This month I’m keen to talk about time management, and punctuality in particular. It’s an essential skill, both in life and in business, to working efficiently and achieving what you set out to do while keeping life on a relatively even keel. I’ve always been fascinated by how other people manage their time. Some operate like true machines, with almost military planning and precision, and these are the ones who tend to be at the very top of their game. One of the most important things they’ve learned is that good time management is critical to being successful. Other people I’ve noticed are completely chaotic in how they function. They are hardly ever on time, they often can’t remember half of what they need to do, they’re not methodical, and they wind up chasing their tails and ending up exhausted, often with nothing much to show for all their hard-spent energy, and wondering where the day went. Hopefully, most of us are somewhere in between these two extreme ends of the time management spectrum.
I’ve always been a stickler for punctuality. I hate to show up late for anything, and I hate it just as badly when other people do. I know that sometimes things like the ability to be somewhere or deliver something on time can be out of a person’s control, like when there’s been an accident or ill-health. But outside of a genuine, legitimate, uncontrollable reason, anything else is just an excuse, and it smacks of disrespect for the person or people being kept waiting and of poor self-discipline. I’ve been late for appointments, important ones, and I’ve invariably ended up kicking myself because what it came down to, in almost every case, was the fact that I hadn’t managed my time effectively by planning what I needed to do to ensure I would be on time. I put myself under huge pressure, and I only had myself to blame. I’ve also been the one pacing behind the door waiting for someone to show up, watching the clock moving on towards the time I have to be at another meeting, or watching a dinner spoiling in the oven, because the people I’d made the effort to be on time for hadn’t afforded me the same respect.
Showing up late or missing a deadline never creates a good impression, no matter how good the apology may be. These days, with the phenomenal technologies available to us to assist in how we function, it should be easier than ever to manage time, be punctual and stay in control of how our days pan out. Most mobile phones now have alerts and calendar alarms on them, as well as the ability to give us directions right to someone’s doorstep. I use the electronic diary, alarms, clock, stopwatch, GPS and every other time related application that exists on my mobile phone. It’s what it’s all there for! Internet applications can help us plan every inch of a route to somewhere, including the time it will take. At worst, a reliable watch or a clock on the wall will keep our time on track if we let it. A presentation we put together can be timed and rehearsed in advance to ensure it remains within its designated limit. There’s less excuse now than there has ever been before, for being late with or to something.
One of the most awesomely successful women I know gets up at 4 or 5 am every morning, to start work. She has done it for years now. She knows she can be wide awake, focussed and alert at that time of day. It’s her best time. She gets a massive amount of work done with nobody around to make demands on her time, and throughout every working day she uses whatever time available to ensure her deadlines are met. She will work on her laptop when flying, and she sees any available time as an opportunity to get as much done as she can, so that when the evenings come, her time is usually her own, for herself, her friends and her family. She is a great achiever, internationally recognised, and she has remarkable self discipline. What this woman achieves in a week would take less disciplined or less organised people a year to achieve. Her way of working wouldn't suit me, and I'm not suggesting its something everyone should adopt. My point is that establishing a timetable that works well for you, rather than accepting one that works against you, is a positive, proactive way of ensuring you keep control of your time.
Correspondingly, I have someone else in my business circle who works in a totally chaotic fashion, is late for almost everything in his life, is reactive rather than proactive, and is constantly stressed and running to catch up with himself. He isn’t happy like that, in fact he is constantly exhausted - but he doesn’t have enough self discipline to effect lasting positive change.
And that’s the most critical component. Time management requires a high degree of self discipline. The most successful people in the world are all in full control of their time, they are inherently punctual, and they have high expectations of others to be the same. Many high achievers have enough self-insight to know that they need help with time management so they employ someone capable to manage their diaries for them. For those who would otherwise struggle, it’s not self indulgent. Its smart thinking and it allows them to stay focussed on what they want to achieve.
There’s an old saying, if you want something done, ask a busy person (note that’s a BUSY person, not a stressed person! There’s a big difference). It’s not always the case of course, but busy people who have a handle on their time can often assimilate new tasks into an already full day because they have structured things well and are able to find time. They haven’t already bitten off more than they can chew, like so many people who want to be organised and try very hard, but don’t have the self discipline to make it work effectively. Getting control of your own time is only ever going to work if you have that self discipline.
However, time management is not just about discipline or respect for the fact that other people’s time is no less valuable than your own. Knowledge of your own capabilities and limitations is also critical to making the best of your time. Being honest with yourself and others about what is realistically achievable for you on a personal level will make you far better able to cope with what you set for yourself or accept as tasks from others.
Another important ingredient is the ability to prioritise. I’ll be talking more about that in my next Soapbox, but for now, if you’re one of those far-too-busy people who feels really time-challenged, my proposal to you this month is to take back the control of your time. Make ‘to-do’ lists with the most important stuff at the top, use technology to help you keep on track and give yourself a realistic benchmark to aim for. I use lists all the time, I couldn’t be without them. At the end of my day, they serve as achievement lists, so even on days where I feel like I really have been chasing my tail and haven’t managed to make much progress, I can look back over what I did achieve, and be glad about it. I certainly don’t beat myself up for not getting every last thing done. The great thing about prioritising is that once you’ve achieved the top items, the next ones rise, so eventually things start getting get done in the order they are supposed to, as a matter of routine. Before you know it, having your priorities in the right order will become second-nature.
If you need a bit of a helping hand to establish a good time management strategy unique to yourself, please do contact me for some advice. I’d be happy to take some time and meet with you, perhaps over a good cup of coffee, to help you discover how to make the most of your time and work towards success through gaining control of how you function, in business, work and life.
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