Day 14. Wow! Notwithstanding a possible extension to the 21-Day Lockdown, it is amazing to believe that there is potentially on 7 more days in lockdown remaining. Time seems to have flown by, despite being us being unable to fill our lives with the usual rat-race activities.
*** When I started this blog, the above was appropriate. Now, we have three more weeks ahead of us. Use it wisely! ***
For many, their lives over the past two weeks have revolved around waiting for the next news report telling us just how doomed we are and rushing to the nearest supermarket to go and join a queue of well behave social distancers. Mind you, if there is one thing we should take with us into post-COVID South Africa, it would be people's ability to queue and respect personal space.
I have now caught myself a few times this week, asking myself "What day is it?". Time, or our concept of time is tied to motion. The motion of the earth and the moon, clocks, and as I realised, the motion of our backsides; our daily routines.
What Science Says
When we consider time, we can assume one of two views. Objective time which is physical time that exists outside our minds - it exists as part of nature, and psychological time, which is subjective time which is dependent on the mind.
Early scientists and philosophers Newton and Plato argued that time objective. Newton defined time as an absolute entity, thus not relative to, or depending on anything/anyone else. For Plato, who based time as being objective to the movement of the planets (sunrise, sunset, lunar cycles etc) it was also objective.
The fact however that time and the measurement of time, came from the minds of scientists had Aristotle and Kant define it as subjective, as our definition and perception of time could not exist without us first thinking of it (this concept is interesting, Yuval Harari has similar views on modern society to this, read his book Sapiens).
Regardless of your view on time (whether all in the mind or physically real), one thing is certain; time cannot be affected by any individual. As such you cannot manage time. Time management cannot be seen as a literal term.
So we can thus not manage our time. Activity, task, or resource management would be a far more appropriate term.
For so many of us, the current lockdown is the first time in years we have had time on our hands, yet somehow, if you look back at the past two weeks, you probably could have planned your activities a bit different, and not simply "lost" that time.
Allocating Your Resources
Since we cannot manage time, we need to manage what we do within the stipulated time available. Here are a few ideas on how to do that.
Around 2006 I made a slight change in my career. At the time I was working in the shipping industry, and the move was to the trucking industry. Though the two were in a related field, the dynamics were very different. I soon found myself with so much to, and never enough time in the day. I had to find a way to make sure that I focus on getting the job done...
Here are the tools I used, and don’t expect some silver-bullet here. These are tried and tested methods, some centuries old.
The first tool I started using was a to-do list. At the time, the iPhone was not yet a thing, and even though my Nokia at the time had a calendar, it just did not work for me. So I used a plain and simple diary. I do not attribute the success of the to-do list to the list itself, but the process I followed.
At the start of each day (I would always be at the office at least 30-minutes before my colleagues arrived) I would start by transferring items I did not complete the day before, to the new day's list. I would then spend at least 10-minutes planning my day, and listing all activities. As far as I could prioritise I would, and the important items would be listed higher on the list.
At the end of the day, I would review the list. I marked items that would be critical for the next day, to ensure they make the top of the list the next morning. Some, of course, I would decide to complete there and then.
Calendar / Reminders
I did not use the calendar for daily tasks. The calendar came in handy to mark the routine weekly and monthly tasks, such as month-end financials, specific reporting, budgeting etc. These were items that I needed to be aware of but did not have to focus on every day. Much of these tasks were completed by my employees, but ultimately I was responsible for their timely delivery.
With the advent of the iPhone, I started setting reminders on my calendar, as they could now be synchronised between my laptop and my phone.
I developed the habit of taking my diary/notebook with me wherever I went. If I would be out in the workshop and notice something, I would note it down. If I did not attend to it immediately when back in the office, it would then form part of tomorrow's to-do list. My boss at the time always had a small notebook that could fit in his shirt pocket with him. He was constantly flipping through it, to see remind himself of notes he took while out of the office.
These were also replaced later by my trusted iPhone, but I must confess, using open and paper gave some finality to ticking off an item on the to-do list, that always left me with a sense of accomplishment.
When I made the decision in 2014 to strike out on my own, I was faced with a new challenge. My trusted planning and management tools still worked, but suddenly appeared less effective.
Starting a new business brought its own challenges. I was no longer overseeing a large operation, yet suddenly had a lot more work to do. And everything was important! During an accountability call with my good friend Eric in the USA, I complained about how hard it is to get the right things done at the right time. He spoke in his true coach Eric manner and introduced me to the Eisenhower Matrix… The name makes it sound very intimidating, but that could not be further from the truth…
The Eisenhower Matrix groups our activities on two scales. Urgency and Importance.
Steven Covey defines these two as follows:
Urgent matters are those that require immediate action. These are the visible issues that pop up and demand your attention NOW. Often, urgent matters come with clear consequences for not completing these tasks. Urgent tasks are unavoidable, but spending too much time putting out fires can produce a great deal of stress and could result in burnout.
Important matters, on the other hand, are those that contribute to long-term goals and life values. These items require planning and thoughtful action. When you focus on important matters you manage your time, energy, and attention rather than mindlessly expending these resources. What is important is subjective and depends on your own values and personal goals. No one else can define what is important for you.
See below for the Matrix Layout.
Each Quadrant in our matrix will contain tasks that comply with those requirements.
This video of Steven Covey explaining the concept is brilliant. Once you get past how old these people must be by now, watch and learn.
There are countless other tools we can use today and plenty of software options for better planning your day. For me, the key has always been to keep it as simple as possible. Unless you have a personal assistant, many of the more modern options will take more time to manage, than they will save you.