Please kick me if you ever hear me say: “I’m too busy!”
The other day, I caught myself complaining about my schedule, which has been more full than usual lately. Instead if complaining and raising anxiety levels, I should have used my time crafting a better management plan for my time, removing waste and items with little ROI.
One of my biggest pet peeves is people telling me, “I’m too busy…”. I’ve always said, telling people (complaining about) how busy you are is a fantastic way to market yourself as a poor time manager. Why would you want to do that? And what exactly do you do with your time that blocks you from sparing 15 minutes of your time? I would hope that they actually mean that they are just not interested in the proposed project/request because they have other priorities and commitments.
When I meet new people and get asked that same exciting question; “where do you work?” (A question I very much despise – try replacing this with: “How do you spend most of your time?”), I usually respond: I don’t work, but this is how I spend my time…. Often people ask me how I’m able to get so much done. I wanted to share “my secrets”, which unfortunately aren’t actually secrets at all…
An e-mail exchange with a dear friend and fellow entrepreneur a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about the difference between staying focused and poor time management skills. I told this person that I would not be able to attend an upcoming networking event he invited me to because I was unable to draw the line between my business objectives and my time spent at the event. I told him that my main focus currently was: focus! He said he was concerned about my schedule being too busy. I explained to him my priorities based on my business objectives and he then was able to appreciate my declining the invitation. He appreciated how I respected my own time and others’ time and how this positions me better to reach my targets.
When I was a student, a mentor and I had a discussion on time management. He told me, “Esha, if you want something to get done, ask a busy person”. Honoring multiple commitments requires prioritizing, focus, and a strong grasp of your strengths and weaknesses. A busy person should have all of these mastered and knows how to get things done!
I recently was telling someone that I practice meditative activities daily. She said: “Wow, I wish I had the time to do that, you’re so lucky.” In reality, she chooses not to make time for meditation… she also implies I have all the time in the world, when in reality, she probably has more free-time than me. She wishes she had time to meditate, but doesn’t take action to make it happen. Perhaps she doesn’t need to, she doesn’t realize the benefits it could have in her life, or she’s just slothful. We have the ability to choose how we spend our time. We can make time for anything, if we really wanted to. But the moral of this story is: we need to align our high-level objectives with our actions. Currently my top two objectives are (without going into detail): business growth (sales) for my start-up and being happy. To help me achieve my objectives, some of tactics involve: measuring monetary ROI on all business events I attend, investing in personal health (meditation, diet, weird hobbies to diversify my interests, surround myself with good, like-minded people) to be in top-form for my business and happy/satisfied overall.
Let’s get started. Let’s look at how we can all start managing our time better to achieve anything we want.
#1 Make two columns on a piece of paper. List what you do on a daily basis in the first column, the activities that take up most of your time. In the second column, list the outcome (your return).
#2 Define your goals, short-term (something you want to achieve over the next two years), and long-term (2-10 years). When setting goals, be ambitious, keep your standards high, but be realistic. Most importantly, ensure that you goals are aligned with your objectives. Ask yourself, why do I want to achieve this? Will achieve x make me happy five years from now?
In my office, I have a reminder, nothing fancy:
If you don’t know what your goals are, how will you achieve them?
N = _x_ ( x is the length of time you need to achieve your goal)
#3 Most people stop there. This has been one of my mistakes. When I was younger, I set many ambitious goals for myself, many would be impressed when I talked about them, this made me feel like I was on the right track. I thought that my life would magically follow some invisible path that would guide me to achieving my goals. I forgot to construct the path. I sometimes still fail at this, for example, as silly as this sounds, I have overlooked scheduling eating lunch in my schedule, which has adversely impacted productivity and overall happiness.
The path is your plan. Of course things won’t go perfectly as planned and it’s important to remain open to new opportunities. The HOW is the most important piece to this process, it’s the most challenging and a step that most people don’t think about. It’s especially important if you’re like me, I’m a typical entrepreneur – see opportunities everywhere and a creative mind. For those that work 9-5 jobs, it’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day activities; we get stuck in a rut and don’t even realize it. I found the only way to get out of it was to quit my 9-5 job – it was too much of a distraction. Another challenge is, we may keep moving on from one thing to the next without getting much done.
Go back to the sheet of paper from step 1, list the tasks you should be doing to get to your goal – break-down the big stuff into small pieces. (Feel free to e-mail me for more info on this).
#4 Prioritize and set time commitments for each activity that will lead you to your goals. The amount of time we put into something does not necessarily reflect the outcome. The trick is to work smarter. Multi-tasking is not the answer; it’s actually been proven to be counter-productive. The first step in improving time management is looking into how we spend our time, and the outcome of our input. Then, re-organizing how we spend our time using a daily scheduling system that will allow you to evaluate the ROI on each commitment and a to-do list.
How to measure ROI? ROI or return on investment is the return from the time you invest. The return will be aligned with your goals and ultimately your objectives. It does not necessary have to be monetary return, it can be anything from “achieving a clear, calm mind”, “strengthening your relationship with your sister” – it depends on your objectives and goals. Go back to the piece of paper you’ve marked you goals down on and list the necessary outcomes of your activities. Then be able to evaluate on a scale of 1-10 the impact of each item – this will help you prioritize.
#5 Stay focused. This is not easy! Reaching new places requires you to develop new habits, which it can be as difficult as quitting smoking. It’s easy to modify your path, but you need to accept you will not fulfill your objectives without action and hard work. There are no other secrets other than discipline.
#6 Diversify your interests or more commonly recognized as keep a “work-life balance”. I would recommend participating in unique activities to keep a balance and diversify your interests and how you use your brain power. Time spent away from your goals can allow you develop new skills and perspectives to achieve more. For example, I recently picked up Argentine Tango, ballroom dance, photography, and horse-back riding – these activities involve me to wake-up a side of my brain that doesn’t get to be used as often in the office, meet new types of people, give me new perspectives, learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses, and keep stress/anxiety levels in control.
#7 Reflect. I know some people who journal every day. I set aside time at the beginning of the day, every day to reflect on the day before, be thankful for another opportunity to carpe diem and reflect on how I can make this day better. I also look at my productivity at the end of each week which dictates how I spend my week-ends (a busy week = relaxing, work-free week-end, a less busy week = a busy week-end!).
#8 Update your plan. This step is based on your feelings during your reflection. this entire self-improvement exercise can offer many new opportunities. As a result, you’ll be able to better your plan and position yourself in a positive place surrounded by good things (as cheesy as that may sound) – at this point, it’s important to be open and adaptable. Being too rigid in following your plan can easily result in missing out on seeing opportunities presented to you. I find the biggest challenge finding the balance between focus and evaluating different opportunities that are presented to me on a daily basis. That’s what makes this so fascinating, this process requires constant experimenting and dedication to find the most healthy recipe for your mind and soul.
This may look overly comprehensive and a little overwhelming the first time you look at it, but these are just guidelines – develop your own list, one that works for you. Let me know how it goes!
Until next time, cheers, Esha
Copyright © Esha Abrol. Canada. November 2012