Mastering Time: Understanding the Issues

by Howard Shore, Date: Dec 09, 2010

Mastering Time: Understanding the Issues

There has been much written about time management. Most recommend perfectly good practices that are subsequently rendered ineffective by hidden issues that have not been addressed.

In practice, I see 5 issues that repeatedly neutralize people’s ability to get control over their time. These issues render good time management techniques ineffective and/or cause people not to use them. These issues are:

  1. Belief systems, thought processes, and attitudes
  2. Less time to control than one realizes
  3. Not knowing where your time goes
  4. Time versus energy
  5. Interruptions

Change Your Attitudes, one of my earlier articles, focuses on how belief systems lead to actions that cause results. Let’s say that as part of your goal to use time more wisely, you are going to create a task list and prioritize the items on it. Let’s also say that you are the type of person that likes to please others and avoid conflict, does not like to tell others “No,” and does not like to inform people that you have a lot of work already on your to-do list and that they may have to wait for things. You proceed to create a task list that has 182 items on it. Now you look at every item on that list and decide that everything on your list is urgent and important except for 1. So now you have 181 “A”s and 1 “C.” You see that you cannot possibly complete the 181 items, so your list is now useless. While I have exaggerated a bit, you can see how someone’s attitudes have rendered a good time management technique useless.

The second issue we need to address is the fact that we control far less time than we think we have. Most people work 40 to 60 hours a week so they believe that is what they are managing. However, as careers progress, you realize that you control less of your own time. After meeting your various business and family “must-do” responsibilities, you are lucky if you actually have 20% of your time left to your own devices. This is the time we have left for value-added activities to truly contribute to our business organizations, for personal travel, community activities, extended family interaction, and “me-time” that make us feel productive and happy. In an average week, a highly productive person typically has 119 waking hours, of which they control only 23 hours or 3 per day (personal and work).  If most people realized they only had so few hours they would be acting a little differently. From my experience, most people squander their 3 hours because they have the perception there is much more time. This is why most people have trouble finding time for planning, exercising, reading and relaxing.

This leads into issue number 3, most people do not have a good sense of where their time goes. At least once every six months, executives should track their time to see where it goes. If you want to get the most out of this exercise, contact me about the form I have for my clients to use and the things I have them look for. Once you have a solid understanding of how you spend your time you then have two choices: try to increase the amount of time you control, or make the hours you use more productive. This is done by delegating activities to others, eliminating waste, and reallocating time to make it more productive.

Once you have tracked your time, you can address time versus energy. In the Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz remind us that there are certain times of the day when each of us are more productive. Some of us are “early birds” and some “night owls.” We each have our own cycles. We also have to give ourselves breaks and eat at regular intervals to keep ourselves at peak production. Failure to do so causes us to not produce our best work and can cause executives to burn out unnecessarily.

The last issue is that people allow too many interruptions into their daily routines. I-phones, BlackBerrys, e-mails, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and all other social media are killing us. Combined with the concept of the open-door policy and phone calls (the interruptions that we already had), I wonder how anything ever gets done anymore. Not being interrupted is of critical importance with anything that requires significant thought and concentration. Research tells us that it takes approximately 20 minutes for someone to get back to full concentration after an interruption. So if you are not able to block out enough uninterrupted time to do your best thinking, it will take a lot longer for you to finish some of your most critical tasks.

So before you go out and change your time management system again or blame your company, customers, colleagues or position for your time management problem, realize that your problem is probably lingering within one or all of the five issues above. Master those five issues, and you come a long way towards solving your time management problems.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies and people that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or