Deduct 6 to 8 hours for sleep and a couple of more hours for the basic necessities of life. Time you spend in the bathroom, food intake, commuting to work, running errands, keeping the house clean etc. Suddenly out of these 24 hours only a fraction is left at your disposal.
How are you going to make the most out of these say 14 hours per day? You cannot really manage time, thus I find the term “time management” a bit absurd. What you can manage are the choices you are making. Let’s think about choice management.
You cannot influence time. You cannot add more hours to your day. But in the hours available, you constantly take conscious or unconscious decisions what to do.
Consequently, in order to live a fulfilling life, these decisions should be aligned with your goals in your life. The more you apply this principle the more you will improve the quality of your life.
This means that first you have to make a conscious decision about the priorities in your life. And this is not necessarily easy.
One difficulty is that a decision for something is automatically a decision against all other options. I have observed that this is a struggle especially for multi-talented people.
People who are so blessed to be gifted in various ways will have to make a critical choice at one point in time: to either excel in one area and enjoy being on the top, or to derive pleasure from variety and doing many things, but not as best as they could.
Remember the anecdote of the famous violin player who was confronted by a middle age lady after a concert. She gushed “Oh, I’d give my life to play like you!” “Lady”, said the celebrity acidly, “That I did!”
As my wise grandmother already told me when I was a kid: “you cannot have everything.”
Once you have taken the decision whether you want to dedicate your life to specialization or to pursue various activities, it all comes down to the active choice management, and the discipline of execution according to your priorities. As David Campbell put it: “Discipline is remembering what you want.”
So in the end you have to decide every day what the priorities are for your 14 hours of possibilities. There are of course a lot of distractions, temptations, interruptions all the time, but once you break with old patterns and habits, you will be surprised how much you can achieve in your career and your personal life if you stay focused.
I still use a simple but very effective toolwhich I learned more than a decade ago in a seminar by Dr. Gerhard Huhn:
- Start in the morning by clarifying the priorities for your day.
- Estimate the time realistically needed for each task or topic to work on and put them on a sheet of paper or in your diary.
For me the list consists of five items in average. It can be only three if I work on some bigger projects, or it can add up to seven or ten if some less time consuming tasks are included.
- Now it is critical to prioritize consequently. Meanwhile has become a classic to “put first things first” according to Stephen Covey, so do exactly this. Stay focused, avoid getting distracted, and do not go to your priority 2 task as long as no. 1 is not completed yet.
- Proceed through your list. Finish one item after the other, and proceed to the lower priority tasks only once you are done with the higher priority task.
Striking through the completed items may give you a sense of accomplishment.
A side effect from this exercise is that you will learn to come to better estimates for the time needed for your tasks and projects, and with time you will learn how to optimize the number of items on your list.
Give it a try and find your own optimum style to deal with choice management. Then enjoy your achievements!
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