‘We build the lives we want and then time saves itself’ ‘– Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam.
Have you heard of the term ‘Elastic Time’? Researchers use it to describe it as a ‘modern experience that is highly interruptible, shrinking and expanding around immediate concerns, and interleaving through multiple activities”. By that, they mean society is ‘manipulating’ time in so far it is subdividing reality by allowing moments within moments, a multitasking of place and time. For example, you may be on a work-related phone call from the home in the evening while typing or performing other tasks.
Which leads me to Laura Vanderkam’s quote above. Her TED Talk ‘How to Gain Control of your Free Time’ resonated with me both as a coach and a human being and illustrated this concept. What Laura did was conduct a time log project where she spent 1001 days in the lives of extremely busy women. As Laura listened to the participants, one thing stood out – the phrase “I don’t have time” often really meant “it is not a priority for me.”
This made me think about the situations during which I use that phrase and I realised it was true for me too.
When I say “I don’t have time to do housework” as a busy working mum of three, what I am really saying is “I hate housework with a passion, and would pick a cup of tea and toast over that any day”. Then do my best to come up with avoidance strategies that get me out of doing it, like leaving the house on errands that weirdly take twice as long as they should, just to be able to say “I don’t have time for housework and need to out-source pronto!”. Well, you get the idea…
In short, what I am doing is not aligning my priorities to what is important to me when what I need to do is work out what those priorities are. How can I do that? Here are my three strategies, which you can follow to make sure you find time:
Clarify Your Values
Start with a value identification exercise. There are lots online but I recommend this one. It is free and an evidence-based self-assessment.
Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities…When the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you’re satisfied and content. But when these don’t align with your personal values, that’s when things feel… wrong.”
When thinking about activities and deciding what to do (or what not to do), think about whether it aligns with your values or brings them into conflict. Take this train of thought and apply it to even the smallest of activities, not just the big ones. It is easy to call these small ones ‘big’ ones even though they may not be important.
The Wheel of Life exercise
- Out of 10, rate each segment on how important it is to you and mark it on the wheel.
- In a different colour, out of 10, rate each segment on how satisfied you are with it and mark it on the wheel.
- Where are the gaps? This can indicate an area of focus to realign your priorities.
- What is one small thing you could do right now to shift your satisfaction rating upward? even half a point?
Time Management Matrix
Assess activities as urgent/not urgent and important/not important by using the matrix above. How you decide what goes where will be based on real-life constraints and obligations and how you value the activities you are assessing.
- Quadrant 1: Contains tasks and responsibilities that are urgent and have deadlines.
- Quadrant 2: Contains items that are important without requiring immediate action. Most of us neglect this one, especially around personal development. This is where goal setting is important for longer-term planning.
- Quadrant 3: Contains tasks that are urgent, without being important. Some suggest eliminating these tasks as they tend to be unproductive. Sometimes these are things we might delegate.
- Quadrant 4: Contains tasks and responsibilities that have little value – time-wasters that should be reduced or stopped.
What does your overall result look like? I am still trying to guess which quadrant I should put housework in ….
Celeste Tramonte is a founding member of the FlexCoach panel of career and executive coaches. As a career and leadership coach, she helps people reconnect to what matters in their work-life and organisations realise the benefits of positive career development.
Celeste combines coaching with the practical tools and resources people often need when crafting a career: strengths, personality, and other career assessments help with Resumes, LinkedIn profiles, interview preparation, job search strategies, negotiating new roles and job-offers.