A feeling that work-life-balance is not what it could be is often a trigger for people to reflect on their personal Resilience. The effective management of our time can feel unobtainable when no day, week or month is the same for many of us. However, making deliberate choices about how, who and what to spend our time on can enable us to sustain ourselves in this fast-paced world.
Let me address any readers internal dialogue that may be crying out, “you don’t understand my schedule is back to back!” My counter to this statement is that we have control and can take back that control quite quickly when life and work feel like they have taken over. Understanding our priorities and not being afraid to ask for help may sound simple – yet they are some of the key things that can help us to more effectively manage our time and understand where we should be directing our energy and attention.
Here are 5 key things to reflect on when considering how best you can manage your time:
1. Knowing what’s important, asking for help and when to say no
To help begin to understand your priorities you could follow these steps for the next 14 days:
- Break work and life into 2 categories – personal and professional
- Keep a diary of the 168 hours in your week, i.e. the next 7 days. Log what you are spending time on
- Introduce these Monday morning questions:
- What are my priorities this week?
- What will I say yes to?
- When I say yes, is there a personal to professional need I am saying no to? …and if so, then how important is that part of me that is being denied?
- What will I decline?
- Where do I need some help?
If we are saying no to a part of ourselves by how and what we spend our time on over a typical week, our energy and Resilience will become depleted more quickly. This in turn can compound the feeling of overwhelmed, especially around how much time we have to spend on what we really want to spend it on. In turn the negative impact is our schedules become viscous rather than virtuous cycles.
We cannot avoid the inevitable emergencies and unexpected matters that have to be dealt with, be it unexpected commercial challenges or more personal ones. But we can improve our capacity to Bounce-Back from the impact on our time if we are clear about what is important. In addition to knowing what is important and what really matters to us, developing our capacity to prioritise allows us to delegate, say no, ask for help and avoid working long hours at the sacrifice of personal self-care, when it is really not necessary.
2. End of the working week self reflective questions
So, what are some of the other systems that can be helpful when considering how best to direct our time? Building on the Monday morning questions approach above, I encourage clients to think about some helpful end of the working week questions. These could simply include:
- What were my priorities this week?
- How have I progressed?
- What do I need to focus on next week?
Mentally this allows us to free up our minds to then think about engaging with activity outside of work that is personally renewing. Spending time on self-care can translate to the behavior of making time for exercise, switching off from professional priorities over a weekend, being mentally present with family and friends. It also sets clearer boundaries other than just physically being away from the office. By finding a ritual that closes the week off we are developing mental patterns to encourage the mind to switch off also.
3. Know your body’s natural preferences to understand when you operate at your optimum
To become a resourceful and resilient person we need to think less about time management and more about our productivity. Taking this further and tailoring weekly schedules to our personal needs. I would suggest reading the book “When” by Daniel Pink, it is an informative read on this subject. Pink explores the science of perfect timing and how we can use the natural patterns of our bodies in order to build the ideal routines into how we live and work. This is all about playing to your strengths on a physiological level.
Pink suggests that by merely being aware of our bodies preferred patterns and working towards structuring our days where possible to suit these patterns can really help. Becoming self-aware as to if you are a night owl or an early riser for example. So, being mindful of this when you build a typical weekly routine, can ensure you sleep, eat, exercise and execute your best performances at optimal times for you.
There will of course be times when this is just not possible, but by using the Monday and Friday approach of re-setting the dial back to zero, (recommitting to good self-care goals for yourself, categorising the personal and professional priorities, knowing your bodies ideal times to work) should mean you are building in more self-care into a typical week.
Of course, we will have to step away from the comfort zone of our ideal routine however, self-awareness is the key to making this work for the long run. For example, if you have to join an early morning meeting but you are a night owl, then look for the personal self-care habits the day before that will boost your Resilience and energy. This will help you manage the early meeting the best way you can and without it being as draining as it might otherwise be.
If you can stop and listen the bodies messages mindfully and in a nonjudgmental way, approaching this task with an open curiosity can really help you avoid burn-out issues further down the line.
4. Joyful habits list
As a Leader, parent, spouse or colleague, when we’ve giving so much to so many people, we can over-extend our time and energy. How can we expect ourselves not to become become depleted?
