Before embarking on any type of research journey through the web of time management methodologies, we need to define exactly what it is we are trying to manage. What is our time and what does it mean to us? If we skip this step and try to bolt the methodology-of-the-year onto our muddled lists of things-to-do, we’ll end up in the same place we started; overwhelmed and frustrated.
We only have so much time, in a day, a week, a lifetime. It is our scarcest resource, one we need to spend wisely. Harvard Business Publishing puts it well in asking “Are You Spending Your Time the Right Way?”
Though most managers understand intellectually that time is their scarcest resource, few make the effort to gain a strategic perspective on how they spend their hours each week. Still fewer make a regular practice of keeping track of how the priorities they say are most important jibe with the way they actually spend their time.
Time is not only scarce, it affects all areas of our lives. Our work and business lives are becoming increasingly intertwined into our home and family lives as a result of longer workdays and telecommuting technologies. The HBP approach of breaking your responsibilities into categories is a solid one, as it will help you prioritize your day-to-day. And if you are inclined to tracking your time, categories will help analyze where your time was spent.
When categorizing your responsibilities, it is helpful to put them in the context of your entire life, not just what you do at work. HBP suggests categories like “Growth and Improvement” and “Primary Day-to-day Responsibilities,” which can be applied to all areas of our lives.
My solution to this muddled juxtaposition of work and life responsibilities has been to create high-level categories for spending my time. I have three categories; family life, work life, and volunteering. When scheduling time and new opportunities, they have to fit comfortably into what is already going on in these three areas. For example, deciding to build and donate used computers to our local school was a no-brainer because it fit into responsibilities I already have in work life and volunteering (I work with computers and volunteer with kids). On the flip side, when asked to volunteer at a local bicycle shop it was easy to say no because it wasn’t something I was already involved with and would have detracted from ongoing commitments.
When I get down to the granular level of managing my day-to-day time commitments I find my responsibilities easier to manage because there are less of them. It has been said that the secret to becoming a rich man is simply to spend less than you make. The same can be said for time management. Our lives can be richer if we learn to simply spend less time.