What exactly is Time Management? Why is it that no matter how hard we work there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done? If I could wave my magic wand and quite simply grant you that oft coveted ‘extra hour in the day’, would that be the answer to all your woes?
Commonly defined as “the management and organisation of time in order to make the most out of it”, Time Management is really about trying to find the time to squeeze even more into your day. Put together those two innocuous words ‘Time’ and ‘Management’ and I shudder. ‘Time Management’ to me is synonymous with cramming more and more into already busy schedule, the “results by volume” approach.
And the whole concept of time management is a misnomer. It is a universally agreed scientific fact that there are 86,400 seconds in a day. We all have the same amount and it’s a level playing field for every single human being around the world. We can’t change time so that it goes faster or slower. Time is a constant. It’s a finite and limited resource and, like taxes and death, the passing of time is an inevitable and guaranteed commodity within our complex and busy lives.
The fact that time has no flexibility forces us to make difficult choices, compelling us to evaluate both our personal and business priorities. Because of course, what we do with our time at work also has the knock on effect of impacting every other aspect of our lives; inevitably someone who struggles with finding enough time to get everything done at work will also experience problems elsewhere.
That's precisely why addressing this issue is so important and why we have to get better at using our time. In the 21st century, we have a breathtaking range of options open to us. So the first step to using time in a much better way is to begin with the end in mind (1). Start by thinking about where you would like to finish.
But before you can figure out if your time is being used to your best advantage, you have to decide what the best result of ALL your endeavours will be: to be very clear about your vision for the future and to chunk down what that means to each aspect of your life or your work.
Most of us never go through an exercise like that; which is why most of struggle with managing our time and our journey through life. We get caught up with what we are caught up in and fail to see opportunities to escape in the direction that will lead us toward where we want to go.
So it really is absolutely essential to determine why you are doing what you are doing. In other words - What’s it all for? What are your goals? What do you personally want to achieve both at home and at work? This must be your starting point because if you don’t, you are in grave danger of being efficient rather than effective (2).
Efficiency is merely getting things done. Effectiveness is getting things done to worthwhile effect that take you towards your goals. Therefore WHAT you do is infinitely more important than HOW you do it and efficiency is irrelevant unless it is applied to the right things.
I cannot stress enough the importance of setting clear goals: for work, but also for life in general. And that you must write down your goals. That’s the first key to leveraging your time as opposed to managing it.
So what do we actually mean by time leverage?
A lever is simply a device that increases the effect of your effort to magnify the outcome. So let’s clarify this through a business scenario. Think about the stand accountancy practice. The staff pyramid is a classic example of leverage. In other words, you won’t find the partner ticking bank recs. Why - because the less experienced staff can generate more money than they actually cost the business. That is just one example of business leverage, using the right people in the right way.
Therefore, optimum success is not achieved through “saving” time but actually by “leveraging” time. Although saving time is helpful, it merely limits your productivity to those hours that you’ve saved. Leveraging time on the other hand allows you to multiply the effort applied and use your assets smartly to maximise the return.
This is where time leverage is different from time management; it's a far more exciting concept. The idea is that it's actually changing what we input into the time. You put better things into the time available and you get better things out of it. It's about using the same or less effort to produce better results.
Time for action
The trick is to think differently; turn the problem on its head and ask the question 'how can I be more effective?' rather than looking at the time available and asking 'how can I be more 'efficient?' Take some time out right now to work on your job as opposed to just working in it (3).
Once you’ve got down to just those things that are going to make you effective, what stops them piling up and putting just as much pressure on your precious time? I know from my own experience that no matter how much I plan to be effective, my life still seems to get very full. I can't think of anyone who has any gaps in their life – but then that is life in the 21st century.
And finally I can't stress enough that to be time effective you MUST think about time differently. Time is as much a resource to be invested as any other commodity and no one would expect to make a profitable return without at first risking something. You don't get your dividend and then make an investment, it's the other way around; so it is with investing in time. Set yourself some goals at home and at work and take the effectiveness challenge above. Be prepared to make that up-front investment and I promise the dividends will be fabulous!
This article was written by Carol Mclachlan exclusively for CareersinAudit.com, the leading job site for auditing vacancies.
1) ‘Begin with the end in mind’ comes from Steven Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
2) The concepts of efficiency versus effectiveness can be explored further in Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week
3) To understand more about ‘working on the job’, read Michael Gerber’s books The E-myth Revisited and The E-myth Manager