making a subconscious decision to prioritise one thing over another, but if it is a priority for us we will do it, time or no time.
I need to go to the dentist, something I am sure we can all relate to, obviously I don’t want to go, so I claim I don’t have the time to book an appointment, they are only open during work hours, how can I call them. Reality is I don’t want to go; I am not putting that task on my priority list until of course I have toothache and then you can bet your life I will suddenly find the time to go.
This is the case for everything in life, however we justify our decisions as being due to time and the fact that we just don’t have enough of it. Time is precious, we all agree on that and we all agree that we should use what time we have as wisely as possible, so why do we delude ourselves with the time excuse and then feel guilty for what we have not done? We are making conscious decisions every minute about what we will spend our time on so let us bring the reality of the decision making process into the open.
I read an article recently about a very busy CEO who spends time with all of her staff and there was even a picture of her visiting one employee who had recently had a baby. I cannot imagine having that much time. We all know that spending time with our staff and understanding what drives them is important and I am sure we do it on a daily basis but I imagine we still feel we could do more, particularly if we compare ourselves to this woman.
I really enjoy writing but you may have noticed a gap since my last post, obviously I have not had time! Actually I have had the same amount of time I always had, however I have obviously chosen to spend this time in other ways. Today I have decided to stop feeling guilty about that and accept that during the last few months I have prioritised other things and have given myself permission to do just that.
How do we decide how to prioritise our time, in an age when there is always so much to do? There are obviously daily essential functions which must be undertaken, we need to eat, sleep etc, these would go into the planner first. Then we are left with the rest of our time, as leaders we are employed for a percentage of that time and the rest is ours to do with as we please. This is quite a difficult concept for many of us because there never seems to be enough hours in the working day to complete everything on our to-do list, so we use some of our non work time to compensate. Then we start feeling as though work is taking over our lives when actually it is not, we are making a choice and we can make a choice not to if we want. Choosing to spend more time at work is absolutely fine providing it does not build into resentment, you burn out or your personal relationships begin to suffer and once this habit is formed it becomes very difficult to break. We all have the right to decide what we do with our free time, we each have commitments and responsibilities, we prioritise based on personal choice and I would not wish to comment on this.
However I would like to make some suggestions when it comes to prioritising work. Much of the work I do as a leader and during training courses uses a grid with four quadrants, this allows us to compartmentalise issues and consider them in a logical order. For considering priorities of time I use the same tool. We would all like to go home, on time, every day knowing we had reached the end of our to-do list and feeling a real sense of achievement, however how realistic is that? You know how much time you have within your working day and you know what you need to achieve. To use this tool put important on one axis and urgent on the other, we have included a template within the resources page, click here. You place your tasks into the grid according to the level of importance (what would be the worst thing that could happen if this was not completed and what would be impact of that) and the level of urgency (what is the deadline for this to be completed). Starting with the tasks that fall into the top of the right hand quadrant and work down you will get a well considered steer for your priorities. I appreciate that the tasks we might enjoy doing or those little jobs which can be done quickly and make the list shorter may not appear in the top right quadrant, but that could be an indication of why you run out of time.
Draw a line on the grid to indicate what you feel is achievable within your day and focus on these tasks alone, be careful not to get distracted with other things, if a new task appears, add it to the grid and if needed knock something else out. This will help you feel that sense of accomplishment and hopefully enable you to manage your time more effectively, working smarter not harder. More information about this can be found on Business Balls.
This is an exercise of discipline and whilst I am sure many of you will claim you don’t have time to do this as it adds something else to your to-do list, with practice you will be able to do the exercise without actually needing to write anything down.
One word of caution for busy people, try to avoid getting excited and volunteering to take on new work unless you really do have time, this is easily done and then you have something else to add to your grid. Remember you control time, not the other way around; you do have enough time to complete everything that you prioritise.