Time management. It’s one of those things that we continue to struggle with – despite our best efforts. And as the lines continue to blur between work and personal life, many of us ask ourselves, is there still such a thing as ‘work-life balance?’
Personally, my definition of time management is making progress on the tasks and objectives that are important to me and that align with my values. There are plenty of resources available to help us organise our inbox and prioritise tasks, but I agree with what psychologist and author Alison Hill says in her book Stand Out: A Real World Guide to Get Clear, Find Purpose and Become the Boss of Busy: “The best time management strategies in the world are pointless if we don’t have a strong sense of who we are and what matters to us.”
I recently gave a presentation to a group of professionals working in technology where we discussed a range of strategies to enable us to complete those things that were a priority for us. We explored the following ideas on how to get stuff done.
1. Value and prioritise
Are you clear on the core values that drive your choices? Defining and using your goals to keep you heading towards your ‘true north’ is vital. Then, you can choose priorities that align with these values. To achieve this sense of purpose, each of your goals and priorities should be aligned with your values. If you haven’t yet identified them, there are many easy to use resources available online to help you out. It’s then important to set boundaries to protect the time you spend on these priorities. You may initially get some pushback, but if you remain firm people around you will soon learn to respect those boundaries.
2. Achieve a work-life blend
I’ve always thought of the term ‘work-life balance’ as a seesaw: when you add to one side, you take away from the other. But, when you look at the reality of our complex and multi-focused lives, this analogy seems too simple. The word ‘blend’ suggests we choose our individual mix of priorities and put our energy into ensuring these get the right amount of attention. As author Sherri Elliott-Yeary states, “you can have it all, just not all at once.” So maybe the better analogy for a work-life balance is that it’s like selecting a cup of mixed lollies at the cinema candy bar – more Freckles, fewer Jaffas, etc. – take time to enjoy your favourites.
3. Pay attention to your biology
Neuroscience tells us that our pre-frontal cortex, the logical thinking part of our brain, has limited attention capacity. It’s an energy-hungry resource and we need the right mix of hydration, glucose, stress, information and memory for it operate at an optimal level. Set yourself up for success: schedule and then tackle those cognitively taxing projects in short bursts. I’m sure you are all aware that multitasking is a myth and focused attention is required to complete tasks well and embed learning. Work with your biology rather than against it.
The key to managing your time and progress is to understand what is important to you. This means what works for you won’t necessarily be what works for someone else. Spend some time revisiting your priorities and trial some strategies to ensure you remain focused.