I recently decided to quit a corporate job to pursue a life of freelancing and self-employment in the quiet of the Great Karoo. I’ve always been fond of the Delphic maxim, “know thyself”, and, after a lifetime of introspection, I am very aware of those personal traits of mine that are less than admirable. One of these – and this isn’t new, I’ve been practicing my entire life – is a lack of proper time management.
Knowing myself, I had all the good intentions in the world before coming, even setting up a schedule that included plenty of time for tea and stargazing, while still organising the day into byte-sized chunks of pure productivity.
Well. After three weeks in the mighty Karoo, all my good intentions of waking up early for brisk walks to watch the sun rise and become the epitome of fitness have come to naught. For now. Arch-procrastinator that I am, I have, however done a few other things, among these:
• Getting to know the locals (among them, a lady who bakes delicious bread and delivers straight to your door)
• Catching up on radio soaps that I never listened to or cared for before (and making sure to not miss an episode)
• Gathering stories in the streets of the small town where I live (there are many – people talk!)
What is time?
In his book, Time Management 100 Success Secrets: The 100 Most Asked Questions on Skills, Tips, Training, Tools and Techniques for Effective Time Management, Jason Harris defines time management as “the process of skillfully applying time to finish and perfect a specific activity within time constraint”.
In an article about time management on Entrepreneur.com, a distinction is made between clock time and real time. Clock time includes the minutes, hours and days that ultimately make up years, whilst real time is relative and refers to how long or short time feels depending on one’s experience of an activity – “time flies when you’re having fun” is a cliché for a reason.
According to the same article, issues with time management arise because the world is organised around clock time, and so are time management systems, even though we live in real time, which is mostly a mental construct.
Taking this into consideration, and as a personal reprimand and motivation, here are some time management tips to organise your day, without the dread of feeling like time has made you its prisoner.
1. Know thyself
A good friend recently reminded me of a plain truth: not everybody is, or is supposed to be the same. Some people are early risers and get to bed early, but others are night owls and getting up before the sun is up, is gruelling. Know your circadian rhythm, and you’ll get to know when you can be at your most productive, and be able to plan your day accordingly.
Taking a week to schedule how you actually spend your time during the week might also give you a good idea of when you are usually at your most productive, and how much time is wasted on fruitless activities.
Take 30 minutes each day, before doing anything else, to plan your day. If that happens before you get to work, that’s great. If you’re only awake by the time you get to work, and you have the chance to do it there, that’s great, too.
The point is, planning and scheduling keeps your thoughts where they should be: on the task at hand. For many people who don’t like planning, weekly schedules don’t work because it leaves too much space for other things to come up and takes away the urgency of tasks. These people thrive on pressure, and sticking to a daily schedule might be easier to do.
3. Make appointments
To-do lists and bullet journals work for some people, but for others, they are constant reminders of the things you didn’t get to doing. Instead, try scheduling appointments – also with yourself. Make time for important discussions, actions, brainstorming and thoughts, not just with colleagues, but with yourself, too. And stick to them!
4. Schedule interruptions
When you know which time of the day is most productive, it goes without saying that you know which time is the least productive. Should things that interrupt your flow come up during the course of a week, try to make space for them in these “quieter” times. Close your door or put up a “Do not disturb” sign when you know you need to get things done.
5. Remove distractions
It has been said time and again, but distraction kills productivity because it interrupts your focus and train of thought. Even an email related to work immediately takes away your focus, and social media and instant messaging are toxic. Remove these things when you need to keep your eye on any given ball, or you’re sure to drop it every time. Reply when you’ve finished a task, and only then. That email isn’t going to run away, and if it’s that important, an actual person will come knocking on your door to stress the fact.
6. Remember what you’re working towards
When you’re caught up in the 9 to 5, it’s easy to think work is a waste of your time. It’s only when you’re in the midst of an entrepreneurial pursuit away from a corporate set-up that you realise the value of routine. Creating a personalised routine is fundamental to realising your personal and professional goals.
Managing your time is managing your life, and you’re only a disorganised procrastinator for now. Time management is not something that is set in stone. Find out how to make it work for you. After all, time is of the essence.