That was the final exam question in my Existentialism Philosophy class at Marygrove College in Detroit. It was the ’70s, and no matter how hard I tried to fill that bluebook with some type of academically worthy response, all I could think of were songs with the word ''time'' in them: ''Time Has Come Today'' , ''First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'', ''Time Is On My Side'', ''Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?'' Now, that is not to say that I couldn’t hold my own at an in-depth discussion of philosophy and the meaning of life. But, at the end of the day, my relationship with the world and philosophy was defined more by Robinson, Flack, Wonder, Taylor, and Stills than Sartre, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Camus.
Forget any existential discussion of time today — who has time for that? The discussion now centers around whether three to six monitors at a person's desk will provide a 9% increase in productivity (per Microsoft);or if your Treo or your BlackBerry is a better conduit for nano-second communication; or, my personal favorite — a discussion of the "tethered" employee!
Now forgive me if I have a "back in the day" moment here, but there was a time when there were some parameters on time at the workplace. As you sat at your desk around 4:30 or 4:45, you would slowly feel and hear the hum of the workday begin to cease. The sounds of phones, typing, copiers, etc. slowly halted — it signaled the end of the workday. Stores closed, offices closed, banks closed, etc. I say this not to be nostalgic, but to highlight that this same era (1945-1985) was a time of unprecedented economic growth, productivity, patents, and output along with huge gains in personal and corporate income in the United States. Even with 24/7 "connectivity," this type of economic growth and scope might be difficult to match in the near future.
We all expect to allocate a reasonable amount of time to our professional daily exercise of producing something of value at our place of work. But as we strive for this productive 9 to 5, the onslaught of miscellaneous emails, phone calls, text messages, totally off-task web surfing, and other interruptions knock us off our game. Moreover, as technology procreates, these same productivity-busters are concurrently landing at desktops, laptops, pdas, blackberries, and phones - and following us home! So as you enter the 21st-century economy, are you smarter, more creative, and more productive, or are you just tethered to a 24/7 hyper-schedule?
Now we're well beyond the '70s and having philosophical discussions of the meaning of time. Rather, we attempt to modify the finite 24 by renaming and redefining it: mommy time, quality time, core time, flex time, commute time, response time, etc. The net effect is an irrational use of time. We think that by renaming and redefining time, it will expand its volume. Not so — there are still only 24 hours in any given day (pick any of the seven).
People wear their 24/7 connectivity as a badge of honor in the "new" economy.
They convince themselves that they are "in touch," "on top of it," and "connected". The "connectivity" equation (multi-tasking + mobile technology = getting more done in less time), however, rarely incorporates the variable of "quality."
Where do quality and productivity weigh in when 65% of all emails are social babble, spam, or "special" offers for credit and various forms of "enhancements"? When you check your BlackBerry at 10:30 pm while you are in bed, or watching television with your significant other, or working on a science project with your kid, or taking your dog for a walk — do you really need to know that Suzy Creamcheese will be a day late with her employee evaluations? What is the risk of this information coming to your attention at the beginning of the next workday? What would you do with that information between 11 pm and 8 am? Here's another equation to consider: over-scheduling + multi-tasking + hyper-communicating = irrational use of time.
If you are reading this article, you no doubt have read other time-management articles, books, etc. I'm sure that you found some of the information useful, some not. But the one item I'm sure was consistent for better time management was implementation — you have to implement change. You need to change habits, not gadgets.
We've all read stories about "successful" people who proclaim that they got where they are by "working 12 to 14 to 18-hour days"! When I see this, I always wonder about the other metrics not mentioned in the article: the number of broken relationships; the children ignored; the dogs that never get walked; the hours not spent playing music, throwing clay, planting flowers, dancing, etc. It's funny how those 12 to 18-hour days never get proclaimed in their obits.
What an irrational use of our limited time on the planet.
How about a rational use of time?
All the lamenting that there "just aren't enough hours in a day" ignores the obvious: over-planning and over-scheduling too many activities for a 24-hour day. How can you stop replaying this broken record?
Develop an honest assessment of true time/task management. What are realistic time frames for the type of work or tasks that you do on a daily basis? What is the average time for a client consultation, approximate time for an assessment, read-deal travel time, average time for a sales call, etc.? If you plan to work an 8 to 9-hour day, what are the realistic number of these activities that can be competently worked into a day? Do the math.
Develop a functioning delegation system. You find yourself working around the clock because you "have to do everything." Is it possible that you have the wrong people working for you, that they are not clear on what is expected from them, or that their skills are mismatched with their assigned tasks? Rework the team, clarify duties, and get home for dinner.
Stop the interruptions. Once you've made an honest assessment of time/task management and you have the skills and duties of your team members aligned, focus on the work at hand and stop interrupting each other every two seconds. As thoughts come to you regarding items for discussion with other members of your staff, write them down. When you have a moment, call the person, share a cup of coffee, and have a focused conversation. Share your ideas and you're done.
Rethink wireless communication. Just because you can do it doesn't mean that you should. Why are you checking email and voicemail at 10 pm? What is the worst thing that would happen if someone will be coming in late for a meeting in the morning? And what will you do with that information between 10 pm and 7 am? Okay you say, the person is the presenter and you have to fill in? Well then that warranted a person-to-person phone call. Routine office communications, however, have no place in the sanctity of your home.
Even if you don't work from home, you are letting the office follow you home like a puppy. Establish office hours and close at some point.
We live and work amongst an unlimited menu of opportunities, information, challenges, and expectations. This unlimited menu is still harnessed by the finite 24. It's your time and your choice — make it a rational one. And, as that aging, spandex-clad rock-and-roller/time management consultant once said, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need."
About the Author
Kathleen Alessandro is a nationally known productivity expert who offers her clients a five-point plan to help deal with email, voice mails, and other business information. She offers public seminars about productivity solutions and works one-on-one with small to medium-sized businesses to better manage business information. To learn more about Energized Solutions, go to