Knowing what our own joyful habits are can help us stay focused on what is important to us and what uplifts and energises us. Joyful habits can re-focus on the positives in life, which is really important as many of us have so much to fit in to a typical 24-hour cycle.
So, in my opinion, another key personal action we can commit to in order to help us manage time, is to know our personal joyful habits. We all have good and bad habits, so it is important to make sure there is sufficient time for the ones that uplift us. Make a list of 10 things that you enjoy. This could be bigger things like a ski trip with friends, to a smaller thing like burning a candle or fitting in a round of golf, to the more socially uplifting things like sponsoring a charitable cause, organising a fund raiser or buying a homeless person you pass every mooring a warm drink.
If you have free time unexpectedly don’t waste it on time wasting tasks and “bad” habits, focus it on what really counts in terms of your work priorities yes, but also personal ones. Make sure what you are spending time on, especially when time feels stretched, is joyful and uplifting. I am writing this blog with an unexpected half hour that appeared in my schedule, which could easily have been spent checking emails, instangram and texts as well as playing with my dog before returning to the office. By having this focused attention on where best to direct my time, it means I will have an extra half an hour at the end of the day to be mentally present whilst I am with my daughter, when she is doing her homework.
Keeping focused on what we are spending time on and what uplifts us can help us feel the quality of our time is greater because we really know what is important and are developing habits to avoid being distracted by the unhelpful time wasting habits and spending more time on the joyful ones.
Some people can achieve a lot in one day, whereas others get burnt-out by the stress of finishing everything on their to-do list. We can positively influence our experience of a typical 24 hours by having a joyful habits list to refer to when we start to feel life is not what it could be.
5. What is important and what is urgent?
There are days when things don’t go your way. When things might not go as expected, this is when you need to be strong. Look for the opportunities to challenge any negative influence on your time, this helps reduce the negative to lift the positive. So, what strategy might help in these circumstances? One of my go-to books, Resilience Coaching by Adrienne Green and John Humphrey, asks the reader to consider these things:
- How urgent is the activity?
- How important it the activity?
If it is urgent, then it demands immediate attention. If you hear an alarm, then you know it requires immediate action and is urgent. If you know something is important this should mean it links with your personal values, goals and priorities. How often do we allow our time and energy to drift towards activities that are not aligned with our priorities?
Important activity takes you closer to your ‘big” goals’ On a typical day, being aware of this can help us make positive choices about what we spend time on, rather than allowing time to drift towards time-wasting activities.
On a scale of 1-10 ask:
- Important (10) to not important (1)
- Urgent (10) to not urgent (1)
This activity can help us to ‘rank’ our to do list very quickly, and clearly highlights who and what needs our time. It is a great quick win when we feel overwhelm kicking in.
Another top tip is the weekly worksheet from Stephen Covey’s book -7 Habits of Highly Successful People. It has a helpful weekly scheduling worksheet that is great for encouraging us to delegate more of our ‘to-do’ activity. It is also a great Monday morning activity that we can carry out with our teams to ensure everyone’s time is pointing in the right direction. Remember, when one person has slack, they can step up and help a colleague, and where another is overwhelmed, the team can pull together.
More Good Days
If we can hold on to the qualities of what a ‘good day’ looks like, and if we can achieve that elusive Bounce-Back through the effective management of our time, then it will become easier and easier.
An individual who effectively directs their time and energy could be any one of us. We need is to learn to play to our strengths, better understand ourselves (know your priorities) and recognise when we need to adjust things, in order to reach more balance. If we don’t put a limit on, how much we are willing to spend on 1 activity, there may be nothing left for other things that are important. This can increase stress, and ultimately de-rail careers the further we climb the career ladder.
As Leaders we can support the team around us in times of high demand on our time, but only when we recognise how to do it for ourselves. If we have systems in place and return to these as quickly as possible after a period of disruption, we are able to regain balance.
Prospering in a senior role requires, knowing how to use our time effectively, and we can use this to inform how we best live, work and succeed.
The ultimate advice is to find a practical approach that works for you and stick to it.
For further reading on this subject: