If you could wish for more of a single resource in the whole world, what would you come up with? Some people might answer money, food, living space, or connections. However, insofar as everyone can relate to wanting more of it, the correct answer is time.
Everyone has only 24 hours each day. Admittedly, some are busier than others. Those who have more opportunities to perform highly rewarding actions will place greater value on every hour, minute, and second, that passes by.
On some level, we’ve all experienced a shortage of time. It happens to the child who still wants to play before bedtime, the student who hasn’t finished studying before an exam, the employee racing to the office during rush hour. It unites them with parents who miss their child’s milestones, teachers who wish they could discuss more material, and managers who feel pressured to maximize productivity.
We all want to squeeze more out of our days, but the only tool we have for that is time management. This is how you can progress to mastery of that skill.
Level one: life hacks
There’s no shortage of advice on time management, both on the internet and offline. Yet much of this advice comes in the form of ‘life hacks.’ A life hack is a trick, or shortcut people can employ to be more efficient and save time.
One example of a life hack would be preparing your daily coffee cup using the cold brew method. In this process, you put the grounds into a vessel that contains some form of strainer immersed in water. Let it sit, and after 12 hours, you have a concentrated brew good for at least 4 cups.
Although you have to wait, the actual time you invest in preparation is a fraction of what it would take to brew 4 hot cups. Time, and the solvent properties of water, accomplish the work for you. The added cost savings are a nice side benefit.
The downside of such life hacks is that they are often small in impact. They are at their best when combined with things you’d already be doing, like making coffee or whitening your teeth by letting a LED mouthpiece sit in your mouth for about 20 minutes. But if you’re seriously pressed for time, you need to take things up a notch.
Level two: systems
Many people confuse time management systems with apps. It’s understandable because modern apps like Toggl, Timely, or RescueTime, tend to be so full-featured and helpful that they can make a substantial improvement right off the bat.
Yet even the best apps are just a tool. They were designed and developed with the needs of many people in mind. Every user has to adapt them to suit their specific needs. It’s that process of customization and getting yourself involved that creates a real system of time management.
Only you can determine what tasks need to be prioritized. Do you use the‘Eisenhower box’ to determine which ones are either urgent or important, neither, or both? How do you plan your schedule around potential conflicts? What do you do if such conflicts arise anyway, due to circumstances beyond your control?
Time management systems must be bespoke. Apps can help you design one that works. But even if you’re able to bring things under control, are you performing at maximum efficiency or just doing the minimum required?
Level three: awareness
Everybody starts to develop the skill of time management from childhood, without knowing it. Once we become conscious of the need to develop a real system, we can also start to work on the final aspect of mastering time.
That aspect is increasing our awareness. In a study of time management by Harvard Business Review, there was a massive gap between participants’ self-awareness and actual proficiency. Less than 1% of self-ratings overlapped with actual scores. Those ratings also accounted for only 2% of the differences in actual time management skills.
If you can’t trust your self-awareness of your competency, you can’t improve on it. It’s the real reason why many people keep falling into the same patterns.
Getting swamped with work, missing deadlines, canceling plans. All of these things are warning signs pointing to the root cause of poor time management. But we believe we’re doing a great job at managing our time, so we fail to adjust and improve.
To master this skill, make it your business to assess yourself objectively. Elicit feedback from others. Identify sub-skills where you need to improve and personal preferences you can capitalize on instead of working against. Through overall awareness, you will maximize your time every day.