The title of today’s column is actually taken from a song by Chicago, one of my favorite groups from the 1970s. The band sung those lyrics over 40 years ago and they still resonate with me today. To be perfectly honest with you, you really don’t have to care about time if it isn’t a source of stress for you.
Time is relative; it means different things to you at different points in your life. For example, when you were a toddler it meant being on a schedule to meet your basic needs such as eating and sleeping. As a teenager it revolved around school and helped you keep track of when to get up, go to school, and finish your homework. As an adult, time and scheduling revolves around the demands of the work, caring for your children, and managing your household. If you’ve reached retirement age the meaning of time will vary tremendously depending upon if you are still working and your level of involvement with your friends, family, and community groups you are a member of.
I realize that time isn’t necessarily a source of stress for you. If time is not a source of stress for you, it is perfectly OK to not care about it and throw your watch away. However, if you do feel time challenged, and it is a source of stress for you, read on.
In the rest of this column I am going to pick up where we left off before I devoted the last two installments to remembering Addis. At that point I had just finished discussing efficient use of time and had tasked you with keeping a Time Journal. If you’ve been keeping your Time Journal for the past couple of weeks you are ready to start examining it to see how efficiently you used your time.
Here are a few questions that will help you assess how well you managed your time:
1. Did your use of time help or hinder you in meeting your goals and objectives over the past couple of weeks?
Remember, efficient use of time revolves around meeting your goals for the day. If you managed to meet your goals for the past couple of weeks give yourself a star. That is a good indication that you used your time efficiently over that period. Don’t criticize yourself for not doing more. Stay positive and tell yourself that you did great for accomplishing what you set out to do! If you feel that you could have accomplished more without getting stressed then use that information to set more goals over the next few weeks.
2. On average, how many hours did you spend each week working (paid and unpaid), commuting (to work and/or school), engaging in family responsibilities, and playing?
Breaking down how you used your time and actually seeing it on your journal pages is important because it is objective evidence, not merely your thoughts about how you use your time. Sometimes how you think you use your time is very different from how you actually use it. Seeing how you actually use your time is an essential part of finding your optimal level of stimulation and reducing unwanted demands on your time and energy.
3. How much of a cushion did you give yourself to get from one activity to the next?
A cushion is the amount of time you give yourself to get from one appointment to the next. Not giving yourself any cushion or not giving yourself a big enough cushion can lead to feeling rushed and in turn, getting stressed. This is especially true when it involves getting in your car and traveling from one place to another where things like accidents, traffic jams, and inclement weather can destroy even the biggest cushion.
Besides feeling rushed, scheduling things back-to-back interferes with being able to fully process what you just finished doing. Being able to take some time to gather your thoughts and make sense of the class, meeting, or appointment you just attended helps you get the most out of it and give it some closure. Having unresolved issues floating around in your mind can be a source of stress.
Another reason I find scheduling back-to-back appointments to be stressful is that it limits your opportunities for interacting with others who attended with you. It is not unusual for people to come up to you after a class or meeting and want to ask you a question or carry the discussion further. It can be stressful when this happens and you have to rush out because you’ve scheduled another appointment immediately afterwards.
Lastly, I find that when you don’t create a cushion between your appointments it often results in either skipping a meal or relying on junk food to get you through the day. Neither of these are great for staying energized and reducing your stress.
4. Did your use of time contribute to feeling rushed?
Besides being related to the size of the cushion you give yourself, feeling rushed is also a symptom of having too much to do on any given day. Since feeling rushed is very subjective, you can evaluate the objective reality of this emotion by comparing it to your actual level of demand (the number of different things on your plate). All you have to do is look at your Time Journal and see how you actually spent your time. If you weren’t that busy but still felt rushed it might be related to using your time inefficiently. Maybe you spent too much time on unimportant things and this kept you from doing what you really need to do. When you finally got to what you need to dot you already wasted valuable time so you felt rushed. There are many reasons why you could feel rushed but a good place to start examining this is looking at how you actually spent your time.
5. Where did you use your time most efficiently?
You can find this information by looking over your Time Journal entries. Identify which time blocks and specific activities you checked off as being efficient uses of your time. Add these up and separate them by category (office work, meetings, checking my Facebook page, doing the wash, etc.). This will give you an indication of when and how you used your time most efficiently.
6. Where did you use your time least efficiently?
Once again, you can find this information by looking over your Time Journal entries. Identify which time blocks and specific activities you checked off as being inefficient uses of your time. Add these up and separate them by category (office work, meetings, checking my Facebook page, doing the wash, etc.). This will give you an indication of when and how you used your time least efficiently.
7. What could you do to manage your time more efficiently in the future?
Think back to the things you want to accomplish; your goals and objectives. Looking at how you used your time over the journal period, come up with as many options as you can for using that time more efficiently in the future.
In the next issue I’ll show you a specific technique for prioritizing your use of time. It is free, simple, and can be used to manage both your personal and professional use of time.
Until then remember to Stress Less and Live More.