By Cliff Ennico
Let’s face it. We are all feeling a bit “time starved” these days.
And there’s a reason for that: technology.
Thanks to our wonderful laptop computers, notebooks, notepads and smartphones, which were supposed to free us from menial tasks so we could spend more time meditating on the Meaning of Life, we have less time to ourselves than we did before the dawning of the Digital Age.
Why is that, pray tell?
Simple. While technology makes it much, much easier for us to do what needs to be done in “real time” (don’t get me wrong – I couldn’t do what I do for a living without all these doodads), it also makes it much easier for people to reach out and grab us any time they want.
A ringing smartphone, an incoming text message or email, or a “ping” on your portable device is a lunatic screaming “Me! Me! Now! Now! Now! I am more important than whatever you are doing at the moment! Me! Now!” Even though we don’t want to focus on them right now. Even though we don’t even know who they are.
Each day I get more than 10 voicemail messages and 50 incoming email messages that demand response (i.e. not junk), to say nothing of all the work I have to do for my law clients, writing this column, planning my next book, and so forth (I refuse to send text messages because if I did I would probably have to cope with more than 100 of those each day). How can I manage all of that and still have time to ponder the Meaning of Life, have fun, spend time with my family, etc.?
There are three basic principles of time management, and you won’t find these in any book I’m aware of.
(1) Whenever you feel overwhelmed by multiple priorities, ask yourself “am I doing right now the thing that is most important to be done right now?”
In the words of the Broadway composer Jerry Herman, “the best of times is now.” Zen Buddhists tell us the only time is the immediate moment.
If I am in the middle of drafting a contract I promised a client they would receive today, I turn my email Inbox off and let the phone ring over to voicemail until that job is done.
If I am speaking to you on the phone, I am not looking at my email Inbox at the same time: I give you 100% concentration until the call is over.
Distraction is your biggest enemy when it comes to time management. Especially if you have a Y chromosome, multitasking is impossible. Don’t even try to multitask. Whenever you give less than 100% of your time to something, you end up with less than a 100% result.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t move quickly, and get as much as possible done in a single day, but realizing that at any given moment you can be doing only one thing is the first step to successful time management.
Of course, you have to make sure that one thing is the RIGHT thing. Which is where the other two principles come in.
(2) Believe it or not, you are in control of your time.
You decide whether to accept that phone call, answer that email or text message, or focus for the next hour on Project X. Just as Eleanor Roosevelt once said “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent,” nobody can interrupt your flow unless you let them do it.
Don’t let them do it.
Unless, of course, the interruption is more important than what you are doing at the moment (an urgent call from your boss, for example). Setting up a “hierarchy of priorities” is essential to time management, which is where the third principle comes in.
(3) Not everybody or everything is deserving of your time.
Trying to be nice to everybody, and wanting too much to be loved by everyone, is fatal to time management.
Stephen Covey, in his classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, suggests that you distinguish between what is “urgent” and what is “important” when prioritizing your time. Most of us are pretty good at finding the time for tasks that are both “urgent” and “important,” and most of us easily blow off tasks that are neither “urgent” nor “important”.
The problem, as Covey points out, is that when faced with a task that is “urgent but not important” and another task that is “not urgent but important,” most of us choose the former. This creates frustration because we know we need to spend time on the latter but can’t find it.
The key to resolving this dilemma is to ask: who (or what) is demanding an urgent response? Not everybody, or everything, is entitled to your precious, precious time. Some people and projects should be put on a “back burner,” or ignored entirely. Yes, it’s a bit selfish, but in a good way: letting too many of the wrong people have control of your time turns you into a slave. Identifying “time vampires” – people or projects that suck time out of your life but don’t add value to it – and keeping them to a minimum is the ultimate key to successful time management.
So how should you apply these three principles in your everyday life? The answer . . . next week.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2017 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.