We all have 24 hours
A famous quip states that “we all have 24 hours a day”, implying that what differentiates people in pursuing goals is how they choose to spend their time. While true enough in a literal sense, you can ‘stretch time’ by making better use of it. And this of course is even more necessary when we consider that many people don’t really have a choice in what they do most of the time – if you have to work 10-hour shifts just to pay the bills and have a 2-hour commute before and after work, you don’t really have the luxury of choosing how to spend your 24 hours. Having said this, you can still make the most of whatever available time you actually have.
Quite a few of my life coaching clients partially focus our sessions on better managing time. Everyone’s aspirations and circumstances are different, so of course what people come up with through self-reflection varies. There are some common themes though, so let me share what I’ve learnt over the years.
Have a vision… stretch time
Making the most of your available time implies knowing what you want to achieve with it. Get to know your purpose, and you will achieve more over time and have more fun in life. It’s also helpful to establish some kind of plan from your purpose, setting out key milestones in your journey. But avoid the temptation of developing an ever-expanding ‘to do’ list, which will both limit you and stress you out. What works for me is making a list every night of the things I want to do next day to move towards my milestones – the bigger picture works itself out over time.
Be selective in what you do
You don’t necessarily need to stretch time… you can simply do less. Before you start anything, ask yourself how it contributes to whatever you want to achieve. In other words, check that something really needs to be done. Remember that what you want to achieve doesn’t necessarily need to be tangible, so don’t be afraid to spend time exploring or just relaxing if you believe it will help you in the long run. Just avoid doing something out of habit or because it’s the easy thing to do.
Set yourself challenging timeframes
You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s law, which states that “work expands to fill the amount of time you dedicate to it.” There are several ways to avoid this trap. I usually set myself challenging yet achievable timeframes for activities. This works well with activities for which I can guesstimate a reasonable duration, but not for more intangible ones. When planning activities that require a lot of creativity or brainstorming, I tend to be more generous in my time allowance. Another way to avoid Parkinson’s law is to leave everything to the last minute – not something I would personally advocate, but it might work for you!
Don’t be tempted to do the easy stuff first
You’ve probably heard it said that ‘change begins at the end of your comfort zone’. Well, don’t slip into doing something that’s in your comfort zone until you really need to. Start with the more difficult stuff first, particularly if you are feeling energized and motivated to achieve something fantastic! Let’s say you love tinkering with Excel spreadsheets. Well then, leave tasks that involve inputting and analyzing data to when you are naturally less productive. And if you love to defer things outside your comfort zone, read about the charms and dangers of procrastination.
Trust others to deliver
No matter how great you are (or think you are!), you can’t do everything yourself. Delegation requires you to balance the need to get more things done than you can achieve on your own with the desire to get things done your way. Empowering on the other hand, requires you to create an environment in which people feel comfortable to take on more and more with a common purpose in view. Well, in both cases remember that just because someone ‘has another way of doing things’ doesn’t mean they can’t help you achieve your purpose. So perfect the arts of delegation and empowerment by experimenting! You might feel frustrated on occasion, but over time you will find it’s a win-win opportunity.
Find the right time for the right activity
We all find some things easier than others… and some periods of the day better for more challenging activities. Personally, I know that trying to be creative after 4pm will quickly become a frustrating exercise. Perhaps you think best after a powernap… So get to know your own rhythm, find your productivity zone, then plan your activities accordingly. And once you are on task, keep your mind focused.
Try different approaches to stretch time
Search the Internet and you will come across an abundance of time management techniques. From well-known techniques such as setting SMART goals through to the presidential-sounding Eisenhower matrix and to the amazingly-named Pomodoro technique, you have many to choose from. While of course each technique has its proponents and detractors, I am pretty sure you can find a time and occasion to apply any of them successfully.
I imagine you have your own preferred way of managing your time. I certainly have mine. While it’s always easier to stick to ‘tried and proven’ methods, the truth is that deciding to approach something one way precludes you from trying it in other ways. Aiming for lifelong learning is a great goal in itself. And I believe that people who push themselves to experiment new ways of managing time tend to find they can achieve more and better, particularly when faced with very uncertain outcomes.
Ready to stretch time?
Making the most of your time is a key element in achieving what you want from life. Perhaps circumstance make it difficult to apply some of my tips to most of your day. Just remember that you can make the most of whatever time you can apply them to!
And one more thing: if you free up time to do more of the same things you already do, all you will do is achieve more of the same!
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