Where Does the Time Go?

Managing Our Most Precious Resource

Posted Jul 13, 2012

Thomas Edison said, “There is time for everything.” And there is. The problem is our personal definition of “everything.” Of course Thomas Edison didn’t have the internet, social media and constant connection when he wrote this. Wasn’t technology supposed to make things easier and give us time back? Why does it seem that the more that gets added to help us, the more we fall behind day by day in what we need to accomplish?

Of course we all realize that time is relative. Doing something enjoyable makes the time just “fly by,” while doing something we hate makes the time drag along. When we are in a blissful state, we can’t believe how quickly something is over — the concert, the date, the vacation. But for things we’d rather resist doing, the hands on the clock barely seem to move — the boring presentation, the difficult dinner with relatives or the time waiting in line anywhere. And anyone who has children knows this adage: “the days are long, but the years fly by.”

So why don’t we more often feel in our zone, as if we are utilizing the time we have to the fullest? Why is it that at the end of the day, more often than not, we focus on what we didn’t accomplish and minimize the importance of the things we did?

Time management is really self management. The truth is that even in this age of speed and constant motion, Thomas Edison was right. There is time for everything. It’s a matter of how we use that time and what we do with it.

Take the ubiquitous to-do list. Most everyone has one. Most everyone writes one. Oftentimes the things on the to-do list just move from one day to the next — can you say “resistance”? To-do lists on their own are mostly ineffective. They don’t take into account what’s most important to us; they simply represent the litany of things we need to do. Of course we will resist, or ignore, things that we don’t want to do, but even the things we like to do sometimes don’t get addressed.

To make your to-do list more effective, first you must set priorities. What matters to you most in life? What things do you really, really care about? What do you need to do — and what do you want to do? Each time you write a list of your to-dos, force yourself to rewrite the list with priorities. If you only had one day to get things done, what would you most care about doing? Have your top priorities at the top of the list. Keep focused on them to start your day, throughout your day and to end your day.

Next, take the list and break it down. Most to-dos are too overwhelming for us. We write something like “get a graduate degree” on a to-do list! There are hundreds of steps we need to take to complete this to-do. Each time you write something, take a few minutes to elucidate the steps associated with the to-do. What steps are involved with accomplishing what you’ve written? Break it down, and when you think you’ve broken it down enough, break it down some more. Take tasks that could possibly be one hour in nature and figure out the 15-minute components. The joke “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time” works here. The smaller the tasks, the easier they are to do and the more likely you are to do them. Professional organizers will always tell you, when your house is just a disaster, to take one small corner of one room and start cleaning that. You can’t do the whole house at once, you must methodically move through each section. And the experience of cleaning that one section, and the satisfaction that comes from having done so, will often carry you to cleaning the next section!

And lastly, have a plan for what you have prioritized and what you need, and want, to do. Breaking your tasks down into smaller increments allows you to put them in place throughout your day. Find 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there to move you closer to accomplishing whatever you’ve prioritized. Even when your day throws you off track, find a few minutes on your calendar to work on something that’s a priority to you.

And remember through it all, that there will always be a list of things to do. Instead of seeing it as drudgery and something to get through, try and populate your days with things you enjoy. Life shouldn’t be one big to-do list of doom — it should be an enjoyable set of circumstances that has you feeling satisfied and content.