In September and October, it’s not unusual for me to get a flurry of calls from magazine journalists wanting my ‘expert opinion’ for the Christmas Issue. One theme that’s perpetually popular is How to Survive the Pressures of the Festive Season – in particular, how can we successfully navigate the multiple demands on our time.
Most journalists are looking for my ‘Top 5 Time Saving Tips’ – quick sure-fire ways to save bits of time, that can be appealingly arranged on the page in punchy bullets, promising the reader that if they just implement these tips then Christmas will be oh-so-much-better-this-year.
Now, there are many worthy time management tips and techniques and I’m always happy to share a few with clients if I think they’ll help, and I certainly make use of them myself. But tips and techniques can only ever go so far.
According to time management expert, Laura Vanderkam, the idea that we can save bits of time here and there, add it up, and then finally make room for everything we want to do, has it ‘completely backward’.
‘We don’t build the lives we want by saving time,’ she says. ‘We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.’
In her TED talk, ‘How to gain control of your free time’, she talks about the time she was trying to arrange an interview with a top businesswoman, and how said businesswoman wasn’t available to speak with her. The reason? She was out for a hike. It was a beautiful spring morning and she wanted to go for a hike.
When Laura finally caught up with her, she explained it like this:
‘Listen Laura, everything I do, every minute I spend, is my choice. And rather than say, I don’t have time to do x, y or z, I don’t do x, y or z because it’s not a priority. ‘I don’t have time’ often means, ‘it’s not a priority’’.
I couldn’t agree more.
Truly gaining control over our time takes more than great time management tips and techniques.
It takes working out our priorities, so we make the choices that are right for us in how we use our time. It also takes tackling the obstacles in our way to carrying out those priorities.
I don't say that glibly. We all have different challenges in our lives, and most definitley some of us - maybe you - have absolutely huge ones. But the principle holds, even so.
In the past, working stupidly long hours, feeling there was never enough time in the day, feeling continually that there was so much more to do, so many more people to keep happy, and feeling permanently tired – but a ‘driven’ tired that made me able to somehow work through the exhaustion I felt – was normal for me.
As I gained more experience and self-knowledge, I started to appreciate that what I accepted as ‘normal’ certainly wasn’t healthy, however.
No matter how hard I tried to dress up all the things I packed into my manic day with ‘I just have to do it, I don’t have a choice’, in the end I realised that, of course, I did. I always had a choice.
What steered my choices was what I made my priorities… and how I managed what got in the way.
For me, that meant tackling many things that were self-inflicted – such as my beliefs about what was possible for me, and how I managed my boundaries with other people. It also meant taking responsibility for the consequences of the choices I was making, and any new choices I might make in future.
Slowly and surely, I was able to move my life from the driven normal I was living to the healthy normal it is today.
As Laura concludes in her TED talk,
‘There is time. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want, in the time we’ve got.’
How much is your life the life you want? Are you clear on your priorities, and are you living your life from them? Do you know what’s important to you, but things get in the way to stop you living that?
As the year draws to a close, is the time now right to review what matters to you, to challenge what you may have accepted or tolerated up to now as simply what you ‘have’ to do? Is it time to build the life you want, with the time you’ve got?
I’m here and ready to help you do that, if so.