If there is one phrase I hear over and over, it is: “I don’t have the time…I’m super busy.” In conjunction with an ever growing realization of the need for digital education in organizations, I believe there is an even more urgent need to rethink time management skills. In light of the 24/7, multi-screen, multi-task, TMI (too much information) and TMA (too many acronyms), we need to invest the time to reconsider how we manage that unyielding limit to our 24-hour day. The digital technology is putting considerable strain on systems and people everywhere — regardless of their generation or their culture. The basic framework is the same in that competition is tight, resources are limited. Business is driven by people (not tools) and the day is still 86,400 seconds long. Certainly, the confluence of the recessionary times and the ‘invasion’ of the digital age has added force to the feeling of an acceleration of time. That said, where we might have gotten away with a “casual” approach to time management in the past, there is less leaway today for a lachsadaisical approach.
3 keys for better time management
I break down the three areas of “time management education” into three main categories:
- Invest time to know what you want. To quote Seth Godin, who sent out one of his pithiest epithets yet the other day: “You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.” And, in order to decide, you need to know what you want. Finding the time to sift through the options and to decide what you want is the real need upstream. This is true for business, brands and teams; and, finally, the same thing goes for one’s own life. The next big step then consists in deciding what NOT to do. There are so many activities that are essentially part of a heritage, a habit that, at best, may be nice to have, but no longer should be part of the new plan.
- Time responsibility. Without needing to become lawyer-like and bill or account for every minute of work, we must strive to be more disciplined and precise about time. When working across multiple time zones and dialling into conference calls (or more broadly speaking doing “distance work”), it is just not possible to be as permissive about being late. And late in this matter means 2 minutes over. For example, a 2pm conference call where people are calling in from Paris, London and New York means that the New Yorkers had to be on the phone at 8am, the Londoners had to skip lunch and the Parisians had to cut their lunch short. The cost of being late is beyond inefficiency; it is discourteous. And if we want to build up mutual trust and team spirit, respecting each other’s time is vital.
- Learn the Tools. There are a host of new tools that can render time management in this digital age easier. And this means starting with the basics. Typing skills obviously help. Just think if you could type 100 words a minute flawlessly, how much faster you could deal with emails. But, moving beyond the basics, there are great ways to set up your email account(s) to be more focused (on the things you know you want, i.e. in point #1). There are tools like Doodle for managing multiple people’s agendas (on different systems), scoop.it for curation of qualified links and resources on specific “expert” topics, or wikis that can be used for co-creating agendas and recaps of meetings (faster and more collaboratively).
Untangling the digital spaghetti
Today, the digital landscape makes a meal out of people’s agendas and lifestyles when they are not adequately equipped. I like to say that their daily meal is more like digital spaghetti and it is not a pretty picture as they try to untangle the endless lists of things to do, swim through the unlimited number of things to read and sift through the morass of emails. Figure out where you want to go, what you want to do and the process of sorting through the junk that pollutes your day becomes decidedly easier. One of the big keys to managing the digital existence is a disciplined approach to time.