The number one reason busy executives say they don’t make time to exercise, practice mindfulness, prepare and eat healthful meals is too many forces competing for too few hours in a day. Time management is one skill rarely (if ever) taught in business school, yet it’s the one that could propel your company’s success, drive your career — and save your life. Literally.
Now that more of us are working from home due to COVID-19, the lines between work-life balance are more blurred than ever. Our office commute is now just seconds from the bedroom to the home office, but even though that saves us some time in our day, many people are working longer hours remotely. Leaders are being pulled in multiple directions, challenging their ability to focus and, often, impeding their ability to get things done.
IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME?
Like all things natural, our bodies have internal rhythms. There are times during the day, or even the month or the year, when we do things well, quickly and easily. We have spurts of energy when we are at our best. And there are other times when our bodies cry out for rest, for down time. To try to be at your most productive during this part of the cycle is futile, and it leads to a great increase in stress on your body. This is one factor related to some disturbing societal trends: the incidence of cardiovascular and immune-deficiency diseases in America over the last few decades has been astounding, not to mention the increase in rates of depression, family destruction and substance abuse.
Many cultures incorporate these natural body cycles into the rhythms of daily life: think of the English with their afternoon tea or Hispanic cultures with the afternoon siesta when virtually everything closes down. In America, we punish ourselves for feeling less than productive at all times. We drink another cup of coffee for its caffeine rush, and then we plod ahead, trying to accomplish all we can even when our bodies are crying out for some R&R time. We lose awareness of our need to rest, to do nothing. The irony of all this, of course, is that if we could get in touch with the body’s natural rhythms, alternating between periods of activity and rest, we would be much more productive in the long run.
Rather than trying to squeeze more activities into the time we have available, it may be more helpful to examine what is really meaningful in our lives and to devote our time to those pursuits. In other words, we may need to develop a new relationship… both with ourselves and to time.
Related: Resolve to Schedule Your Time Differently this Year
13 Executive Coaching Strategies to Regain Control of Your Time
There are 24 hours in every day. How can you make the most of them? One thing many people fail to realize is that how they spend their time is a choice. These strategies can help you choose wisely:
- Clear the clutter — An organized workspace facilitates clear thinking which, in turn, increases productivity. Every minute you spend looking for last week’s meeting notes is a minute lost. Gone. But clutter isn’t limited to piles of papers on your desk. Non-productive thoughts and emotional stressors can wreak even more havoc on your ability to get things done. Clearing the mental clutter allows you to think with greater focus and operate at a higher level of efficiency.
- Wake up earlier — It can be hard to modify your habits, but by setting your alarm clock one hour earlier, you have one more hour in your day to get that exercise done, spend it meditating, play with your kids or get a jump start on your work day. An extra hour can be the perfect answer to the “I don’t have time” dilemma — the ticket to finding solitude for thinking, planning or incorporating a mindfulness practice into your day.
- Recognize “important” versus “urgent” — Prioritizing sounds so simple, yet most people do not make choices about how they spend their time in alignment with their values. It’s so easy to be pulled away from the important things at work — and in life — by those deemed urgent. Deadlines, interruptions and distractions often speak louder than our inner voices, pulling us off track. Accountability, the primary driver of personal and professional success, starts with keeping promises we make to ourselves. By asking yourself, “What’s really important to me?” periodically, you can facilitate the ability to make more prudent decisions and promote a healthier work-life balance.
- Hire someone— Your budget may not be conducive to supporting a personal staff, but you might get a bigger bang for your buck by paying someone to do your chores or run your errands than by taking the time to do them yourself. Peer-to-peer services like TaskRabbit and Zaarly can help you outsource a variety of jobs, from cutting the lawn to cleaning the house.
- Shop online— This practice has become commonplace during the global pandemic, but it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Consumers have shifted a considerable amount of their shopping online because of COVID-19 and are expected to continue to avoid stores as much as possible. Adobe Analytics reports total U.S. online sales reached $73.2 billion in June which is up 76.2% compared with $41.5 billion a year earlier.
- Read— Books that support your interests can enlighten, educate and motivate you in profound ways. Reading books that align with your purpose and goals can be one of the most prudent investments of time, gleaning long-lasting dividends. Our e-book, The Top 20 Books for Succeeding in Life, Love and Career, lists my top selection of books that promote an emotionally healthy life, enhanced relationships and greater career success.
- Exercise— Physical activity is not only good for your body, it can also be considered therapy, leisure, an escape and a stress reliever. In today’s world, we are lucky to have lots of apps to choose from when working out at home is the only option for some of us. Peloton offers a free 90-day trial and even if you can’t swing their $2000 signature bike, you can choose yoga, strength and cardio classes.
- “Chunk” your time – Designating blocks of time to focus on administrative tasks, meet with team members or respond to messages and emails can significantly enhance your efficiency rather than trying to get these done throughout the day.
- Put the phone down – All of our technological advances, like computers, tablets and phones, don’t really give us more time, contrary to popular myth. If anything, they contribute to time pressure. So put down the phone and use the time you would have spent scrolling through social media for something more beneficial to you.
- Work to the beat of your own drum. Your body has its own rhythms. Learn what they are. Some of us are nightowls and some of us are morning people. Some of us have slumps in mid-afternoon. The value of being true to your body’s cadences is inestimable. Respect what your body is trying to tell you.
- When in doubt, choose simplicity. Our world presents so many possibilities that it is impossible to keep up with everything. Do we really need to binge-watch every episode of a show on a weekend? Would our lives be better by swapping the nightly news with peaceful music a few nights a week? Do we need to give expensive gifts when a personal gesture would convey the same message? The simpler choices allow us more time to get in touch with things that really matter.
- Spend time with yourself – Go somewhere by yourself (even if it’s just a different room in the house), and enjoy some time alone. Go on a walk, soak in a hot bath, read a magazine, listen to music. Do whatever you choose to do in that moment rather than what others may demand of you.
- Seize the moment — Literally. Be present in each moment of your day, engaging without letting your mind wander to what comes next — or what transpired before it. Meetings, budgets, deadlines — in addition to personal commitments and responsibilities — will all compete for your attention. When internal and external factors interfere with your focus, remind yourself that you are the referee of your own thoughts.
Some of us have become so accustomed to adapting to the pressure of the external world that we have lost awareness of our internal state. The “high” that accompanies our adaptation to the stresses of modern life becomes something like an addiction. The busier we are, the more we feel alive. Yet our anxieties increase and we lose track of the experiences which truly matter. Our health deteriorates, our relationships become superficial, and our sense of our own self evaporates. We long for something meaningful, and we lack the tools for finding it. The solution to the dilemma involves a paradox: we gain time by giving up time.
If you could benefit from honing your time management skills, consider working with a coach.