On Becoming a Time Master

Image by Jakub Luksch from Pixabay

I was sitting at the table with my dad. We were discussing some things that needed to be done in the garden, and an internet search that I had recommended to him. He said: “I didn’t have time to do it.” My mind jumped (yes, my inner coach gets easily triggered). Although I don’t coach family members or friends, I had to say:

“Dad, there is one thing I will never be able to hear from you. That thing is: ‘I don’t have the time.’”

He laughed and said:

“Yes, let me say it differently:

That was not my top priority.”

I replied, feeling relieved:

“Yes, I understand ; That, I can receive and hear 200%!”

Time Management is a thing. Over the years, it is a skill I have mastered. I am still practicing and constantly learning and improving, but I have probably put in my 10 000 hours of conscious practice already. I have practiced it myself, and taught it to hundreds of students and business leaders. There is no such thing as “having no time.” That is just a thought, a limiting belief.

To get a better sense of this idea, you can enjoy the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand story:

Time Management is not about managing your time, it is about managing your priorities. A simple tool to manage your priorities is the Eisenhower Matrix. You can learn more about this tool here, and download a template here.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the things you have to do? Take 5 minutes to write everything down, and another 5 minutes to put them down in this matrix. Then, start with your top priorities (most important and urgent). Problem solved.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day, and you get to choose how you spend invest them/experience them.

Yes, Time is about experience. Spend 15 minutes at the dentist that feel like eternity? Or spend a whole day with someone you love, and you don’t see the time fly.

The bad news is: Time flies

The good news is: You are the pilot.

Michael Althsuler

There are Laws to Time Management

Yes, there are. Each law has the name of the person who brought it to light or explained it. Here they are:

1. Pareto’s Law

“Less is more.”

80% of our results come from 20% of our actions.

80% of our success comes from 20% of our activities.

80% of our happiness comes from 20% of our rituals and routines.

80% of our problems and unhappiness come from 20% of the people, places, habits we have.

This law is also called to the 80/20 rule.

In a business, 80% of the revenue is generated by 20% of the clients.

Hence: Focus on these 20% to create leverage and effectiveness.

I would call this the primary law. If you had to focus on only one of these 7 Laws, I would recommend this one. (The Pareto Law is the Pareto of other laws…)

2. Parkinson’s Law:

“Too much time kills time.”

Time expands until it occupies the whole allocated slot. If I give you 1 hour to complete a task, you will complete it in one hour. If I give you 2 hours to complete the same task, you will spread out your effort over 2 hours, with a result that will not be twice as good. To increase productivity, compress performance in limited time slots.

3. Murphy’s Law:

“Everything takes more time than expected.”

Have you ever had the experience of thinking: “I’ll bake this cake by following this recipe, and within an hour it will be done.” One hour later, you are barely starting to bake your cake in the oven (with 40 minutes baking time). Yes, you didn’t plan for the time to gather the ingredients, etc… We underestimate the time that it takes to accomplish a task.

That happens in large scale projects too: In 2017, I thought: I will take one year in France to work and get things together, and I’ll return to California to complete my Master’s degree after. It is 2021, and I am still in France ! Ahahah ! Life is great, and full of surprises !

“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade.”

Tim Ferriss

4. Illich’s Law:

“More = Less”

Beyond a certain volume of work, your productivity (and attention) decrease significantly. For instance, when I was grading student final papers for my Conscious Business class, I could only do about 5 or 6, before my attention and quality of feedback decreased significantly. In that case, spacing out the workload over a few days was highly helpful. Same goes for coaching: beyond a certain number of client calls, the quality of my presence diminishes. Currently, I take a maximum of 3 client calls per working day. That is the distinction between quality and quantity. This is a call for breaks, and rest time (Resting is part of the Training).

5. Carlson’s Law

“3 F’s of time management: Focus, Focus, Focus.”

Performing a task for a continuous way takes less time than doing it in chunks. After an interruption, the brain takes processing time (and energy) to refocus on what you were doing before the interruption. This UC Irvine study suggests that it takes on average more than 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction (notice that distraction is not the same as taking intentional breaks which increase productivity). Hence the need to focus (and practice focusing, for example with a daily meditation practice which flexes the “mental muscle” of bringing your attention back to where you decided to place it).

Also, you need to practice creating your own concentration bubble. You can do this by turning your phone on plane-mode, and putting it out of sight, being in a quiet environment, and letting people around you know that you need quiet and focused time.

This is particularly pervasive in open spaces where collaboration is highly promoted.

One of my former colleagues during an internship had the following sign on her desk for visitors to see:

“Your lack of time management does not make it an emergency for me.”

Carlson’s Law is an invitation to set clear boundaries and communicate effectively on your availabilities.

6. Fraisse’s Law

“Enjoyable time = productive time”

What we enjoy seems to take less time. Yes, time is subjected and it’s perception is linked to our preferences. 2 pieces of advice:

Do more of what you love (more on this below, on Energy Management)

When there is something you know you need to do, although you don’t really feel like it, do it first thing in the morning, first day of the week. Do the hard stuff first. You know the rest of the day/week will be a downhill battle from there. (Bonus: You might find out that you dislike it less than you thought. – If I learned to enjoy doing my accounting and billing, you can learn to enjoy anything !)

7. Czikszentmihalyi’s Law

“Getting in the Flow gets things done”

Flow: The Art of getting in the most adequate state of consciousness to perform anything you want/need and enjoy it. It is about finding the sweet spot between the challenge of the task at hand, and using your skills and abilities to the maximum of your potential in the moment:

To learn more on Flow, read my more detailed article here.

Time management vs. Energy management

One of the keys to effective time management is not to manage your time. For high performers, you want to manage your energy effectively. Spend more time on activities/people/places that energize you, and less time on those that drain you of energy. If your job is draining you of your energy, it might be time to consider transitioning to something else (don’t tell me that’s not on your mind). To assess where you are, take Rich Litvin’s Energy Audit.

Your energy also depends on your natural biorhythm.

Are you a Morning Star, a Day Worker or a Night Owl?

Plan your work and organize your life accordingly. If you would like to dive deeper, including into Polyphasic Sleep, check out Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Body.

If you would like to go further, here are some extra resources:

  • The Four Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss
  • Time Warrior, by Steve Chandler (I confess I haven’t read it, but if I needed to manage my time better and was looking for insights, this would probably be my first go-to book)

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