We’re well and truly into the new year.
Many of us will have designed resolutions, visions and goals.
And some of us will already have ‘slipped up’ on them by now.
What makes some new intentions stick, while others seem to fall by the wayside?
Is it a question of will, of habit formation, or something else?
And how can we make the best use of the time we have each day to fulfill our most important commitments and our most heartfelt desires?
Here are some guiding principles that I have grown into over the years – they help me see time in healthier and more holistic ways, and turn the idea of time management into something far more effective for myself and the people I lead.
1. Linear time vs. cyclic time
There’s a part of me that loves managing projects. It’s a thrill to envision the steps it will require to get a project done, then check off all the items and mark it complete. Even as recently as 10 years ago, it was possible to define a list of projects at the beginning of a work year, and to feel fairly confident that they’d be completed more or less according to plan.
As the world, and as our individual lives, get more complex or interconnected, the number of variables that can affect a project’s outcome has grown exponentially. Each culture also has a different perception of time, so working across geographic boundaries presents its own set of time-based challenges. In many Western cultures, time is seen to progress in a linear fashion (i.e. past, present and future laid out in a straight line) and is therefore perceived as a scarce commodity, while some Eastern societies view time as cyclical and unlimited (i.e. placing decision-making into both a historical and long-view context). Although the world economy now runs largely on Western work and time principles, some of these deep-seated cultural approaches to time do impact cross-border meetings, work plans and how much someone is likely to want to direct their own time.
2. Discernment vs. staying on top of everything
We’re familiar with the simple time management tool of prioritizing what is important over what is simply urgent. In the 21st Century, though, it’s easy for most things to feel both urgent and important, particularly when you have a demanding job, a full plate of chores and responsibilities at home, and that ‘pesky’ dream of a better life that just won’t seem to go away. And whether it’s women wanting an equal seat at the boardroom table, or men wanting to become more accountable for the relationships in their personal and professional lives, managing our time becomes less about staying on top of the hundreds of to-dos each day, and more about making wise decisions around what to do, what to stall and what to drop altogether. David Allen’s classic book ‘Getting Things Done’ offers some good pointers (listen to my podcast review of it here), but we need to augment it with very clear & internally-aligned ideas about what to say no to and why. Which brings me to the next principle…
3. Do more first before managing less
Many of us live a life filled with with too many things. Overstuffed closets, overflowing bookshelves, double-booked calendars…all of which makes the application of most time management systems an exercise in futility. We’ll simply stay snowed under, overwhelmed and generally dissatisfied. In her book ‘Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time’, Brigid Schulte talks about the time-based dilemmas that working parents confront every day, and the recognition that something has to give in both workplace policies and in gender roles and expectations at home. We’re in a transition around so many arenas of life: our personal desires to lead saner lives (hint: adding an aspirational new year’s resolution to the mix is not the best idea if the rest of your life is still a chaotic minefield), adjusting to ever-shifting work priorities and demands, a yearning for more meaning and purpose to our days, and the growing hope that we’ll somehow have some time left over for the people we love.
It’s no accident that books like Greg Mckeown’s ‘Essentialism’ and Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ are currently bestsellers. We’re drowning in our own overwhelm, and we want to spend time streamlining our thoughts, approaches and belongings. This desire to de-clutter requires a lot of energy and motivation upfront, but it will help us ‘buy’ the time and space that we’ve been craving.
4. Honor the call to create
Career reinvention, personal branding, finding your purpose, answering your calling, embarking on your own hero’s journey…these are just some of the phrases that we’ve been lobbing about more heatedly. When you find yourself with either a clearer or more streamlined list of what matters to you, you’ll begin to unleash your inner creator, that part of you that wants to evolve, learn, grow and make something wonderful. This creative stream is not governed by the rational mind or a marketplace-driven business sense. It’s our innate human desire to be poetic with our thoughts, rhythmic with our movements and playfully connected within our communities. It’s what fuels everything from our impulse to share a cat video to our collective hope for a better tomorrow. It can start with a need to preserve creative time at work, and it can turn you into a game-changing entrepreneur or activist. More than ever, we want to allocate time to heed the call.
5. Earthly time vs. metaphysical time
At work, I used to be so tightly wound you could bounce a coin off my forehead. Holding myself to professional standards became tainted with an unhealthy quest for perfection, and I ‘wasted’ tons of time making sure everything was always airtight and under complete control. I was also plagued with the feeling (and fear) that time was my master, making demands on me that were impossible to fulfill. The more I tried to control the process and outcome of something, the more I felt my time and life force energy slipping away. Recently, my life and career path have thrown me enough curve balls and showered me with enough wisdom to change my approach altogether. I started questioning my beliefs about time, about how static or dynamic it is and whether it’s a social construct or a real phenomenon. (Watch this cool video about the evolution and philosophy of time.)
I’ve since made peace with time, and consider it a close ally. I believe there is a timeless quality to our existence, whether it’s being immersed in the eternity of the present moment, in understanding how my time investments send a ripple affect through the people around me, or in embracing all the ways our spirit lives on after death. This helps me put each battle with a to-do list into broader perspective, one that allows me to see the interplay between my singular life and our collective cavorting through time.
6. Present moment awareness vs. holding the big picture
These days, I dance with time in two equally important ways.
A) I still plan, and I still map out the practical to-do items that show up in my life and cross my inbox. It keeps me feeling grounded and responsible, and I do this with as much present-moment awareness as possible. I reduce the mind-numbing perils of multitasking, and I lean into a mindfulness that helps me make the most effective choices from moment to moment.
B) At least once a day, and once again each week, I review my ‘done’ items to see how well my time has been spent in service of a bigger life and career vision, a vision that itself morphs over time. Soon, step B) becomes second nature and you don’t even need to consciously schedule it in. It blends seamlessly with step A) and guides each and every moment of your day. That is when the magical rhythm and gifts of life reveal themselves to you, and when time management becomes time mastery.
May these principles help you stay balanced amid relentless change and transformation, and may this year, and all your years to come, be filled with the grace and happiness of a well-timed life.