I have bought into just about every time management hack since the early 90’s. If I had invested the money I spent on planners instead of spending it on planners I would probably have like, $780.
Advertising did it’s job on making me believe that writing my stuff down was going to get me to accomplish more and be more organized. The same kind of belief stems from the idea that budgeting is going to take care of money problems.
I wish it were that simple.
Unfortunately, the problem lies with me not the tools. To think that the tools, like a planner and a budget, are going to correct my habits is wishful thinking.
It’s like me buying a pair of tap shoes and being able to dance. I’m not even talking about dancing like Fred Astaire or anything. I’m just talking about dancing period. (I blame Nike for making me think shoes will give me super powers).
Managing my time has to come from me not from a piece of paper. And for me I needed to understand how time worked. I don’t mean in the elementary-school-learning-how-to-tell-time way, but in how I perceive time, and how I worked within the boundaries of time.
Let me explain.
I take a long time to shower. I always have. But I’ve never timed myself. Because I’ve never timed myself I just assumed that my showers were like everyone else’s showers, in the 5-7 minute range.
It doesn’t matter how many times I wrote down shower in my planner, or how well thought out my day was, as soon as I got out of the shower I was behind. By the middle of the day I knew I couldn’t keep up and so I gave up. Resigning to the fact that I would never be able to manage my time.
Because I was told that time management had to do with a planner, and much shorter showers, I would beat myself up about the length of my showers and my failure to use a planner. As a result I tried taking shorter showers. Within a few days I was back to long showers.
To really get a handle on my time management I needed to start with where I was at and then figure out how to get where I wanted to go.
I love showers. I love the hot water. I love the isolation. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. It’s a way for the me to naturally recharge and get ready for the day (or get ready for bed). The length of my showers wasn’t going to change.
The ticket for me to understanding how to manage my time was understanding how long it takes me to do things.
Shower - 15-20 minutes (don’t judge me)
Getting dressed - 10 minutes
Breakfast - 25 minutes
Getting to work - 7 minutes
Getting through email - 1 hour
Writing a blog post - 35 minutes
Walking the dog - 20 minutes
Gym - 90 minutes
You get the idea. I started to breakdown my tasks so that I could understand how long I took to do things. The real hard part about this was not judging the time it takes me. I still hold some trauma from fifth grade about not being the first complete the math test.
An hour workout should only take me an hour, right? Except that I am relatively new to the gym, and it’s a new workout, which means it might take me 6 weeks to figure out the right weights I should be lifting. Eventually I could get to an hour, but it takes time and practice. There’s no room for judgment.
After understanding this I thought I had it made. But I was still running into problems with fitting everything I had written down on my schedule.
Then I listened to Essentialism.
Greg Mckeown talks about this concept called buffering. Buffering is like contingency time that you give yourself in case things happen. Things will always happen.
The way he explained it to his kids was through an imaginary game. The rules to the game were they needed to get to a certain place in the car by a certain time, but they couldn’t use the brakes (stop time).
As he talked through this experiment with his kids they quickly realized that the key to success was the space between their car and the car in front of them. This space would give them ample opportunity to slow down or speed up in response to the traffic.
This was the next step in me understanding time.
Not everything is going to go according to plan. Inevitably I will get a phone call, have to meet with a student, my daughter will throw up, the dog will see another dog and freak out.
Something will always put a wrench in the system I’ve created. The trick for me is knowing this before hand, loosening my expectation of what wanted to get done, and scheduling in buffer time.
Now, just to be sure, I still struggle with time and getting everything I want done. A lot of that has to do with focus and preparation and not on managing my time.
How do you manage your time? When are you the mort productive?