How often do you feel like you never have any time? One of the most difficult struggles for someone trying to boost their career or build a business is the lack of time for other responsibilities, such as family or a passion project. And don’t forget how easy it is to feel like you’re continuously on deadlines.
Now there is no way to magically give you more time. But what if improving your ability to lead yourself and others can give you the next best thing?
Expectations Are The Enemy
Humans have an innate talent at crashing and burn when it comes to estimating the amount of time and effort required for a task. Even with significant experience, if someone runs into an unexpected scenario, they will likely have to push back the deadline.
This isn’t always due to optimism, even though that is the root of this very human bias. There are those who want to prove themselves so they bite off more than they can chew. Sometimes they get lucky and things go according to plan. Most of time, there are either more issues than initially predicted or the expected issues had deeper issues behind them.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t take on challenges. When you do, you will want the self awareness of accurately judge your ability to tackle unpleasant surprises. This means understanding how long your plans would take with your strengths, giving yourself a buffer for surprises and being ok with admitting you need help if the scope of the challenge exceeds your current capacity.
This also applies to planning for any other responsibilities you have in your life. Having a backup plan in case time runs over from a previous engagement will be an absolute lifesaver for you. What if your team takes longer than expected to send a deliverable for review and you’re stuck in a school play with your kid as the lead?
Besides having the foresight to create a backup plan, you would also appreciate the ability to self regulate your emotions. When you do run into stressful surprises, how do you react? How productive is that reaction towards the end goal?
Being able to observe your emotions and detect when you’re about to go off the deep end will give you the room to step out of stress. Leaders who can combine that with accurate expectations don’t run into issues of time management.
On this point, a wise manager once taught me this back in the day: always under promise and then overdeliver.
Revisit Your Why
What if you just have too many responsibilities? If this is you, you may want to take the time to really audit your life.
When you analyze what’s going on, you can’t simply make it a matter of prioritizing your responsibilities. The word “priorities” was not created until rather recently, since it defeated the purpose of its root word. Priority was meant to refer to the only and most important matter.
That is not to say you can only care about just one thing. But you may want to cut down on everything you have your hands in. And to do that, you look at your values.
At your very core, what drives you? Unless you’ve answered this before at the deepest level of who you are, your first answer will probably be too shallow. What’s the motivation behind that first answer?
When you discover your values and what you hold to be most important, you realize how some of your actions aren’t aligned with all of that. This part also requires self-awareness.
The best business owners and leaders understand the power of focus. They understand how their effectiveness can be rendered worthless if they try to do several things at once. That is why they invest the time to find out what is most important in their situation and hammer down on it.
Understanding this also allows you to distinguish between what is important, what is urgent, what falls under both of those and what is considered neither. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stimulus of tasks that come to your desk, only to realize later that there were bigger fish to fry. This is what is known as the Eisenhower technique.
Remember to always keep asking yourself what your current priority is.
Slowing Down Time
So given how important self-awareness and self management is to increasing your efficiency, how do you actually go about practicing both of those? Besides working on raising your emotional intelligence, there is one strategy that makes a world of difference.
Learn to invest your time.
Often people get sucked up into the fast pace of highly charged situations and lose control. If they had taken the time to slow down their own reaction and step out to observe what was really going on, they could have seen the most efficient path to take.
This can be as simple as taking a short walk. Maybe take a few minutes to write out how you are currently feeling. Or you can allow yourself to do some meditation. All of these are highly backed by scientific research on their effectiveness on productivity.
Even knowing that, what stops people from doing this?
If you’re like them, you may think this would waste your time. After all, if you had the time, you should be continuously working. But in situations when you are under stress, you end up with tunnel vision. You start to lose sight of even simple solutions. You become ineffective.
Why does this happen? Because stress and similar negative emotions don’t go away just because you try to suppress them. They hang around in the back of your mind and constantly distract you. Being annoyed at a partner, feeling like you have to make up for the work of another colleague or having to cancel to finish up work are all examples of situations that keep gnawing at you.
If you start investing your time, your return will be having control over your life again. When you get that, would you still feel like you wasted your time?
If you think about the history of time, man created its perception of it. We were the ones to create minutes, hours, clocks and calendars. By this same fact, we can also choose our perspective on it.
What if we could look at time differently? What would our lives look like if we had everything running like clockwork? The answer to both of those lie with how you manage yourself.