With over 7 billion people alive on the planet as you read this, it’s hard to imagine many things that every single individual has in common. We are all diverse in our age, appearance, nationality, customs, and beliefs. We can break ourselves down into the most basic parts- the fact that we all breathe air and have blood flow through our veins- but even then biological differences like blood type or medical conditions mean we are not mirror images of each other. One of the few things that transcends our humanity is time. Whether you are a janitor or millionaire, president of a country or an inmate in prison, all of us are united by the fact that we have 24 hours in a day. Isn’t it nice to realize you have something in common with Mark Cuban, Queen Elizabeth, and Beyonce? There is nothing we can do to buy more time, or make it pass faster or slower. Time makes us all equal.
While that may be daunting to realize, because it is a force that we cannot change we can only choose how to make the most of the time we have. There is a freedom that comes with realizing we are in full control of how we spend this precious asset.
I was recently talking with a high ranking bank executive. We were discussing our work habits and I shared that I set aside certain times of the week to ensure I complete all my projects without being delayed by last-minute requests being thrown at me. I know there will always be a degree of the unexpected in my work, so I plan out time to make sure I never have more on my plate than I’ll be able to handle. She sighed, said how nice that sounded, and that she wished she could do that. She shared a few things she would love to be able to do but just couldn't because she was so busy. This was a more friendly conversation so I had to resist the urge to put on my coaching hat and start asking questions. But I really wanted to know how someone so powerful could not be able to do the things that seemed important to her?
You have a decision to make- do you control your time or does it control you? You'll have to answer this question not once, but in dozens if not hundreds of small ways throughout each day. This isn’t to say quit your job and work for yourself just to have complete say over your schedule, there are simple steps you can take to set your day up for success.
A few years ago I made my calendar publicly available so that customers and colleagues could have easy access to my time rather than having to go back and forth in email chains trying to set up meetings. With one click on my calendar, anyone can set up a meeting with me. In order to make this system work, I had to begin consciously managing my schedule. If I had to attend a meeting in another county, I would add drive time to my calendar so nobody would book another meeting with me before I could get back to the office. I blocked off the entire day for important events like Board meetings where I would need my full attention focused on preparing and taking care of last minute things to do. Knowing my time would be taken by others unless I put boundaries around what I needed for myself forced me to make planning a habit.
I also learned to make the most of time that may otherwise be wasted. By arriving at the office just 15 minutes before everyone else, I can read and respond to emails from the night before and take several things of my to-do list before anyone else’s day has fully begun. I could hit the snooze button on my alarm an extra time or socialize with co-workers to start my day, but getting just a small head start has become something I look forward to and leaves me energized. I’ve found that if I can work uninterrupted for the first hour or two of the day, I can accomplish more than I would in between meetings or later in the afternoon when other members of my team have questions or need help on projects. On my commute home, I think about the day and dictate a to-do list that I can jump into right away in the morning. Not only does this help me be more productive each day, it gives me peace of mind to process everything that happened, write down an action plan, and then leave work behind when I get to daycare to pick up my son.
Does it always work? No. Sometimes my list feels more overwhelming than I would like. Sometimes there is an urgent situation that I have to drop everything and attend to. But the more I practice setting boundaries with my time, the more valuable things I have time for. I can spend more time with my staff to ensure they have a clear definition of success and are equipped to lead their projects without my micromanagement. I can be out in the community in meetings with partners or customers. I can offer to lend a hand to someone who’s overwhelmed.
Yes, this habit takes practice just like any new behavior, but it’s one I have to prioritize for my own sanity. To say you just don’t have enough time is giving up your power and dreams to someone else. I’m not willing to do that. If I wait for my life to not be busy to do the things that matter, I’ll never get where I want to be. What’s the point of being in a position of power if you can’t control your own day?
Like this topic? Here are some great articles that dive into the issue on a deeper level:
Time: The Great Equalizer (podcast)
The Power of Choice
Helpful tool: YouCanBook.me is a free scheduling tool for your calendar if you'd like to make yours public!