Archive for the ‘Time’ tag
This post is a follow-up to Protect Your Time: 8 Ways to Stay Focused on Important Stuff. Can you tell I care about this topic?
I work with lots of people who are booked all day long, 8am-6pm, every single day of the week. Most of these people complain that they have no time to do any “real” work since they’re “sooooooo busy” all the time. Yet sitting in a meeting with a laptop open only half paying attention isn’t real work, and most people know that
Still, they let their time get abused left and right and don’t realize that they’re ultimately in control of the situation. Heck, they may not even identify it as a problem to begin with. They’re busy right? Who has time to think about producing, creating, or <ugh> leading anyway?!
When you break it down, time is the purest and most ultimate resource we have for action. We don’t own many things completely and totally, but time is one of the things that we get to choose how to spend. And as we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, your life is the sum of what you choose to focus on – so spend it wisely, because you aren’t going to get it back. How you spend your time is going to impact your life in ways greater than your money, relationships, or job alone ever could.
It’s easy to look at a situation like being booked all week and think it’s unavoidable. If you’re in a role with a decent amount of responsibility, it’s also easy to assume that responsibility has to equate to meeting attendance and being “busy” all the time. But of course, it doesn’t… and never will.
Having responsibility for something important means that you’re a decision-maker of some sort. The best decisions are made based on experience, instinct, and data. And there are ways to gain practical experience, hone your native instinct, and collect and synthesize data outside of meetings. In fact, you could make an argument that the more time you spend in useless meetings, the less opportunity you have to gain that experience or practice your craft.
Happy Monday! If you value your time – and who doesn’t – you need to be be protecting it at all costs. It’s far too easy to spend hours each day doing things that don’t end up resulting in personal or professional gain. You pick your head up at the end of the workday just to realize that out of all the things you got done, none of them were particularly meaningful.
This happens to everyone… at least once!
The key to good time management is to protect your time from the unimportant in order to focus on the important. It’s really that simple. But in practice, it can be difficult. Because it sometimes means being a jerk. Or at least coming across like one to people who enjoy time-wasting activities because it’s the only way they know how to work.
We have a word at Microsoft we use when our time is wasted: randomize. I was randomized by him. Please don’t randomize me. This meeting is going to be randomizing, we can do this over email. What a randomization! I’m not exactly sure where it came from – likely from the comparison of wasting time to a random number generator – but the basic idea is that if something is randomizing, it’s to be avoided at all costs. I suppose it’s nicer than saying “you’re wasting my precious time”, especially for people who don’t know what the word means in context.
Don’t be randomized!
The single biggest time-waster in the corporate world is the all-too-prevalent meeting. Most meetings are 50 minutes of people hearing themselves speak and 10 minutes of useful dialog or conversation. You may not be able to avoid them completely, but you can sure as hell try. More important stuff happens outside of meetings than in them.
As you may have read in My Day: The Way I Work, Rest, and Play, my workday can easily be filled from 9-6 if I’m not careful. This certainly isn’t unique to my situation; it applies to lots of people. Many people end up using evenings and weekends to “catch up” instead of for much-needed downtime. Not fun.
Worse, they’ve convinced themselves that their job is to go to meetings. I don’t know anyone whose job is just to attend meetings – or just read email for that matter – no matter what role they’re in… and for those who think it’s their job, my guess is that they’re filled with guilt because their contributions are severely limited. They’re not actually doing anything. Also not fun.
No matter what you do, you want to maximize your contribution. You want to spend more time creating and producing than consuming. You want great output. You want to be someone who pushes the boulder another foot up the hill each and every day. You don’t want to run in-place like the people around you! Unless you’re a full-time hole puncher with 30 years of experience, you have something unique and significant to contribute. Useless meetings take away from that. If they’re not wasting your time directly, they’re still breaking up valuable opportunities to find flow in your work. Meetings aren’t where you’ll make your mark.
Our future and current selves rarely see eye-to-eye. As much as we’d like to indulge in every short-term pleasurable activity as they present themselves, it’s not always the best thing for us when we look at our life in its totality. Our time perspective can go a long way to optimizing for the right focus at the right time, making sure we indulge when we can (being “present hedonist”) but also keep an eye on the long-term prize (being “future goal-oriented”). With the right time perspective we can make sure we’re not foregoing our health, our life goals, or any multi-step, complex accomplishments for today’s six-pack of beer, a McDonald’s Happy Meal, or 10 hours of mindless television. It’s one thing to claim that time perspective can “solve” this for us, but that feels too theoretical. Time perspective is about strategy, but there are also tactics we can use to adapt to a new time perspective. One of the tactics that can help us adapt is precommitment.
The term precommitment was first introduced by a Nobel-prize winning economist named Thomas Schelling as part of a self-management system called Egonomics. Calling Egonomics a “system” may not be entirely accurate since it was originally described as “the art of self-management” in a research paper (available here). At the core of Egonomics is the idea that within each person exists two selves: the future self and the present (or past) self, constantly at odds, leading to a sort of cognitive dissonance between the two. Both selves exist within us and are equally valid, but aren’t always active at the same time. It’s a natural and ongoing conflict between immediate desire and long-term goals.
“Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to make us do the things we ought to do or to keep us from the things we out to foreswear. Sometimes we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, sometimes we promise ourselves small rewards, and sometimes we surrender authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or our cigarettes. We place the alarm clock across the room so we cannot turn it off without getting out of bed. People who are chronically late set their watches a few minutes ahead to deceive themselves.” – Thomas Schelling, “Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management”
How we focus on the passage of time can result in a significant bias when applied to everyday life. This bias could make all the difference in our relationships, our work, and our overall happiness. Philip Zimbardo, one of the most prestigious psychologists in the world and a part of the Positive Psychology movement, has recently turned his focus to time. His book, The Time Paradox, and his most recent online talks (#1, #2 – both recommended) have been all about time perspective and delayed gratification – or as he says, having a “healthy take on time”. Zimbardo holds a special place in my heart because he was the author of the textbook used in Psych 101 at Cornell University, which first piqued my interest in psychology. His new research on time fascinates me and in many ways speaks to what this blog is about.
Time perspective is about how we subjectively divide the flow of human experience into time zones or categories. We each create segments of reality through time using significant (or sometimes insignificant) events in our lives. Zimbardo calls this “subjective time” because it’s highly personal and unique to each of us. The way we approach time in general varies quite a bit and can easily become a bias as we’ll see.
The famous longitudinal marshmallow study, referenced in just about every positive psychology book these days, is a great example of how time orientation has an effect on who we are and what we do. If you haven’t heard about the study, it involved a group of 4-year olds who were given a marshmallow as a reward for completing a task. The kids were told that if they could hold off and not eat the marshmallow once left alone, they would receive another marshmallow. Of course, more kids than not couldn’t wait and ate the first marshmallow. They wanted instant gratification over delayed gratification, even though there would have been a better outcome through waiting.
When these kids graduated high school, they were interviewed by the researchers and there were significant differences across the board. The kids who were able to delay gratification and hold off eating the first marshmallow scored 250 points higher on the SAT and had far more positive personality traits than those who gave into the impulse. They were self-motivated, decisive, self-confident, and balanced. It pays to embrace delayed gratification.
If you’re interested, you can read more on the marshmallow study before going further.